Podcast Episode 47

Entrepreneur Josh Sharkey Builds Game-Changing Recipe Software for Culinary Pros

Josh Sharkey | 37 Minutes | June 21, 2022

In today’s episode, we speak with Josh Sharkey, who is building culinary tech for future generations of foodservice professionals.

Josh Sharkey is the founder and CEO of meez, a recipe tool for professional chefs. He’s an entrepreneur, chef, and restaurant operator with over 20 years of experience in the industry (including restaurants Oceana, Tabla, Bouley, and Cafe Gray).

Listen as Josh talks about the power of mise en place, using tech in the kitchen, how chefs can adapt their menu development with meez, and innovation in the culinary arts.

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Notes & Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. In today’s episode, we’re speaking with Josh Sharkey, founder and CEO of meez a recipe tool for professional chefs. He’s an entrepreneur, a chef, a restaurant operator with over 20 years of experience in the industry at restaurants like Oceana, Tabla, Bouley, and Cafe Gray.

Join us today as we chat with Josh about working in Michelin Star restaurants, opening his own restaurant in the fast casual space, and creating a first-of-its-kind culinary operating system.

And there he is. Good morning, Josh. How are you?

Josh Sharkey: Good morning. I’m doing great.

Kirk Bachmann: Can I call you Chef? I’m just used to that.

Josh Sharkey: You call me whatever you want to. Josh. Sharkey. Chef.

Kirk Bachmann: You respond to anything.

I’ve got to ask – I already know but the audience will be fascinated – the brick wall behind you: it is not virtual. It is real.

Josh Sharkey: It is very real. My house was built in the ‘30s. One section of the whole house is this really old stone. My whole neighborhood. We sort of live in the forest. It’s all stone.

Kirk Bachmann: I just love that.

Josh Sharkey: Very real background.

Kirk Bachmann: Craftsmanship.

Josh Sharkey: Everybody asks me about this. Obviously, two years on Zoom. Literally every call I have, they’re like, “Is that a real background?” I’m just going to put a sound that says…

Kirk Bachmann: This is real. Or start selling it as a virtual background.

Josh Sharkey: Yeah. Or that.

Kirk Bachmann: I’ll just take a small percentage of that.

Josh Sharkey: Done.

Kirk Bachmann: I am so excited today. This is really going to be a cool conversation. There’s so much. First and foremost, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask how your weekend was. We just came off of an exciting Memorial Day weekend where I believe, for the first time in a couple of years, post-pandemic if you want to call it that. People got out and about.

Josh Sharkey: Thank you. I had a great weekend. I was actually a solo dad this weekend. My wife went away with some of her friends, well-deserved time away for a post-Mother’s Day gift. I had the two kids by myself for most of the weekend. Then I brought them to a pool party on Monday.

Kirk Bachmann: That is awesome. You just captured the spousal population out there. That was really sweet of you to do, let the wife take off for the weekend.

Josh Sharkey: She deserved it.

From Cooking at Home to Michelin Star Kitchens

Kirk Bachmann: I’m sure.

Let’s get started. So much. I want to catch people up really quickly. There’s some names that I’m a little enamored by and I want to hear some stories. You’re a culinary school grad. You’re a chef who’s worked for some big names. You’re an entrepreneur, most importantly in this tech space. Why I love that is because people are thinking about that. Even here in Escoffier, in many ways we think of ourselves as a tech company that is delivering education, not necessarily the other way around.

Before we get into that: you’re in New York City now. Is that where you grew up?

Josh Sharkey: No, actually, I grew up in Virginia for the first 17 years, and then I went to Rhode Island to culinary school. Went overseas to work in Michelin Star spots. Went through Europe and then I came to New York.

Kirk Bachmann: Did you do culinary training in Europe as well?

Josh Sharkey: Cook. I was cooking.

Kirk Bachmann: You were cooking. Spoken like a very humble cook. I love that.

So where did it come? You went to culinary school at a young age. Was it part of your family? Grandma?

Josh Sharkey: Yeah. I think the impetus was actually my father passed away when I was 16, so my mom obviously worked a lot to take care of the three kids. I would cook dinners at home all the time. Then I started cooking dinners on the weekends and lunches and things, and I got really into it. Nonchalantly entered this contest that Johnson & Wales put on, and won.

I was supposed to go to school for wrestling. I had a couple full scholarships to wrestle in college. Then it turns on Johnson & Wales had a really incredible wrestling team. They have the number one junior team in the country now, I think, for Division II.

Kirk Bachmann: So cooks can wrestle. I like it.

Josh Sharkey: Some can. Anyway, I sort of fell into it. I was working in restaurants when I was younger and then decided to go culinary school. Even when I got to culinary school, I wouldn’t say it really clicked. I even passed my externship, and I really enjoyed it, and loved what I was doing.

My time after culinary school, I ended up winning this other contest, and flew to Norway with a bunch of incredible chefs. I ended up working at some restaurants there, and that was the eye-opening moment. Working for these Michelin Star chefs, I was like, “Holy crap! This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Kirk Bachmann: That is awesome. David Bouley, Rick Moonen – impressive names. Were you thinking about that when you went to culinary school, or were you just still trying to figure it out?

Josh Sharkey: Candidly, I didn’t even know who they were when I was in culinary school. The contest that I entered found me in New York City for the finals. They flew me to New York for the finals. The judges were Rick Moonen, Eric Ripert, Marc Samuelson, Rocko DiSpirito all of whom I actually didn’t know at the time.

Kirk Bachmann: What a crowd! Oh my gosh!

Josh Sharkey: This was the year 2000, and I didn’t know who they were, luckily, I think. I would have been a lot more nervous. I ended up winning that contest. I got to travel through Norway with those chefs and some other incredible people. So I ended up at Rick Moonen’s restaurant after that experience. I never actively planned to go to New York or to go to work for Chef Moonen. That just sort of happened.

Then every restaurant thereafter was really a natural progression. I think in the food world, resumes don’t really do a lot, at least early on. It’s more, Does the chef that you’re working for speak highly of you when you go to the next place. If they know that it’s time for you to move on, will they help you find the next role? That’s really how I found every job.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s the beauty of our craft. If you leave an organization, a restaurant, a hotel, and you leave after a year or whatever, and you get this referral from your chef, it doesn’t get much better than that. That propels you through your career.

Did David Bouley have a Michelin Star while you were there?

Josh Sharkey: Was Michelin there then? We had four stars in the New York Times, which is the highest ranking you can get from the New York Times.

Kirk Bachmann: That might have been before. You’re right.

Josh Sharkey: It hadn’t hit New York yet.

Starting Fresh

Kirk Bachmann: What was it like? Incredible reputation. Really well respected in the industry. What was that like going from culinary school into an environment that was probably pretty serious?

Josh Sharkey: I went from culinary school to Oceana, and before that in those spots overseas. Honestly, it was a wake-up call. “Oh, this is way different. I don’t know anything. Let me just put everything that I thought I knew aside and start fresh.” Especially in New York, there’s a lot of competition. There’s no room to mess up. If you do, the person next to you wants that station just as much as you do and they’ll take it. It was definitely tough.

I would say at Bouley it was an incredible crew when I was there. Christina Tosi from Milkbar was pastry. Alex Grunert from Olmsted. Evan Rich who now has Rich Table and a bunch of restaurants in San Francisco. A bunch of incredible chefs. P.J. Calapa was there. This very talented group of chefs. Everyone was almost like every chef for themselves, which was not a good thing. A lot of learning for me there were things that needed to improve operationally for a restaurant. It definitely was a great learning experience of how to thrive in that type of world.

Making the Biggest Impact

Kirk Bachmann: You’ve held quite a number of roles within the industry. You’ve been a chef, like we’ve talked about. You’ve been a restaurant owner. COO and now CEO of this culinary technology company. For many cooks or chefs, it’s a winding road. It’s a long road to find your place where you feel like you belong.

What was that like for you when you went from one role to the next? I’m jumping a little ahead. Was there a time, Chef, in your career where you thought, “I’m just going to keep getting referrals?” Or early on where you were like, “I can do this. I can run my own restaurant.”

We’ll get to the technology, but I’m just so curious to know when you started thinking about that. Was it because, “Gosh, this place has no efficiencies whatsoever. I can improve upon this.” When did all that come rushing in?

Josh Sharkey: To be honest, it took me a lot to realize this, but from the minute I started cooking in restaurants professionally, I immediately was always thinking about, “What is this leading to?” Every technique I learned, every dish I learned, every lesson I learned was immediately documented for myself as, “Okay, I’m going to do this with that information now.” I was always doing that, always thinking about, “Here’s what my restaurant will look like. I’m never going to do that. I’m going to make sure I do this.” I was always working towards it. It was always something that was on my mind.

I think the progression happened rather naturally. Honestly, I was cooking for many years and then I realized, “I’ve been a cook. I’ve been a sous chef. I’ve been all these things. It’s now time to take the next step.”

Maybe not common for the path is a friend of mine who I’d cooked with for a very long time lived near me in Brooklyn. We realized there was a giant gap in the market for really good food that’s approachable. He was a lot more entrepreneurial at the time that I was. I was really more focused on cooking. But we decided, “Hey, this is a good idea.”

I decided to move on from fine dining and start this [fast casual concept, which at the time – 2007 when we made the decision – everybody thought we were crazy. I remember even my chefs – many of them, not all of them – thought “What are you doing? There’s no future in fast casual? Why would you do that?” There was a lot of thinking against the grain there, which was tough. We were on an island. But we knew there was something special there.

I always ask myself, whether it’s cooking or creating a business, or creating a product, “How big of an impact can I have?” I got to a point cooking when I realized there are a ton of talented chefs. I think I’m really good, but where am I going to have the biggest impact. At the time, that was relegated to building a fast casual concept that used all the techniques that we had from the fine dining world, and all the great products. That was very uncommon. It didn’t really exist at the time. It really just drew me because I thought, “I can have a much bigger impact by doing that.”

Later, what brought me to meez, but I’m always asking myself, “Am I having a big enough impact with what I’m doing today?”

Cooks Who Love Prep

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. That’s really well said. I love that.

I don’t know if I’ve heard that before. To be so thoughtful that you were considering the impact you have on others. Could be family, could be friends, could be customers, could be society, could be the industry.

Before we get to meez: skill sets. Skill sets. You started to touch on it a little bit. You leave that part of the industry where you’re executing every single day. That’s a certain skill set. Adherence to technique and respect for the craft and that sort of thing. Now, you’re moving into your own business. Regardless of what the concept is, what is the skill set that you need – maybe what you took with you, and what you left behind – to all of a sudden become an entrepreneur? Can you speak a little bit about that?

Josh Sharkey: Absolutely. It’s going to sound cliche, especially in our name…

Kirk Bachmann: Cliche is good! I like cliche!

Josh Sharkey: Honestly, it’s mise en place. I think people really underestimate the value of what a cook is able to accomplish if they really understand mise en place. If they understand how to plan and organize. I’ve always loved this difference between cooks that love service and cooks that love prep. I love prep! Because I know I have these million things I’ve got to do, and I’m going to plan when I’m going to do them, and what oven space I have, and when I’m going to do this, and how am I going to make sure this is going to be fresh at this time, and all of these things that require a lot of planning and organization.

All of that has to happen before you ever serve a dish. There’s so much work that goes into cooking before you actually cook. That skill set – you can see it when you walk in on somebody’s station. When they have a very tight station and all the pans are at right angles and their towels are neatly folded and their spoons are in the right spots so they know they can grab them. All those things that you think about.

It’s the same thing when you transition to starting a business. You have to really have the ability to plan well and think about What are all the things that I need in order to execute this? What are the questions that I need answered? I think that’s a huge one.

I think the other one – and it’s funny because I tell this to my team in the tech company – but the ability to prioritize when a million things are coming at you is something that you can learn really well as a line cook. For instance, we have a million features that our customers ask us for all the time. My head of product is always struggling with which one do I do first? How do I do this? How do I prioritize? Really, everyone on my team has the same sort of problems.

I always frame it the same way: If I’m the grill cook, and I’m cooking steak, I can only fit 40 steaks on that grill. That’s it. Only 40. If I put 42, then they’re going to steam. If I try to put 50, none of them are going to cook and it’s going to be terrible. This is how much I can do at once, and everything else is going to have to wait for the next round. That skill set of being able to constantly, in real time, prioritize what we can do now and what’s going to have to come next is a really, really important skill when you’re running a business.

Kirk Bachmann: This concept of mise en place, for our audience, mise en place. Essentially a French phrase or term that every culinary student learns about having everything in its place. It’s organizing. It’s prioritizing. It’s planning. It’s executing, so on and so forth. For that audience, that was not staged. That was just a brilliant cliche.

Josh Sharkey: Anecdotally, I remember when I first got into working at Oceana, there’s there’s this red pepper mayonnaise that Rick Moonen makes. It’s really delicious mayonnaise. I vividly remember this because he was going to show me how to make the mayonnaise. You have to get Dijon, and Tabasco, and fish sauce, and egg yolks, the confit of the peppers and onions. All these things.

He was coming in to show me, which he doesn’t usually do. A sous chef will do that. He came in. I had the recipe, and he said, “Okay. Where is everything?” I said, “Oh, I thought we were going to make it together.” “This isn’t school kid. Get everything together.”

It’s when I also realized that mise en place, there’s a level of respect there. If you want to learn, if you want your teacher to teach you, go the extra mile and get everything. Make it really easy. I took that with me as well.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s a great moment in time. That specific occurrence, has that come back to you as you mentor?

Josh Sharkey: Oh my gosh!

Kirk Bachmann: Where’s your mise en place? Where’s your mise en place?

Josh Sharkey: All the time. When a new employee wants to learn to use a new tool, a new system. I realized I subconsciously have done this for so long in my career. If I wanted to learn butchery, I would come in early on my days off and study that. I would come in and help the butcher get all of their work together and clean things for them so they had the time to actually show me the most important things.

In today’s world, if I have a team member that needs to learn a new tool, have they looked through the help articles already? Have they come over with the questions that they need? Are they ready for this training that I’m going to do for them? It’s very clear when they are or they’re not and it makes all the world of difference.

The Origin of meez

Kirk Bachmann: And they’re learning every step of the way. As you did. That’s a great story.

meez – M-E-E-Z, really cool tool. If I understand it 100 percent correctly, this is to help, to make an impact, to help cooks, chefs, to create, to price, to manage, share recipes, essentially develop recipes.

Following your thought process as you are moving from one part of your career to the next, where did this concept originate in your mind? Then you start building it. Is it first something that you saw that could make an immediate impact, you needed it right away? Or did you start thinking, “The industry needs this and this is where I’m going to go?”

Josh Sharkey: It took a while to get to that. The impetus originally was a very novel idea, honestly. I was working for Floyd Cardoz at the time, and at Tabla and in the mornings I was working for free making charcuterie for Mario Batali’s. He had a charcuterie shop in Union Square in New York. I had this notebook of all the stuff I was learning, every little detail of it. Prosciutto, and pancetta and coppa and humidity and time and temperature. All the things that I needed as well as my thoughts on it. And I lost the notebook.

I was up staging one day for fun at another restaurant, and I lost the notebook. The novel idea originally was, “I need to digitize everything.” Evernote, and all that jazz. That was the spark of the idea. But that was way earlier, in 2003.

Then I started cooking in more kitchens, running more kitchens, seeing all of the inefficiencies of where our recipes live. Who’s making what? Even in the best restaurants in the world, the most famous dishes that they have, and no one actually knows how to make it. There’s no source of truth. Cooking in those kitchens helped me realize a lot of these things. All the disparity we have between tools and execution.

And then I ran my own business. More things came about. Oh my gosh! Now I have to run a team, and I’m using all the domain agnostic tools to do it. This is a mess!

Finally, I think it was around 2015, it was about eight years into me running all of my businesses. I had that moment, again, of “These businesses are great, but I’m not going to have as big of an impact on the impact with this than I will to go and build this tool.”

I always had in my mind that every craft has their digital tool now. Designers have Figma, and photographers have Photoshop. Architects have AutoCAD. Engineers have GitHub. As culinary professionals, we don’t have anything. All we have is inventory or ERP software. That’s not cool. That’s finance, and that’s fine. They’re necessary, but they’re not really what we do as a craft. So that is what meez is intended to be.

I decided to divest from the restaurants and go full-force into building this tool for the industry.

Kirk Bachmann: That story so resonates with me when I think about a collection of recipes. I’ve mentioned to you that my father is a master pastry chef. He’s 85 now and he still does some special things over the holidays for us, stollen and apple strudel. Very exclusive guest list for that. But he’s got the quintessential old-school recipe book. It’s all in German. I get frightened every time I see it. “Oh my God, what if he drops it? Or it falls into the sink?” All of that data is gone forever. That’s really an important story.

What do you think, Chef, is the most important aspect? Many chefs are old school. They act as they were trained. What is the most important aspect to adapting meez to their menus, to their thought process, to their menu development? What do they have to give of themselves to be able to allow this to happen?

Josh Sharkey: I come from the same background. For 20-plus years in this industry, and I know what we’ve used for so long. We’re comfortable with it even though it is really, really difficult. Every single chef in every single business is reinventing the wheel with their spreadsheets and their Google Docs and their PowerPoints. Everybody has their way that they’ve figured out how to sort of make it work.

There’s a level of that is, unfortunately, tough because, “Hey, I’ve put so much time and effort into this thing.” There’s a bit of a sunk cost fallacy; there’s so much effort that went into this, I can’t switch now. It’s inevitable. This is what happens and things change. We need to make it better for the next round of culinary professionals.

I think the biggest thing to realize is there’s a better way. We haven’t had someone give us what we deserve as chefs. There’s this misconception that chefs don’t understand technology. That’s not true. Chefs just don’t have time. If you give us something that is clunky and back office oriented and was built by an engineer and not a chef, and you haven’t asked us what we want and why we want it, then yeah, we’re not going to adopt it.

I think we’re maniacally focused on making sure that this [meez] is something that is for you. We’re giving it to you. I work for the industry. You tell me what you want. I know what I wanted. That’s why this is so fun for me. I’m scratching my own itch. I get this tool that I’ve always wanted.

But I think the best way for all of us to grow and adopt this tool is to know that we’re all in this thing together. We can build this tool that every generation moving forward is going to use. That’s why we give it to culinary students. I fully believe it is something you should take with you for your entire career. You don’t need to use those little black notebooks anymore. Put it somewhere where you can go back to it. Then, in 20 years, you’re going to see all of these things that you’ve done over a couple of decades of work.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s a great question, or a great response to the question. I have a very good friend, an entrepreneur. He said it in a similar way. The best way to produce something that your customers is going to use is just to ask them what they want. They’ll tell you.

I think you’ll probably agree that technology is taking the culinary world by storm, if it hasn’t already. I agree. I think a lot of chefs embrace technology. They just need to be asked. This has been going on for years. Here at Escoffier, more than half of our students complete their education online, and then they follow up with an in-person externship. We all know that access to the internet has really increased opportunities for non-traditional approaches to education.

There are many more technology advancements that are improving how we cook, how we serve, how we manage our businesses, and perhaps most importantly, how we manage our guests’ or our customers’ expectations. That’s so important. You read all the time about food innovators who are using robots and GPS technology, and smartphone apps to improve the food production process. We’re seeing new technology that consequently then improves and enhances in many ways the customer experience.

Specifically related to you, Chef, and meez, what are some of the technological advancements that you started seeing or that you’re currently seeing that have inspired you to develop what you’ve developed? Specifically in the technology area.

The Draw of Technology

Josh Sharkey: There’s so much. Front of the house, back of the house. There’s a ton of it. I think, to ratchet up one level, the proliferation of the gig economy has changed everything. The ability to start your own business and monetize it without having to have four walls of a restaurant has changed so much of the restaurant world, and it’s just changed the medium of what great food can be provided. It used to be that great food just came from a restaurant and that’s it. Now, you can get it in a meal kit company or a delivery company or a ghost kitchen. You can get it in hospitals. You can get it in your apartment building. You could have a private chef, which used to only be available to the wealthy. Now, other’s can have availability to that. There’s a lot of technology around that that I find really interesting to help make it easier for people to do that.

I think if we’re getting more technical, there’s so much advancement now in terms of how to execute precision that we didn’t have when I was younger. Obviously sous vide is somewhat new in terms of the industry, but the ability to cook precisely. Thermometers that tell you when you’re about to hit temp, and account for carry-over cooking, and things like that. The amount of IOT [Internet Of Things] technology is really cool. I think we’re only at the beginning of it.

We’re really excited, at meez, to introduce a lot of that into your recipes. You can be interacting with your smart oven or your thermometers or with your scales. Lots of really cool stuff there. Of course, in general, I would say technology has amplified a lot of what we’re able to do and given us more time to focus on what’s important. People just want convenience, and that is what technology seems to be driving forward the most. Making things easier and faster.

Kirk Bachmann: They want information. They want it fast. They want knowledge. It used to be that knowledge was kept in the kitchen, in the classroom. That’s where knowledge was kept. Now it’s everywhere.

I’m really curious about you specifically. Were you fascinated by technology just on your own? Were you a gamer?

Josh Sharkey: No. I’m very systems-driven. I would build these very complex macros in Excel to solve the problems that we had in the kitchens. Everything from recipes to menu engineering. I was really systems-driven. I do like technology. I’m always looking for the new app that will make me work faster and help me do things better.

But in general, to be honest with you, I think of meez as a hospitality company. Right now, we’re deploying technology to solve a problem, but we also supply a lot of service. There’s a lot of comments about our customer service because we know it’s not just going to be something we can hand off. I’m really interested in a very domain-focused approach to technology.

A lot of technology in the world is built by someone who may not necessarily be the end user. Because of that, there are a lot of gaps. I’m really excited about how deep we can go as an industry with building solutions. Those solutions might be technology. They might be integrations. They might be even simpler solves. How can we use all the information and data that we have to keep building better and better ways to do things.

meez itself, there are a lot of really proprietary technology in meez in terms of how to import your recipes, the kind of recipe data associated with that. OCR technology and things like that. All the sort of magical things that you can do in meez that you can’t do anywhere else in terms of scaling, sharing, converting. It’s hard. It’s far more of a hospitality approach than a tech-driven approach.

Kirk Bachmann: I’m really interested. Again, I don’t want you to give away any of your secrets. We’ll give you an opportunity. Where do people find meez?

Josh Sharkey: You can go to getmeez.com. G-E-T-M-E-E-Z. Or on Instagram, same thing.

What’s Next for Josh and the Industry

Kirk Bachmann: Perfect.

Two-part question. What’s next for you? Because you seem ambitious and you seem restless, and you’re looking, I’m sure, even beyond meez. I’d love to get inside the mind of Josh to see what’s next.

Then, kind of a similar parallel question: what’s next for the industry, in your mind?

Josh Sharkey: I would say, what’s next for me? I tend to not think that much farther ahead. When I get into something, I get really, really maniacally focused on it. That said, I know myself to know that the minute I pick my head up, I’m going to be thinking about the next thing. So I try NOT to pick my head up, actually, other than to understand what’s going on in the world.

So right now, the future for me is meez. How can we continue to build the universal recipe medium? How do we continue to make it easier and easier for people? That’s my drive and my mission for the foreseeable future. So I couldn’t really answer what’s next, outside of that, because there’s so much to do there. So much. Thousands of feature requests and plans of things we want to do with the app that we could be at this for a very long time, and keep building better and better things. For now, I’m really focused on that.

In terms of what’s next for the industry, I think that there’s a lag between the type of technology that’s being introduced in the industry and the adoption rate of that technology. Not having anything to do with the people involved, but the infrastructure. There’s a lot of robotics. There’s a lot of automation and things like that. Those things will hit the industry, for sure, but you have the remember that the majority of restaurants in this country, the majority of food businesses, don’t have the infrastructure to introduce robots into their kitchens, into their front of the house. They’d have to literally rebuild their kitchen, and there’s Cap X involved with things like that. The time to value becomes longer. I think it’s going to be a long time before those types of things become ubiquitous. I think they’re going to be more top-down.

But I think there’s so much going on right now in terms of this productivity technology that helps us do what we do better.

Kirk Bachmann: Not many do – but you noticed Marco Pierre White in the background right away when we jumped on today. How would he or many chefs in his generation – although he’s embracing technology as well. You can get master classes and all that. This is a tough question. Has the timing just been right for this? Twenty years ago, would chefs or cooks have been as receiving of technology in the kitchen?

Josh Sharkey: Such a hard question. I think about people like Marco Pierre White and like Pierre Gagnaire, these minds that are always thinking about innovation. I have to believe that they would be the first to adopt these things. The difference being that they didn’t grow up with it. The generation today, they grew up with so much technology that it’s just a natural extension where they not only would adopt it, but they expect it. That’s why we’re able to do this so much faster.

In addition, the ability to deploy technology has become way easier with AWS [Amazon Web Services] and all these open source technologies. It would be way too hard to do twenty years ago. But I would have to believe that guys like Marco and Pierre, I think they would adopt it. They’re innovative. They’re always thinking about what they can do to give them an edge and be better.

Kirk Bachmann: They would have loved that response. Perfect response.

Quick story: I was in Ireland several years ago with my wife, and it was her birthday weekend. I was literally talking to her about Marco Pierre White and White Heat and all of that. She had no idea who he was. Here we are walking through a neighborhood and I paused and I stopped. She thought I was having a heart attack. But I looked across the street, and there was a brand-new Marco Pierre White steakhouse that had just opened up. Literally. That’s what that is. That’s the menu. We walk in. They, of course, didn’t have room that night, but we went back the next night and we had an exquisite meal. He wasn’t there, but it was his restaurant. The food was exceptional. The service was beyond, over-the-top. I always keep coming back. I agree with you 100 percent. The Thomas Keller’s of the world, they would all adopt because that’s what they’ve always done.

Are there people on your team that are tasked with, or is it you, that continuously integrate the whole concept – which is so important today – about sustainability and sourcing locally? Is that all kind of in the bucket as well?

Josh Sharkey: Yeah. We try to make it easier. What I would say is we try not to be prescriptive with what we’re doing at meez. There tends to be a lack of empathy when we try to go too deep into that. We have lots of restaurants that are the Jose Andres’s and Danielle’s and things like that. Jean Georges and fine dining, and things like that. But we also have a lot of restaurants that are just making really great simple food in a small town. They might not have access to all those things, and they do what they can. But we try to make it easier for them.

For example, it’s really hard to buy from farmers’ markets and farmers and actually embed that into your cost matrix because of the invoices and how they come, and things like that. Keeping it consistent. So we try to make that really easy, so that you can. You don’t have to shy away from doing that because it’s difficult. You can use as many different vendors as you want.

I think what ends up happening is that restaurants, for a very long time, and thankfully it’s going the other way, is restaurants just became more, and more commodotized and more cookie cutter, because it was easier to operate that way. It was too difficult to have lots of different vendors, and lots of different products. It was too much to manage. Now, you can manage that. That’s how you create really great sustainability. You’re going to get your turnips from this farmer, and you’re going to get your pork from here. We want to make that as easy as possible.

Josh Sharkey’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: It’s interesting that you say that. Even 20 years ago, the Marriott’s of the world started creating those economies of scale by going to single-buyers like Eventra for the exact reasons you explained. That’s a brilliant story.

I have so enjoyed this chat. I can’t even believe where almost the last hour went. But I’m not going to let you go, Chef, until I ask the one question I have to ask. The name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish. So in your mind, what is the ultimate dish?

Josh Sharkey: I’m going to give two types of answers, because there’s one that’s more general. I love cooking over a fire in my backyard. I have four or five different fire pits and different types of grills. Any time there’s a flame and we’re outside and people are around the flame and there’s something cooking over it, there’s just nothing better than that char and smoke. You add some acid and sweetness when it comes off. That’s just incredible.

For that reason, there’s a restaurant that closed in New York that was my favorite restaurant and my wife’s favorite restaurant. We used to go there all the time. There’s one dish that they actually took off the menu before they closed but it has always stuck with us. It was chicken livers with pineapple curry. It was a restaurant called Uncle Boons. It was called Uncle Boons. They still have restaurants in New York, incredible amazing chefs. There were these chicken livers and this pineapple curry with these handmade rotis, little crepes. So, so good. Spicy and sweet and rich and creamy. It was just incredible. Working for Gray Kunz for so long, I developed an affinity for acid and heat and salt. All those really strong flavors, so I always would gravitate towards that.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s great. Really, really good answer. I think we got more than the ultimate dish. We got a memory. I love that. Food memories are absolutely spectacular.

I think we’re going to have to chat again. I’ve got some people to introduce you to and meez. Some farmers. I love your comments around how to work with farmers, because that could be different than what we’re used to. “Where’s the invoice?” That sort of thing. Absolutely love that.

I hope that baby has a longer nap than you expected.

Josh Sharkey: I appreciate that.

Kirk Bachmann: I’m going to look for my invite in the mail for your next over-the-fire. That sounds absolutely spectacular.

Josh Sharkey: On it.

Kirk Bachmann: Chef, thank you so much. The best of luck into the future.

Josh Sharkey: You as well. Really, really great to chat with you. I look forward to connecting again.

Kirk Bachmann: Thanks again, Chef. Really appreciate it.

And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.

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