Bludorn Restaurant, Houston, TX
I was working as a dishwasher at 15-years old in a tiny diner in my hometown of Bainbridge Island, Washington, a small island right across the Puget Sound. The diner would cater to a lot of the ferry traffic. The day tourists would come over to the island just to walk around our little town. They’d come in and eat with us and take the ferry back.
My friend had just given me the book Kitchen Confidential. Reading that book was such a huge part of my excitement of doing what I was doing at the diner; working a busy service, getting tipped out by the waiters and, everything else in between. I loved it–the team atmosphere that restaurants have. The ‘we’re all in this together,’ of it all.
In Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain talks about ‘lifers’. I was just sort of enamored that that was a way to live. I remember standing out in the back of the diner with the owner and she brought up this term that Bourdain used. ‘Lifers’. I’ll never forget that. If I was to trace it back to one moment where I realized that this was a possibility for me as a career, that was the moment.
I’ve actually had some pretty amazing moments with Anthony Bourdain since then. Like the day before I went to culinary school, I went to a book signing of his Les Halles Cookbook. I told him I was going to the CIA the very next day and shared with him what a big influence he’d had on me. He laughed and smiled at this and signed my book ‘Chefs Rule.’
Then, years later when I was Executive Chef at Café Boulud, Bourdain was sitting on the terrace with his daughter. I went out and re-introduced myself and we had a great conversation. I told him about the ‘lifers’ story and the book signing moment. All those years, and there he was eating in the restaurant where I was Executive Chef. I told him how much he had influenced my career. He was so gracious and offered any help that he could. You could tell that he loved chefs. He might not have loved a lot of things in his life but his love of chefs was clear. Telling him that story, bringing it all together for both of us, was a great moment. The definition of full circle.
Definition: (Noun) Holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability
Having been on the board of Careers to Culinary Arts Program in NYC, I am eager to find a similar iteration in here in Texas. I am obsessed with the fact that our business is a meritocracy. You get out of it what you put into it. I always say it’s like putting money in a bank. I always tell young chefs, if you’re a hard worker, do what you’re told, show up for work every day and have some basic talent, one day you can one day be me. It’s not based on anything but hard work in most cases in our industry.
Kids that come from underserved communities don’t realize that jobs like this are out there for them. Not all families have the means to send their kids to college. And you don’t necessarily have to go to college to be successful in the culinary world. But you do have to have upward mobility. Being involved in C.C.A.P. gave me the opportunity to expose kids to what can be possible for them. Restaurants are also family-based. Your kitchen is your second family. In some cases, it’s people’s first family.
It’s All in the Listening at Bludorn
Ten years ago if you’d asked me if I’d be in Houston, Texas, there’s no way I would have said yes. But you’ve got to be nimble. You learn early as a chef you have to listen. You’ve got to take your ego out of it. You’re not cooking for yourself. At least most successful chefs aren’t. They’re not cooking to show what kind of special techniques they picked up in their career. You are cooking for the guests. You can cook for yourself but I tell you, it’s gonna be pretty quick, because you’re not gonna have very many guests.
At Bludhorn we’re very much here for our guests the minute they walk in the front door. This is what makes our restaurants successful. I wanted to build a restaurant that was an instant classic with elements of the restaurant that feel like they have been here for years, but at the same time, all feel very new. That’s what we set out to do. Fortunately despite the obvious challenges of the past two years, we are doing very well.