What's Eric Eating Episode 259
On this week's episode of What's Eric Eating, three of the men behind Navy Blue — chef-owner Aaron Bludorn, general manager-partner Cherif Mbodji, and executive chef Jerrod Zifchak — join CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss the eagerly anticipated seafood restaurant's scheduled to open in Rice Village next month.
The conversation begins with Mbodji, who is also a partner and the general manager at Bludorn, tracing the story of how a Senegalese immigrant attending college on a soccer scholarship found his calling in the restaurant business. Zifchak recounts how his childhood experiences cooking alongside his culinary school instructor father led him to the world of professional cooking.
Mbodji also reflects on life in Houston and what he remembers from opening Bludorn two years ago. "People who say this is our first time dining out in months. We'd hear that for months after we opened. This is why I feel so grateful that we're able to do what we love for a living . . . I felt that somehow we were able to help people get back to some sort of normalcy."
Moving on, Bludorn notes that the location, formerly the Politan Row food hall, and Zifchak's decision to take the job, helped steer Navy Blue towards being a seafood restaurant. The chef brings experience from Le Bernadin, the world-famous, three star Michelin seafood restaurant in New York City.
"I don't think we'd be opening a seafood restaurant if Jerrod hadn't said yes," Bludorn says. "One of the things he brushed over, fish butcher at Le Bernadin. There's one guy who does it, and he takes a one month vacation every year. Jerrod was one of very few line cooks who held down that position. You break down all of the fish for the entire restaurant."
Bludorn has earned significant local, regional, and national attention since it opened — including a James Beard semifinalist nomination for chef Bludorn. The trio have similar ambitions for Navy Blue.
"There's not a lot seafood restaurants across the country that have gained any national notoriety. People are seeing an opportunity," Bludorn says. "Joshua Skenes did Angler, Fermín Núñez just opened Este. I think, where better than Houston to be the next one of those restaurants that opens and focuses on American seafood."
Listen to the whole interview to hear Bludorn preview some of the ideas for Navy Blue's menu. Also, Mbodji shares insights into the spirit behind Bludorn's exuberant service, a style that will also be extended to Navy Blue.
Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Rebecca Masson discuss the news of the week. The award-winning chef-owner of Fluff Bake Bar shares her perspective on what Zifchak's experience says about Navy Blue. They also share thoughts on two other topics: what the renovations at the River Oaks location of Cafe Express indicate for the restaurant's future and Sambrooks Management hiring Top Chef alum Louis Maldonado to lead Andiron, its new live fire steakhouse.
In the restaurants of the week segment, they share thoughts on the Upside Pub. They find quite a bit to like about the casual new spot in Garden Oaks, including its nostalgic fare (patty melt, latke balls), friendly service, and well-chosen craft beer list. They conclude the segment with a brief conversation about Kate Weiser Chocolate, the Dallas-based chocolatier who just opened a pop-up shop in River Oaks District.