Restaurants

The True Tale of Bludorn — Houston’s Long Awaited Showcase Restaurant is Powered by a Real Love Story

How a Star New York Chef and His Restaurant Royalty Wife Found Happiness — and Houston

BY // 08.19.20

It took two years from their first meeting in 2014 before Victoria Pappas of Houston’s Pappas restaurant empire and rock star chef Aaron Bludorn of New York’s Michelin-starred Café Boulud had their first date. Fast forward to 2020, the couple is married with a baby on the way in mid-November and their highly-anticipated Houston restaurant, Bludorn, opening on Friday.

The young chef brings stellar creds to his first namesake enterprise, having taken over as executive chef of the Michelin-two starred Café Boulud in 2014 and winning rave reviews until his departure for Houston in 2019. New York’s loss is clearly Houston’s gain. The pivotal move all goes back to the girl who was working in the front office in New York.

The restaurant business is undeniably in Pappas’ blood as a scion of Pappas Restaurants which boasts operations in eight states and more than 60 restaurants under the Pappas brand. During her four years of high school, Victoria Pappas worked as a counter girl at one of the family’s hamburger spots. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a degree in marketing, Pappas worked briefly in Austin before heading to New York to earn her degree in French cuisine from what was then known as the French Culinary Institute.

“Culinary school changed the way I do everything,” Victoria Pappas tells PaperCity during our visit in the second floor private dining room of Bludorn. “In the kitchen you’re setting up. So much time goes into prep and set up before execution. I hold that mindset. I took it right into my daily life.”

Bludorn Main Dining Room_Julie Soefer
The main dining room at Bludorn, located in the old Antone’s building on Taft. The restaurant opens on this Friday, August 21. (Photo by Julie Soefer)

With the culinary degree under her belt, Pappas joined the Dinex Group, which is the New York management company for the restaurants of Daniel Boulud. The young exec and chef initially crossed paths through work.

“I will say that when I did meet Aaron for the first time it was like, ‘Oh my goodness, the chef at Café Boulud is so handsome,’ ” Victoria Pappas says.

Yet both were dating other people. When they finally were uninvolved at the same time, a friend in human resources at the Dinex Group recommended that Aaron ask Victoria out. She though it would be “an awesome match.”

And it was.

They met up at Mother of Pearl, a Manhattan tiki bar, where Aaron was friends with the bartender. Learning that Aaron was meeting a girl, the friend did what he thought was a favor.

“He sent us one huge shark cocktail, in a shark, with two straws and it was so awkward,” Victoria laughs. “It was so awkward because it was like, OK, now we’re sharing a drink with two straws and I barely know you. So we hopped over to the next bar and had a more normal evening.”

Shortly after that first date, Bludorn cooked his first dinner for Pappas — truffle roasted chicken. Things clicked between them though Pappas says there was no dramatic awakening of love and she never read anything into their early dating.

“He’s just so fun. We were having so much fun and we kept going out and going out,” she adds, eyes sparkling at the memory. And then, after dating for 18 months, in June of 2017, they became engaged. They were wed in Houston in July 2018 at St. Basil the Great Greek Orthodox Church and honeymooned in Greece. They continued their careers in New York until they were ready for the second stage of their lives together.

The next step was having a family and deciding where to make their careers, be it in New York, California, or Houston. Pappas’ hometown was the winner in the mega chef lottery when the couple chose the Bayou City as their landing pad.

He heads the kitchen at the chic but comfortable restaurant (think velvet banquettes) while she works in the operations department with the front of the house team at Pappas Restaurants.

Two days before the Bludorn opening, we asked Victoria Pappas about her favorite dishes on the menu.

“I really like the squash blossoms,” she pauses deep in thought. “I love cioppino. When I can eat oysters again (not advisable for pregnant women) that is going to be the first thing that I dive into. And then of course lamb. I’m Greek so I’m always excited about lamb.”

As one would expect the youthful 32-year-old is the perfect cheerleader for her husband’s cuisine.

“I think Houstonians are going to like Aaron’s food,” Victoria says. “And that was the most important thing in deciding where we were going to live. Is the way Aaron likes to cook and eat compatible with the diners? I think Houstonians are really gonna love this seasonal, tasty food.

“And Aaron will tell you this too, ‘The main thing, I just want the food to taste good.’ You don’t have to reinvent something every day. It’s just got to taste good.”

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