Pop-Up King Holds Court

Chef Laurent ‘LQ’ Quenioux fights fierce competition
By Frier McCollister

If there is a classically trained, fine dining chef in Los Angeles who was best positioned to weather the turbulent exigencies and uncertainties of the pandemic, it is chef Laurent Quenioux.  

A native of the Loire Valley’s Sologne, Quenioux has been pivoting masterfully since he arrived in Los Angeles in 1981. 

Quenioux has had a successful run since moving to LA — the 7th Street Bistro in Downtown Los Angeles opened in 1983; the small and eccentric Bistro K in South Pasadena; and the lauded Bistro LQ, which closed in 2013. He anticipates tastes and trends without sacrificing quality or his vision of French cuisine with a fresh California spin on it. 

Upon closing Bistro LQ, Quenioux collaborated with the Downtown LA underground supper club Starry Kitchen. That inspired him to host elaborate multicourse prix fixe dinners on the weekends at his Highland Park home. 

Food & Wine magazine took notice, as did LA’s burgeoning foodie culture, resulting in a sustained and successful five-year run. Ultimately and ironically, a victim of Highland Park’s hipster-fueled gentrification, Quenioux was forced to vacate his home there shortly before the pandemic. He landed on a verdant, capacious estate in Corona, where he began to host dinners again.

Quenioux laughs at the idea that he invented the “pop-up restaurant.”

“I am known to be the king of pop-ups, the longest-running pop-up in LA,” he says. With radically reduced overhead costs, the model allows him to present haute cuisine with high-quality ingredients, at far more reasonable price points than a typical fine dining restaurant.

“It’s not a business model for everyone,” he says. “Most of the people just want to do those pop-ups to try to find the financing to open a restaurant. We are going backward. We’ve done the restaurants way too many times. Pop-ups are a better version for us. We’re going backward. We’ve done the restaurants. We don’t want to go back.” 

Still, for all his astute nimbleness, Quenioux struggled during the last year, and it was underscored with personal pain. 

“At the beginning, there was a lot of support, but it’s been challenging,” he recalls. “The competition became fierce. I don’t expect people to eat our food every single day. There were a lot of (options) out there.”

Quenioux’s initial pandemic pivot was further challenged when his mother died in Paris in April 2020 from COVID-19 complications. Unable to travel, Quenioux saw his stress compound. 

“I am trying to go (to France) in September for a family reunion,” he notes.

Popular pandemic eating habits and trends toward fast, casual comfort food further complicated his progress. Don’t get Quenioux started on the current, local viral craze for fried chicken and its variant strains.

“Now we’re really trying to fight to get our place back in fine dining through a pop-up,” he says, adding that younger people crave junk food. 

“Now, fine dining is back, but we have to fight for it again. I don’t know what it is with that damned fried chicken,” Quenioux muses.

Quenioux notes the time, effort and expense of sourcing his products and ingredients. 

“I think what is the most difficult for us to deal with (is) we work so hard to get the best ingredients and we pay top dollar for good ingredients,” he says. 

“But it seems people don’t care. They are going to eat that fried chicken, and they don’t know where that chicken comes from. People don’t care. They just eat fried chicken. That is the hardest part for us.”

In May, Quenioux was still offering five-course boxed meals for delivery at $59 on select weekends. Meanwhile, he had already launched his first outdoor seating in Corona under the banner “LQ Fooding @ Ma Maison 2.0, Underground Supper Club.”

There are more planned in June, including a satellite experiment in Montecito Heights.

“There will be a few in June here (in Corona),” he explains.

“On June 26, it will be in Montecito Heights. It will be one of our new Los Angeles locations, near Pasadena and South Pas. But that location will not be as elaborate as what we are doing here. It will be much more simple, a three-course meal with wine and more fun, limited to 12 (diners) and a beautiful view of the city. It’s outside.”

The location is the urban farming operation Rose Hill Farm. With its limited indoor access, the location features a grill and outdoor pizza oven. The plan is for a more modest and informal three-course presentation. 

“We won’t be able to do what we usually do, but it will be fun,” he says. 

The next announced meeting of the Underground Supper Club in Corona is June 19. The sample menu, subject to change, demonstrates the depth of Quenioux’s artistry. 

Starting with an amuse bouche of uni flan with pickled shiso leaves, the first course is a spring vegetable tart with white asparagus, radish, carrots, baby leeks and turnips. The tart is accompanied by a fresh herb coulis of estragon, mint, coriander and parsley grown in Quenioux’s own garden. 

The second course: frog legs with caviar de sologne, mashed fingerlings with crème fraiche and a green garlic, ramp emulsion.

That is followed by smoked haddock with cauliflower espuma and sautéed apple. 

The fourth course features softshell crab with bacon in fish sauce and fermented chili paste, served with English peas and fava beans, garnished with makrut limes. 

Squab and crawfish in a red bell pepper, ginger lime emulsion with fresh morels is the fifth course. 

An optional cheese course, at an additional charge, is next, followed by dessert. Dessert is chocolate cremeux, served with chocolate sorbet and honey, with a cocoa nib lace tuile. Wine pairing with each course is also available at an additional charge. The price is $85 per person for dinner.

Regarding the optional cheese trolley, Quenioux is known as an expert connoisseur of French cheese and has developed a productive import channel with a cheese monger, identified simply as Sophie. 

Also available for delivery online, Quenioux’s curated cheeses are selections not easily found elsewhere. He sighed audibly when asked about it. 

“I’m getting so tired,” he says. “We bring our own cheeses from France. They’re not pasteurized. It’s so expensive. It takes so much in logistics. Then you guys write an article about cheese in the city, and I know all these restaurants and they all buy the same crappy cheese from the same distributor. It’s been such hard work to build the infrastructure, to make it efficient, to be able to sell it.”

With pandemic restrictions possibly lifting entirely in June, a gastronomic adventure to Corona may reinvigorate the public’s fine-dining sensibilities.

“The setting is incredible; the service is incredible,” Quenioux asserts. “We need to fight back for our (fine dining) space. People will have a phenomenal experience at prices that nobody can beat.

“We’re actually looking for a new Pasadena location as well. We want to do maybe twice here (in Corona) a month, one in Montecito and maybe one in Pasadena, to do four weekends a month. Pasadena is different. I love Pasadena. It’s a different crowd. The future is more east.”

Make no mistake, Quenioux is an Arroyo fan. “Eagle Rock, Pasadena, Monrovia, Arcadia — this is the area that I love. For me, Los Angeles is that area. It’s the best that Los Angeles has to offer.”

To punctuate that point, Quenioux was persuaded to give up his recipe for chocolate croissant bread pudding for the delectation of Arroyo Monthly readers. 

LQ Fooding @ Ma Maison 2.0

Underground Supper Club

bistrolq.com

Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding

Ingredients

2 cups milk

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1 vanilla bean, split and seeded

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (optional)

1/2 cup sugar

5 eggs

Pinch of salt

5-day-old croissants,
cut into 1-inch pieces

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

caramel sauce for serving

lightly sweetened whipped
cream for serving

Method

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter a 2-quart oval au gratin dish. 

Pour the milk and cream into a heavy saucepan. Add the vanilla seeds and bean halves to the milk mixture. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 30 minutes. 

Return the saucepan to medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and whisk in the 5 ounces finely chopped chocolate until smooth. 

In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs and salt until blended. Form a kitchen towel into a ring and place the bowl on top to prevent it from moving. Gradually pour the hot chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over a large bowl. Add the croissants and stir to combine. Let stand for 20 minutes, occasionally pressing the croissants into the custard. 

Stir 3 ounces of the chopped chocolate into the croissant mixture and transfer to the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining chopped chocolate on top. Bake until a knife inserted near the center of the pudding comes out almost clean, 40 to 45 minutes. 

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