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In between running his Los Angeles–based restaurants Petit Trois and LudoBird and filming popular food shows like Ludo Bites America, Rat in the Kitchen, and Selena + Chef, French-born celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre ventures to Colorado to get away from the limelight. Lefebvre married a Denver-area native over 20 years ago and, since then, has frequented the Centennial State to visit family and hunt and ski in the Rockies. “I spent a lot of time in Denver—we came for vacation and holidays,” he says. “I love the culture of Denver.”
He grew to like the city so much, he says, that he wanted to open a restaurant here—and opportunity struck when the Thompson Denver hotel asked him to launch a new concept in tandem with its February 2022 opening. The result was Chez Maggy, an upscale French bistro named after Lefebvre’s mother-in-law, Margaret, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2019. While you can pay your respects by ordering Maggy’s Tagliatelle Bolognese (which is based on her recipe), Lefebvre’s heritage and Michelin-starred skills truly shine via the menu of French brasserie fare with a Colorado twist. Aside from classics like escargot and foie gras, look for specialties like bison tartare, trout Almondine, Colorado lamb chops, and three varieties of steak frites (tenderloin filet, boneless ribeye, and hangar), made with local proteins and vegetables. “Of course, the snail is not from Colorado—that is from Burgundy—but I will say 70 percent of the menu is [sourced] from Colorado,” Lefebvre says.
Lefebvre’s favorite Colorado ingredient: bison, which he prepares in a silky raw tartare atop a crispy potato chip; and in a seared bison bourguignon, which will be available on the upcoming winter menu. Another sign of his respect for the animal is the tattoo of a buffalo skull on his hand—a tribute, Lefebvre says, to a bison he killed in eastern Colorado for an episode of Ludo Bites America that aired in 2011.
Earlier this month, we caught up with Lefebvre to learn more about his love for Denver—including his favorite local restaurants, his baseball-stadium hot dog of choice, and what to expect at Chez Maggy this fall.
5280: What’s one thing you think people don’t know about the Denver food scene?
Lefebvre: I think there’s a variety of restaurants you have here. You have a lot of good Mexican restaurants, you have Asian, you have American, you have French. I mean, it’s a good variety of different cultural restaurants in Denver. I was surprised about that. It’s not just [meat-heavy] restaurants. I was thinking it would be a lot of steak restaurants, but you can really eat every food around the world in Denver.
What are some of your favorite Denver restaurants?
I go a lot to Tavernetta. I love Uchi. And Hop Alley is a great spot. The space has been there for a long time, but the food is so consistent, so good. I love it, I love it, I love it.
What’s your favorite dish at Hop Alley?
It was the Sichuan chicken. I’m obsessed with Sichuan pepper. I love the flavor, and when you use a lot, it’s tingling a little bit your mouth. You feel a little numb. I love it.
Do you use Sichuan peppers at your restaurants?
[At Chez Maggy] we have a duck with Sichuan pepper and lavender, coriander, cumin, honey glaze. The menu at Chez Maggy is very French, but I want to be a little bit playful too. We have some classics like onion soup, steak frites, escargot, but I want to be playful too with some new dishes, because it’s good for the guests to have some new things, and it’s good for the cooks to learn [how to prepare them].
Would you rather eat a hot dog at Coors Field, go tailgating at a Broncos game, or pack a picnic and take it to the mountains?
You know what, I’m going to say to eat a hot dog and a beer. I like to go watch baseball. I love a picnic, but I love also baseball. I like the ambience.
What’s your perfect dog?
With sauerkraut and mustard.
And what’s your beer of choice at a Rockies game?
You’re going to laugh, but I don’t lie to you: I’m obsessed with Coors Light. That’s just what I drink at home. Coors Light. Seriously, I love it.
If you could cook one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Roasted chicken for sure. I’m obsessed with roasted chicken. I love [preparing] the chicken, [giving] it a massage with butter and salt, [brining] the chicken. And after the process, [putting] it in the pan with whatever you cook it with—the vegetables—and [basting] it like every 10 minutes. When it’s perfect, the skin’s crispy, juicy, and I just love it.
What can people look forward to this fall at Chez Maggy?
We have a meeting tomorrow with a farmer to see what vegetables we’re going to have for the fall. But for sure, we’re going to have some bison bourguignon. We’re going to do some veal Milanese. And of course we’re going to have a lot of soup—at least two soups and some more pasta.
What do you love most about being in Denver?
I love this food scene in Denver. I think it’s a great city, and I love the energy of Denver…I can see myself really living in Denver.