Restaurants / Openings

PaperCity Exclusive — Star New York Chef Tells All on Big Move and His New Houston Restaurant

Daniel Boulud's Right-Hand Man is Jumping Into the Bayou City Food Scene With Major Plans

BY // 06.04.19

New York chef Aaron Bludorn is kind of a badass. He’s got quite the culinary pedigree. He’s worked with two renowned Michelin-starred chefs — Douglas Keane in California and most recently the legendary Daniel Boulud in New York.

Bludorn began as a chef de partie at the famed Cafe Boulud before working his way up to executive chef in just five years. And he made his mark in the mainstream as a contestant on season one of Netflix’s The Final Table, cooking with chefs across the globe and testing his chops with different cuisines. Plus, the accomplished chef is on the board of nonprofit Careers Through Culinary Arts Programs.

 All of which is to say, Bludorn’s kind of intense. But above all, he’s a nice guy.

And Houston’s about to find out how nice, thanks to Bludorn’s decision to leave the famed Cafe Boulud to open up his very own Bayou City restaurant as soon as 2020.

The down-to-earth chef is making serious moves, hightailing it from the buzz and blitz of New York to settle down in Houston with his wife of one year, Victoria Pappas Bludorn.

Yes, that’s the Pappas you’re thinking of. Victoria’s father is Chris Pappas, co-owner of Pappas Restaurants. The group will not be affiliated with Bludorn’s new Houston restaurant, but he’s happy to have the connection and holds his in-laws in the utmost respect.

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“I bounced around, and my family’s kind of scattered. Our whole plan is to start a family, and what better place than Houston? Especially with the roots my wife has there,” Bludorn tells PaperCity. “I’ve had such a great time visiting in the past years. It’s a great town to be in food scene, that’s for sure.

“I think right now it’s super vibrant. Some great chefs doing fantastic things — Chris Shepherd, Justin Yu, Hugo (Ortega). I’ve been really reading about the push there for years.”

Bludorn does not know where he’s going to open his new Houston restaurant yet, but he sees The Heights, Montrose or maybe Midtown as good fits.

His vision for what the restaurant will look like is more clear. “I would like it to be a very celebratory, very polished and charismatic setting but at the same time dressed-down,” Bludorn says. Don’t expect a suit and tie type place.

He envisions big wood beams, exposed brick in a not industrial but craftsman-like vibe.

Cafe Boulud
Cafe Boulud is one of New York’s most legendary restaurants.

His close ties to Boulud — he spent 10 years at Cafe Boulud, the last five as the legendary restaurant’s executive chef – already make Bludorn something of a big name. Even if he does not carry himself that way.

“Having the opportunity to work for Daniel Boulud for 10 years was incredible,” Aaron Bludorn tells PaperCity. “It’s something I couldn’t have dreamed of in my wildest dreams when I was in culinary school or even a young cook. I had some great mentors because of it, people that really helped me.

“Especially Daniel, the most humble, incredible chef I’ve ever worked for, or guy I’ve ever met.”

Bludorn’s New Houston Beginnings

Bludorn is drawn to the merging of all different cultures in Houston, what he calls the kind of thing you’d see in cities like Toronto, Los Angeles and New York. “It’s very alive in Houston as well,” he says.

But he’s not planning to splash on the scene. The humble chef simply wants to do what he does, and do it well.

“I hope to play a small auxiliary role to start,” Bludorn laughs. “I’m not there to fix anything or to make anything better. I’m there to fill my own niche of what I’ve been doing lately through working with Daniel, and also what my career has been up to this point.”

That looks like a French-American restaurant in the style of New York chef Charlie Palmer — namely, American dishes through and through carefully crafted with the finest classic French techniques.

“I wouldn’t say the menu is going to be marked up with classic French dishes. Rather just using those techniques to create something really delicious. One of the things I really like to do is evoke the sense of dining that includes pretty much everyone, right? By being able to have a lot of dishes to share, large format with the main courses,” Bludorn says. Expect a fair share of shareable plates.

Is he interested in the ingredients and flavors Houston and the Gulf Coast have to offer?

“One hundred percent,” he chuckles. “I’m really excited about the seafood down there and all the seafood the Gulf has to offer. It’s also pretty amazing you have tomatoes, beautiful tomatoes growing in January.”

For Bludorn, it’s all about the discovery, a kind of food-finding mission. “It’s been more exploratory as of right now. Definitely been down there, made friends with Chris and his chef at UB Preserv, Nick Wong, has been a friend of mine,” he says.

He’s hitting up Houston chefs for the inside scoop, tips on farmers markets, ranches and beyond to make the most of local ingredients. “It’s something I’ve done in New York that’s taken me time to get there,” Bludorn notes.

Drink Up

Bludorn has some definite ideas about his new Houston restaurant’s bar program.

“Definitely, definitely looking forward to having a classic cocktail list. But then also being able to build off of it. I love to order a drink, a classic that has always been around and I feel like I’ve loved it my whole life,” Bludorn says.

But he definitely welcomes the creativity angle, too with the bar program, just the way he experiments when he cooks. After all, he learned from the best of the best.

And it’s all brought him here, a new chapter he just can’t wait for. But he’ll have to — slowing it down is all part of the move.

“I’m ready for it,” he laughs. “I’m ready for a change of pace. New York — not to say Houston is not fast-paced, it can be, plenty of people are big go-getters — but I think that sometimes being in New York can be a lot,” Bludorn says.

“I really look forward to the attitude that Houstonians have, and the sense of community that everyone down here has is so great. I’m always so overwhelmed by how welcoming everyone is. I look forward to being a part of that because that’s who I am as a person.”

A New York Minute may turn into a Texas Hour. But Space City foodies will only have to wait a year to taste Aaron Bludorn’s dishes at his new Houston restaurant if things go according to plan.

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