From busting suds in Winslow to commanding a kitchen in Manhattan, Aaron Bludorn has navigated his way from coast to coast while trying his hand at nearly every job in the culinary world.
He’s now set to make his television debut.
The Bainbridge High School alum, Class of 2002, now executive chef at the renowned Cafe Boulud, located inside the Surrey Hotel, on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, is one of 24 chefs from around the world competing on the new Netflix culinary competition show, “The Final Table.”
It’s a global culinary competition show featuring some of the world’s most renowned chefs fighting for the last spot at the elite Final Table. The series features 12 teams of two chefs from various countries cooking the national dishes of Mexico, Spain, England, Brazil, France, Japan, the U.S., India and Italy.
Each episode focuses on a different country and its cuisine, with celebrity ambassadors, food critics and the country’s greatest chef eliminating teams until the finale.
By the last episode, only one competing chef will win the coveted spot at the Final Table, and the right to sit among nine legendary culinary icons: Enrique Olvera (Mexico), Andoni Aduriz (Spain), Clare Smyth (United Kingdom), Helena Rizzo (Brazil), Vineet Bhatia (India), Grant Achatz (U.S.), Carlo Cracco (Italy), Yoshihiro Narisawa (Japan) and Anne-Sophie Pic (France).
The series will be presented by Andrew Knowlton, James Beard Award-winning writer and Editor at Large of Bon Appétit.
It’s a long way from washing dishes, but Bludorn is no stranger to the high intensity atmosphere of the commercial kitchen.
From his early days at the Streamliner Diner, the budding culinarian went off to college in California, where he continued working in the food industry. Then, when he was 20, Bludorn made the decision to go all-in on food.
“I dropped out of Humboldt State [University] and decided to go to culinary school when I was 20,” he said. “It’s one of those industries where you put your head down and work hard and it pays off in the long run.”
After graduating from The Culinary Institute of America (which boasts such storied alumni as Anthony Bourdain and Food Network star Anne Burrell, among others) Bludorn did an internship at Canlis, in Seattle, before trekking back to Cali where he worked at the restaurant Cyrus (a two-star Michelin establishiment) in Sonoma County, California for three years.
In 2009, Bludorn headed east again, this time to work as a Chef de Partie in Cafe Boulud. As he earned the respect of Chef Gavin Kaysen, Bludorn worked his way up to executive sous chef. Then, in 2014, on his 30th birthday, he was asked by owner Daniel Boulud himself to take over as executive chef.
Despite his success, for the boy from Bainbridge, life in New York is still occasionally a bit of a culture shock.
“New York City, it widens your eyes when you get here,” Bludorn said. “It’s kind of crazy, but you adjust to life pretty quickly out here as far as the rhythm goes.
“I really enjoy living here,” he said. “It’s definitely a huge change of pace; you don’t have the access to the outdoors like you do back home. But there’s a lot of passionate people working really hard here and you kind of feed off the vibe of everyone else, and energy in the city propels you every day.”
His own career ascension has coincided with the rise of the celebrity chef in pop culture, and a tidal wave of increased attention and interest being leveled at food and the people who prepare it.
Buldorn, not surprised, said America’s seemingly endless passion for culinary culture stems from the universality of food itself.
“I think [food] is something we all have a connection to because everyone eats,” he said. “It’s very relatable.
“A lot of those in the food business are very passionate about what they do. I think people love to see people doing what they love and taking a lot of pride in what they do — because it translates.”
The lows, as well, the chef said, are relatable, even for people who’ve never so much as boiled water, who don’t know confit from confetti.
“I always like to say that no one knows the drama that happens behind every meal,” Bludorn said. “A lot of things have to happen correctly all at once in order to execute dinners at this level. There’s a lot of high pressure situations that we’re in [and] I feel like people can definitely relate to that as well, in their own jobs, [like] having to make a deadline. But in the kitchen you have to make a deadline every five, 10 minutes when you’re putting up dishes for certain tables. And if it’s not perfect or it’s not right, then we have to do it again and that that adds to the drama.”
On “The Final Table,” Bludorn was partnered with Scotland’s Graham Campbell, with whom he enjoyed instant chemistry — while maybe not always totally understanding the guy.
“We like to say that we spoke the same culinary language even if I couldn’t understand what he was saying sometimes; it’s a very thick accent,” Bludorn said. “We got along incredibly well when we started cooking together because we had similar backgrounds; we understood French techniques very well but also some modern gastronomy and we were able to really jive.”
As well as it ultimately worked out, Bludorn said initially he was less than intrigued by the idea of being a part of the competition.
“At first, I didn’t really want to do a cooking show, I didn’t really want to be on TV because I’ve seen ‘Top Chef.’ It kind of turns into a reality show with all the behind-the-scenes nonsense and this, that and the other,” he said.
“But, when I was approached about ‘The Final Table,’ Netflix was looking to do a show where they eliminated all of that. The way they told me what they wanted to do was a global competition that focused on our craft and none of the drama. They didn’t want it to be ‘Top Chef.’ They weren’t going to film us in a house.
“It was going to be purely what we do and celebrating that. And that, to me, was initially very exciting.”
The chef said he was glad in the end he got to be a part of the show, the filming of which took six weeks, in Los Angeles.
“I was just blown away by the diversity and the talent that they had pulled,” he said. “I was very surprised to be a part of that because I didn’t really consider myself as a chef on that level.”