2017 New York City Rising Star Community Chef Aaron Bludorn of Café Boulud

2017 New York City Rising Star Community Chef Aaron Bludorn of Café Boulud
January 2017

Aaron Bludorn attended the Culinary Institute of America before making his way to Seattle to work at the fine-dining institution Canlis. Moving from Seattle to the Napa Valley in 2006, Bludorn then spent three years as part of the team at Cyrus, during which time the restaurant received two Michelin stars.

Lured by the lore of New York City restaurants, Bludorn researched his next move. Chef and mentor Douglas Keene of Cyrus encouraged Bludorn to visit Daniel Boulud. In agreement that Boulud’s kitchens offered all the things he was seeking—a culture of excellence, high-quality everything, opportunity for growth, and mentorship—Bludorn moved to New York after four days of trailing, observing, and interacting with the group’s chefs. He had found a new home in the kitchen of Café Boulud in 2009. 

Working under the newly appointed Chef Gavin Kaysen, Bludorn worked his way up from the fish station to sous chef and chef de cuisine. Since 2014 he has served as the restaurant’s executive chef, making expressive, delicious food grounded in traditional techniques and cuisine. Influenced by Kaysen’s ability to build a sense of community among his team, Bludorn is deeply involved in Careers Through Culinary Arts Programs, among other organizations, and welcomes the program’s students and graduates into his kitchen. He judges the organization’s annual scholarship-granting competition, and through his work, Bludorn is building the next generation of culinary leaders. 


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Interview with New York City Rising Star Aaron Bludorn of Cafe Boulud

D. J. Costantino: How did you get your start?
Aaron Bludorn:
I was washing dishes in high school, and as an optimistic 17 year old, I thought I was going to be in a. I was washing dishes to get by, went to Humboldt State for a bit, and got involved in a vegetarian restaurant there. I was a prep cook, moved to the line, then moved all the way up to being a kitchen manager. I was 19 running this kitchen, and I was presented with the question: “This is something that I enjoy doing, but how do I get more out of it?” I was reading cookbooks and decided to go to culinary school. I was blown away by the world of fine dining. My parents never went to fine dining restaurants—it wasn’t a part of who we were. I went to the Culinary Institute of America, got exposed to that, and did my externship at Canlis restaurant in Seattle. I was an eye opening experience. I had a blast and ended up going back there to work after schoolI took a road trip to California and Douglas Keane offered me a job at Cyrus when I was 22. It was electric to be a cook there at the time. I sat with Doug, and he told me to go to New York. I was adverse because I’m a West Coast kid, and California was what I was comfortable with. I decided I needed to put it all in and go to New York, and loved it. [I was] looking for a job, staging around, and I had a choice between working at Corton or Café Boulud. I chose Boulud and I started as a cook. Gavin [Kaysen] took me under his wing and mentored me. The last year he was here he was overseeing the entire Café Boulud brand, so I took over day to day operations. When Gavin left, Daniel [Boulud] offered me the job, and now I’m here.

DC: Who are your mentors?
AB:
Douglas Keane. He’s a really young creative chef and structured. I took his creativity,knowledge of ingredients and how to use them in fine dining, and his discipline. Gavin Kaysen taught me how to mentor a cook, what it takes to run a restaurant successfully, and systems. He taught me to be a part of the dining room, as well, and not just the kitchen—and to really to be a man of your word. Daniel Boulud taught me to have a passion for what we do and a knowledge of the classics. He taught me to seek out classic dishes  in other cultures as well, and to be true to them while elevanting peasant cusine to fine dining. He taught me to be hospitable, and to open your restauant like it’s your home.

DC: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
AB:
We are very involved with Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), as much as we can be. My executive sous, Cesar, is 26, he’s a C-CAP alum. We have two students right now, and bringing them along is an important part of what I do. I always judge the C-CAP competition. We did another culinary competition here with Daniel giving a scholarship. The program is the most effective way for us to actually change peoples lives—and actually do work. Anyone can be a chef at the end of the day. It’s about dedication and passion and seeing that through.

DC: What advice would you offer to young culinary students?
AB:
Pay attention to the classics. Know all of your classics and have them down. Those are the foundation from which you build a restaurant. Know French cuisine, even if you don’t want to cook it. 

DC: What is your approach to mentorship?
AB:
When you’re a chef, you’re a coach, and your job is to instill discipline and create atmosphere. The more you do that, everything elsefalls into place. You won’t see instant changes. They’ll come over time. I’m coming to realize that that’s my role these days. Small changes make abig difference.