In today’s episode, we speak with former stand-up comedian and culinarian Jon-Paul Hutchins, who believes that everyone needs a creative expression with no limits.
Chef JP is a humorous, high-energy culinary veteran with nearly 40 years of experience as an executive chef, instructor, consultant, and entrepreneur. He spent 12 years as stand-up comedian and has worked on the Today show, Food Network, and HGTV. Today, he works in culinary tech with a super-cool company called ShiftPixy Labs.
Listen as Chef JP talks about his career in stand-up, recognizing different learning styles, using AR/VR in culinary experiences, and trying to reduce as much unnecessary suffering in the culinary work environment as possible.
Watch the podcast episode:
Get the latest episode of The Ultimate Dish delivered right to your inbox every week.
Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. In today’s episode, we’re speaking with Jon-Paul Hutchins, a humorous, high-energy culinary veteran with nearly 40 years of experience as an executive chef, instructor, consultant, and entrepreneur. He has been instrumental in shaping the lives and careers of countless students and graduates. Jon-Paul is a vibrant media personality who spent 12 years as a stand-up comedian, a talent that he’s used to create dynamic, informational, humorous culinary experiences on such shows as “The Today Show,” Food Network, and HGTV.
Today he works closely with the industry with a super cool company called ShiftPixy Labs which combines the modern perks of the gig economy with traditional employment benefits.
Join us today as we chat with Chef J.P. about his love for the craft of cooking, teaching aspiring chefs for over 30 years, and launching a new business venture.
And there he is. How are you, my friend?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I’m getting misty, man. That was quite an introduction.
Kirk Bachmann: I need some oxygen! I need some oxygen! I’m exhausted after that.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: That was beautiful. I am…okay, and cut! We’re good. That’s a wrap.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it, buddy.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I’ll send this to my mom.
Kirk Bachmann: You should. Gosh, can I just tell you, talk about getting gushy and emotional. This is such a pleasure for me. It’s been a long pandemic. It’s been a lot of years. You and I spent a lot of years working together. People will know almost immediately that we’ve met, that we’ve embraced.
But can I tell you, honestly, right off the bat, from the bottom of my heart, you are that one person, that one contact, that first contact for me when I moved from the industry into education. You’d been there. I can’t thank you enough. If I haven’t said it enough, shame on me, for how open, friendly, real, funny, and just thoughtful you are and have been since the day I met you. I’m going to say, that was 1999. I just gave the age away. I one hundred percent sincerely mean that. I refer to you, J.P., as a gentleman chef. I love you with all my heart. I am so pumped up for today.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I’m super excited just to reconnect with you. In our history, I want to thank you for taking all the jobs that would have gotten me fired.
Kirk Bachmann: Exactly. I was there for you!
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I remember the phone calls where you would call me up and say, “What did you do?” It’s like you were stretching your neck out again across the cutting block. “What did you do?” I’m like, “Uh…”
Kirk Bachmann: And you always had a six-pack of Visine for me. “Here, get this in your eyes. Get this in your eyes. Right now.”
Let’s talk about you.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: Okay.
Kirk Bachmann: Are you ready? Are you ready?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I’m ready man, let’s go.
Kirk Bachmann: I want you to start with music. You got the Yankee hat on. I know that’s the background. I want to hear about the Ramones. I want to hear about the leather coats. I want to hear about you rocking the streets of New York, and then to where you are now. I happen to know some of that story, and it’s super, super cool. I want people to experience that journey. Take me all the way back to New York.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: Actually, the hat. I’m a New York City kid, but it’s this part that matters. That’s New Jersey.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: A lot of people think it’s in New York, but it’s really in New Jersey. I am third generation Italian immigrant. The Statue of Liberty is a big, big deal to me, the promise of the Statue of Liberty. Just to give you a background about what my DNA is like. My mom grew up in the Italian section of Newark. I was born in Newark, New Jersey in the Italian sections. My dad was the youngest of 13 from a farm in Indiana, where they made more money selling corn liquor than corn. It’s what you did.
Kirk Bachmann: Probably still do.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I grew up in Newark, and then the riots came. We moved to Plainfield, and then the riots came there. Then we moved to Maplewood, and they just stole our cars, but there were no riots.
Kirk Bachmann: I need a tissue! Somebody get me a tissue! Hurry.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: Moving on up. Moving on up. So it was interesting. When you grow up in a city like that, it becomes a part of you. I grew up in Italian kitchens. My mom was a huge cook. My dad loved baking.
We used to have Christmas parties that lasted three days, literally three days. You would show up with an ornament, people would be asleep on the floor. Once again, this is the early ‘70s. I’d be nine, ten years old and there’d be the living room table with 100 different bottles of booze on it. Food constantly coming out. Never-ending food. Two o’clock in the morning, there’d be fondue. It was a cool lifestyle, because among the people sleeping on the floor would be a priest.
Kirk Bachmann: Just in case!
Jon-Paul Hutchins: My mom owned art galleries; she had one in the Watergate and one in New Jersey. It was lots of artists, lots of musicians.
Kirk Bachmann: Super cool.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I was born with these two people who came kind of from nothing and found that education was the way out. My dad came at Indiana, got his Bachelors, got his Masters, got his Ph. D. in psychology. My mom ended up with two Masters degrees. My dad was a school psychology. My mom was the dean of students at DeVry Tech and RCA Institute. Eventually, I think she was the first female vice president at AT&T. So my mom and dad, they’re badasses.
Then I come along.
Kirk Bachmann: Are we going to have to edit?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: No, but let’s just say ADD wasn’t invented when I was a kid, so they just called it ants in his pants. I’m the perpetual D student. A lot of it was attention span. I would just get bored so easily.
So, 13 years old and two things happened in one day: I get my first culinary job – I get a job as a pot scrubber in a retirement home – and a local band called the Ramones comes to play at my high school. So when that happened, literally the next week, I was in CBGB’s. “What’s this about?”
Who else was on the bill? Little Cyndi and Blue Angel, who is Cyndi Lauper. So I got to meet all these guys, and ended up touring with the Ramones years later. We went to what was called The Monsters of Rock Festival, which is now Donington, in England. It was fun. We flew back. We were in coach because we were the Ramones. Meatloaf was in front with a broken nose because somebody hit him with a full bottle of beer while he was onstage and singing. And Jefferson Starship was just…hydrating, I guess. They were really old.
So I had some adventures, but in New Jersey you either go down the shore or you go into the city. I was a city kid. So for me, I’d say I was born in Newark, but I was raised by the Lower East Side. I was one of those kids you’d see all over Greenwich Village and the musics stores, going into clubs. We’d go to the hair salons, and you’d get these little tickets. It would be pink or green. There would be a phone number on it and you’d call at ten o’clock at night and they’d tell you where to go. You’d look for a red light bulb and show up, and there would be this whole world of a club that never existed before.
The ‘70s and ‘80s were unbelievable in New York City. It never stopped. We used to go to rooftop parties. You’d show up on a rooftop. You’d play a show at two o’clock in the morning, go to a rooftop, and there would be 60 vintage vehicles up there. They created a drive-in theater on the roof of a building in Manhattan. You’re watching an old ‘50s movie, and the drinking and the partying and all the rest of it. Then they would just bring all those vehicles down, disperse them. It was crazy.
Kirk Bachmann: Unbelievable.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: It was a cool time to be a kid and grow up. You could get in anywhere. Now, you can’t get in everywhere. We went into Studio 54 through the back, especially when I was cooking. You knew cooks everywhere. I got in the back door of every major restaurant. La Pyramide. I was eating out by the garbage cans out back because I had friends working the line and they would run you out a plate of food. You’re waiting for them to finish up their shift so you can go out and do your thing, but you’re eating roulade of squab with a plastic spoon, sitting on a garbage can.
Kirk Bachmann: While we’re on that: chefs, musicians, motorcycles, fast cars, night life, pirates – what is that all about?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I think they’re things that we can individually become experts at, but we work better in groups. Think of a guy riding a motorcycle, and think of the Hell’s Angel. They work better as a group. Maybe a poor analogy. But essentially, but if I’m in a band or if I’m in a kitchen, whatever I do gets exponentially better when I work with better people.
Kirk Bachmann: Makes total sense.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I just get better. To me, a mosh pit is just like a kitchen. It’s a bunch of these people banging into each other, but they have an intention, and they can be very curt. They can be physical. I’ve had guys grab me by the shoulder and push me out of the way because they were bringing roasting pans through and I was too busy doing what I was doing. I wasn’t hearing them.
Kirk Bachmann: So that’s perfect right there. What’s the denominator? Trust? Sense of belong.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: It’s trust, but I think in the best kitchens I’ve been in, the only thing that matters is the plate. The only thing that matters. If you cut yourself, if you’ve burned yourself. I’ve worked on broken feet. I’ve broken legs. Broken hands. Third-degree burns. I’ve had blood poisoning, and worked the line. Because you have a such a commitment to not letting your team down and putting out the best plate. We work like dogs.
The problem is when you get out of that, there are very few people who will see eye-to-eye with you on your passion. They love the idea of your passion, but they can’t live within your passion, because your passion is complete.
Kirk Bachmann: Take me further. That love for music has not gone away.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: On no. I still record.
Kirk Bachmann: Do you have a guitar right around the corner?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I don’t have one right here, but I have one in my hotel room. I travel with guitars. I have three different rigs set up in my house depending on the style of music that I want to play. I have a punk rig that’s the big loud one out in the garage. I’ve got a trippy synth rig in the house. I have one in the kitchen. Literally, when I’m cooking, I can have a guitar on.
Some people doodle to help them concentrate. If I strap on a guitar and put on a headset and I need to work through a problem, or I’m staring at a dish, it will come to me. It’s almost like meditation. I love it. It’s something I can do for the rest of my life. I can be creative forever. It’s something where I can share emotion. There’s nothing like it, whether it’s music or art. I think everybody needs some creative expression that has no limits.
Kirk Bachmann: Did you know that, J.P.? You’re young, you’re traveling with the Ramones. You’re having a blast. You’re cooking. Did you connect the dots? Or was it just, “I do this and I do this. But music is who I am and it’s made me a better chef or a more creative chef?”
Jon-Paul Hutchins: Actually, my mom connected the dots for me.
Kirk Bachmann: Okay, there you go.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I was getting ready to go on tour.
Kirk Bachmann: Ants in your pants, right? Come over here, I’m going to connect these dots.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: It was the opposite. We woke me up with a heavy object one afternoon and said, “You’ve got to do something.” I’m working in restaurants just like every other musician. And like every other musician, I’m working in restaurants. It’s what you do until you get a gig.
My stage name was Biz Viva and I’d played in a band with Biff, Buzz, Spaz, Rhino, Poodle, and me, Biz. When I split from Biz, when I split from that band, The Consumers, I wanted to go on a solo tour. So we had Biz Viva’s Old Cheese Tour. At this time, Ronald Reagan was handing out a lot of government cheese, a lot of government sugar, and a lot of government flour.
I had an 18-wheeler and we went to these little towns in upstate New York and Pennsylvania. We hit state fairs and laundromats, and we hit laundromats because they had so much electricity. And if we played a laundromat, you couldn’t leave for 45 minutes because you had to wait for your laundry to be done, so you sat through our whole set.
Kirk Bachmann: Captive audience.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: We would go on these local radio stations that had like two watts, and we’re all like, “You should come to the laundromat or to the show. We’re going to have a merch table where we’re handing out autographed singles.” We’re sitting at the table and we’re signing Kraft Singles, cheese singles. So that was the Old Cheese Tour.
But we actually blew up a town. We went on and there were a lot of high school bands that were opening before us. They were adorable. Then we show up with an 180-wheeler that’s got thousands of watts and speakers and stuff. They go on, and then our roadies go up, set up the whole stage. I walk up to the mike, and I’m like, “This is going to be a good time.” And when I say that, it’s already louder than anything they’ve heard.
Kirk Bachmann: Everybody pays attention.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: So then we kick off the first song, and we’re hitting it hard. The idea is we’re just going to pummel everybody else who showed up that day. Off in the distance you see a power box just explode. It burst into flames. The pole that was holding it up catches on fire. All of a sudden, it becomes an acoustic show. We browned out an entire town.
Kirk Bachmann: Unbelievable.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: Okay. Let’s load it up. Our job is done here.
I had a blast. The cool thing about being a musician is, when my mom got me up that morning and she was like, “Baby, I love you. I know you’re going on tour. But there are bands that are better than yours, and they’re not getting signed.”
I was like, “Mom! You’re supposed to be my number one fan. I gave you my first t-shirt from the band.”
Kirk Bachmann: It hurts, but it’s the truth though, right?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I’ve got to tell you about the t-shirts. We had cheesy t-shirts. Remember when you would have a body, and it would be your head. We had this body holding a box of Velveeta, and it is said, “Biz Viva’s old” and he was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Biz Viva’s Old.”
Kirk Bachmann: Unbelievable. Do those t-shirts still exist?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I have a couple. Actually, if you go on my Instagram, one of those shirts is on there. You’ll see it. Cheesy R and Jeff. My roommate was an artist so he did all the t-shirts for us.
But my mom basically said, “You’re not getting signed. I love you.” My uncle, he had a big band in New York. He had his own big band and he was a drummer, so when I was born, I got one of his drum kits. I started playing the drums when I was a three as a jazz drummer. I studied concert violin for a bunch of years, and then found my first guitar and it all went to hell. So I had this stream of music education and stuff, but what my mom said was very telling.
“Why don’t you go to culinary school?”
I was like….”What? Why would I do that? Mom, I just drank my way out of a freshman year in college. Why would I do that again?”
I went to college for a bit, it was a bit of black out. 17 years old, and it’s like, “What do you want to do for the rest of your life?”
“I’m going to be a psychologist. Okay. What do I do with a four-year degree in psychology.”
They’re like, “You can teach gym.”
“What can I do with a Masters?”
They’re like, “You can teach psychology.”
I’m like, “When do I start playing with brains and stuff?”
“You need a Ph. D.” What’s that, 15 years? I’m 17 years old and I’m making plans for the next…nah. No.
I was in college because that’s what you do after high school.
So my mom said something that was really incredible. She said, “Everything you’re looking for in rock and roll you’re already getting from food.” During this time, I’m moving up the chain. I’m not 13; now I’m 18-19 years old. She says, “Remember that time you had the couple come in and said, ‘Jon-Paul, you know it’s our anniversary. Carte blanche, whatever you want to give us.’ and then they sent a bottle of champagne back and said it was the best they’d ever had. Then you made a special dish for somebody else and the chef ended up putting it on the menu because it sold. You were coming home everyday. ‘Ah, I’m crushing it!’
“But when you talk about your band, it’s like your drummer’s on speed. Your bass player’s girlfriend is just a nightmare and keeps screwing up the tour. There were all these other factors. It’s not going anywhere.”
I had that epiphanal moment where I was like, “The Psychotic Pirates that I’m playing with onstage are the same Psychotic Pirates that I’m playing with in restaurants.”
And I went to the Culinary Institute of America and I wasn’t a learner. That was the thing. For the first time, I’m in a school where I actually want to learn, but I don’t know how. I have no reading comprehension. My whole life I learned stuff because it was going to be on a test on Friday.
I’ll give you an example. I went to Catholic high school, and I’m not Catholic, which is challenging when you’re named Jon-Paul. No, the first one died my freshman year. John Paul I dropped dead. And they all looked at me. “What does Jon-Paul the non-Catholic think about that?” “Really? An entire institution is going to roll up on this 17-year-old kid because your pope didn’t take vitamins? What? No!” I did like the second one, though.
I went there for more structure and more discipline and all the rest of it. But I was like, “Will this be on the test?” I remember asking Father Faran, because we were doing algebra. I wasn’t doing well. I just didn’t care. Cs and Ds. Whatever it took to pass. I raised my hand one day. “Father Faran, I have a question for you.”
“I have no idea why I’m learning algebra. But if you could teach me how to balance a checkbook, I know I’m going to need that. If you could teach me how to deal with credit cards, I know I’m going to need that. But algebra? I have absolutely no use for. So give me something pragmatic and practical.”
His answer was to send me to the headmaster. But I know there are skill sets I need getting out of here, but until you explain why I need to learn this, I don’t have the brain capacity to absorb it. I’m not willing to jump through those hoops just to pass a test. Why am I doing this?
So when I went to culinary school, all of a sudden there was a raison d’etre for everything that I did, because there is a system of cuisine. Because there are methods. Because there are techniques. Within those methods and techniques, there are variations, and these are things, kind of like playing a guitar, that I can hone for the rest of my life, but I can also riff on. You know what I mean? If I really master that technique, all I have to do is look a the stages that ingredients go in doing that technique, or what the preparation is, and I’m limitless. If you invent a spice, I can insert it into these techniques. That kind of blew my mind.
I still kept playing in rock and roll bands. I graduated from culinary school. I got my first chef’s position, which was a small, 3-seat French bistro in my hometown, in Maplewood, New Jersey. They gave me the executive chef position. I started doing brunch there while I was going to school. Took over dinner. In two years, I was the youngest chef to receive stars in the New York Times.
Kirk Bachmann: How’d your mom react to that? Pretty cool?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: It wasn’t enough stars. I got two stars.
Kirk Bachmann: Let me ask you a question. This is fascinating. So there you are in culinary school. It’s all coming together. I’m sure you had some great mentors that just got you. The light bulb goes on. It all makes sense, versus the algebra and the headmaster at the Catholic school and all that other stuff. Did that stay with you for 30 years as an educator when you had that same Jon-Paul coming up to you? It never went away. You knew exactly how to address it.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: That’s why I became a teacher.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: Because what I realized was high school is a cognitive learning environment, to get into the psychology of it. It’s a cognitive learning environment, which means if I’m really good at reading a book and having that information go in, then I can put that information back out in a useful way. That’s a cognitive learning environment.
When I would talk talk to my students, I’d say, “How many of you learn that way?” And It would be about 10 percent of the students would raise their hands. “Yeah, I get that.”
“Exactly.” Only 10 percent of our learners in general are cognitive. The other 90 percent are kinesthetic learners. When I thought I had some mental dysfunction, I didn’t realize it was only 10 percent of the hands that were going up whenever a teacher was asking a question. The rest of us were trying not to make eye contact.
Kirk Bachmann: Don’t call on me.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I remember, there was a geometry class, and the teacher was like, “Jon-Paul, can you come to the board?” I was like, “You don’t want that! That’s a bad idea, right there. You want me to sit right here. I’m going to look out the window, and you do whatever geometry you do with someone else. Me going to the board? That’s just a bad idea.”
Now, remember. I’m in Catholic school wearing a motorcycle jacket, because they said in Catholic school you could wear something other than the school blazer as long as it had lapels. Well, a motorcycle jacket does, so I just put the school patch on the motorcycle jacket, and that’s what I wore all the time.
Kirk Bachmann: Bingo.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I just suffered no fools, or I was too foolish enough to know.
Where was I? I get my stars from the New York Times. Things are going good. What I was doing was changing my entire menu every week, which is kind of stupid. But I had an owner who would let me do that. The New York Times gives me stars. They like the innovations.
Next year, they’d take all the stars away. They took them away. Gone. Zero stars. What they said was, “We gave you the stars, not that you were there yet, but we liked what you were doing and we were trying to encourage you to do more. You’ve come up with a static menu instead.” Well, after the first review came out, I had to put the stuff on my menu that was reviewed, so it went from being a weekly menu to a static menu with no changes.
But what it made me realize right out culinary school, even though I grew up cooking a lot of food at home – and I was a latchkey kid, so I had to make my own meals a lot of times out of necessary – that I had exhausted everything I knew. I exhausted everything I knew in those two years. I wasn’t ready to be an executive chef.
So what I did was I went out and worked for the best people I could. I worked on clipper ships, everything. Hotels. Mom and pops. Caterers. Anybody that I could work for, almost at the lowest level. I wasn’t looking for a chef position. “I just know nothing. I know what I know at school. I know what I know at home. I could make good food, but I don’t know anything.”
Kirk Bachmann: Such great advice, though, for young culinarians. You’ve got to explore. You’ve got to experience. You’ve got to get out there. What’s a clipper ship?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: A clipper ship is a three-masted boat.
Kirk Bachmann: You’re serving food on that?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: Yeah.
Kirk Bachmann: Nice.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: It’s different because in a kitchen you have all these French terms and everything like that. On a boat, they have nautical terms for food. So when they yell something like, “Tack!” down below, that means take whatever you have on the stove and throw it on the floor. That’s what it means.
So my first time in a galley, if you’ve ever been in a galley, they are usually about the width of somebody with a 34-inch waist.
Kirk Bachmann: That you’ve got to get around.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: There’s two cooks in there, and the galley has these little metal bars on the sides of the stove. Theoretically, as stuff is sliding back and forth, it keeps it on the stove, but you’re in a clipper ship, so the whole boat is going to do this everything is just going to go that way.
The first time the captain yells, “Tack!” I’m by the door. The other two cooks are down in the galley. These guys literally push me and are using me like a doormat to run over me to get out. I look up, and you see this giant soup pot – because we serve soup to the 60 guests on the boar. We would serve soup in two in the afternoon, so you had 60 people’s worth of soup boiling away on top of this French top. This thing comes sliding at you, man. I got out of the door, and you just saw, I don’t know, six hours worth of diced vegetables just flooding the hallways. It was amazing.
I catered for people like Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen and guys like that. I worked for a large catering house in south Jersey. We used to do cruises around Manhattan. That was the boat stuff. I just wanted to see it all.
Kirk Bachmann: Great experiences.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: There are so many different ways that you can eat, and I realized it wasn’t just a restaurant.
Kirk Bachmann: Pull the stand-up comedian gigs into this. That’s over a decade. Are you doing that on top of cooking, on top of culinary school?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: when I was in Manhattan, I go to the Culinary Institute. I go out. I get my stars. I lose my stars. I work around a bit. Then I had dinner at the New York Restaurant School on 34th street. I was with my girlfriend, and she said, “You should think about being a teacher.”
I’m like, “No! Because I’m a bad student.” Somehow, I auditioned for the job, and I got it.
Kirk Bachmann: At the New York Restaurant School?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: New York Restaurant School, 34th and 6th Avenue, Herold Square, where the gorilla building is.
In a year, I realized how sloppy I’d gotten. I’m yelling at my kids, my students, about wiping their knife off on their apron, and I look down and I’ve been wiping my knife on my apron. All these shortcuts, all these bad habits that I picked up banging around in the industry are now coming back at me 20-fold through 20 students mimicking everything that I’m doing.
I need to make an amends to my first class because I taught them baking. We were making bear claws that were the size of a newborn infant. I didn’t understand the yeast thing. I didn’t have that down yet. So baking was exploratory for me the first time.
What happens, because I was in that school, I had to teach every single class to my students. I took them from alpha to omega. It brought out a lot of my strengths, but I had never cut up a goat before. That was new. How do I relate that to beef and pork and all the other stuff. It was fascinating.
While that was happening, I was doing improv. At that time, I’m doing improv in New York. Did improv for about seven to eight years. Then went out to Arizona and improv turned into stand-up. While I was a teacher, it was great. Filling rooms, we’re doing good. Opening for guys like Jimmy Fallon and Dave Attell, Brian Regan, and Richard Jeni. He’s dead now, but he was my absolute hero. I get to work with these amazing comics.
Then I become the director of education, and I get kids showing up at my class that might be showing up at the theater that I might be dismissing. And they’re like, “That butt joke you told…” and I’m like, “Yeah. Anyway, we’ve got to get your mom on the phone.”
So that’s when I started doing radio.
Kirk Bachmann: I remember that.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: Leslie and I did a radio show. We were in 38 markets, and then we were on the number one show in Phoenix Southwest. It was a clear channel. We were with clear channel for a bit. I did a bunch of that. Then, in the meantime, I’m shooting all kinds of TV. Maybe 1000 hours of television. Every week I was doing two or three local shows and stuff like that. I got fairly popular locally doing that stuff. It was a blast.
What I was doing was, because I was with the school, every time I was doing these shows and every time I was doing stuff like that, I was dragging students with me. Because I’m like, “You’re going to watch how I do TV because this is going to be a bigger and bigger part of your future if you’re going to become a chef. You have to know. You have to look good. You have to be able to respond to people. You have to know how your lighting is. You have to talk to a producer and show him how you’re going to block your shots. ‘We’re going to start here, then go here and go here.’”
That was more fun than actually doing the TV. Then I would put them on in the background doing prep. Then I’d drag them up next to me. It was a blast. The stations I was working with were just wonderful. They would allow their parents to come in, and they could hang out in the green room. It was really a cool experience.
Kirk Bachmann: Obviously I just love this topic. This bringing joy through laughter to people, it’s really cool. It’s a gift. Then you’re sharing it with your students. You started to go down this path, but whatever about all the students that didn’t get the chance to sit next to you? How did you take comedy and bring that laughter and joy into the kitchen when folks are cooking? Because not everybody gets it right away. Did humor become part of your lesson plan, your curriculum?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: Absolutely. When you have brand new students, they are all the best cooks they know. Right? Whether they’re the best cook out of their crew and that’s why they decided, or they’re the best cook at home. You have to soften that a bit, kind of like me losing my stars. Every time I think I’ve arrived, I’m really about eight or ten steps from where I want to be and don’t realize that. So I use humor a lot.
Kids would perpetually screw stuff up. My standard phrase was, “I’ve burned up stuff you don’t even know how to pronounce yet. I’ve burned up everything that you’ve burned up. I’ve literally destroyed thousands of pounds of food in discovery, so feel free.” It’s okay to make a mistake. It’s just not okay to make the same mistake again. So learn from your mistake.
Kirk Bachmann: Any unbelievably proud moments during your time – 30 years! – as an instructor, as a teacher? With lots of other things.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: About 100,000 kids. We had about 100,000 kids go through in that time.
Kirk Bachmann: What’s going to go in your memoir?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I don’t know. I literally cried every graduation day. I would get so overwhelmed, because I knew them when. I knew them when they didn’t have the confidence. I knew when they were cocky, and that cockiness was just hiding fear.
Kirk Bachmann: That gives me chills when I hear that. It resonates.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: You know when they’re BSing you to save face. Now they’re not. Now, they’ve been able to break that down, and they come to you and say, “I’m hurting now. I don’t know what to do with this. I’m up against the wall.” When they stop acting like they’re going to regular high school, where everything is just getting over. Let me just get over so I never have to see this instructor again. Eventually, they would start to have this mindset, “Ah! This is the rest of my life.”
I was a great student my first year in culinary school. My second year I thought I had it. My first year, I’m taking notes and rewriting my notes. My second year, I might have had one three-ring binder, and I’m back to, “Will this be on the test?” My one regret was I worked with insanely talented European chefs at the CIA, and I did not drill deep enough. I was into whatever girl I was dating. I was into what bar are we going to.
I used to stress that a lot with my kids. One of the regrets I had was I should have leaned into it. That would never, ever happen again. I would never be in a situation where I would be able to make those mistakes, where I would be able to have a mentor that I’m literally paying to tell me the truth. It’s not like I’m working with a chef and he’s withholding ingredients. I’ve worked with guys who were sauciers and you just couldn’t. If they were out sick, that sauce wasn’t happening that night because nobody had the recipe, by design.
There’s so many things about this business that put you in a corner, that really force your lotus to open. They put you to a point where you can’t figure it out. There’s too many human elements. You have super-educated people, you have people with no education all in the same kitchen, all in this mosh pit, trying to produce a plate full of food. Everybody with different backgrounds, you might have three different languages going on in that kitchen. How do you get over yourself and start building toward the greater good, which is, “I need to harness this team so we’re moving like a laser in one direction. How do I do that?”
That’s a lot of love. It’s a lot of compassion. it’s a lot of spending time in the humanity of the people that you’re with instead of being a manager, if that makes any sense.
Kirk Bachmann: Well said. Let’s weave what you’re doing now into all of this. Obviously, it’s probably two careers, maybe three, that we’ve talked about all wrapped up into one called Jon-Paul. You’re doing some really, really fun stuff now. I think you’re in Miami today. Very, very cool city today, getting cooler all the time.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: You should have been here for Formula One.
Kirk Bachmann: I can only imagine. So tell us a little bit about it. All of the media training.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: It’s a race where there’s 20 cars. Oh! I’m sorry.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh my gosh!
Jon-Paul Hutchins: So what am I doing now? I’m working at this really cool place called ShiftPixy Labs. I can’t get too deep into it, because we’re publicly traded and all this stuff is bubbling down beneath. But I’m developing 14 brands, and they will not have dining rooms.
Kirk Bachmann: Pause.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: They’ll be there. You order. Imagine if this is a ghost kitchen, this is what we’re doing. They’re looking at national and international. I have, in this building, we have everything. AI. AR. Graphics teams. Everything. Everything that you would need for graphics packages. The ordering. We’re building our own apps. We’re doing all this stuff.
The idea is this will be pervasive. This will be on-demand, as you want it. We’re typically targeting 18 to 25-year-olds. I want to say 75 percent delivery, maybe 25 percent pick-up in a variety of styles. The thing that I’m working on, from the aspect of the worker, everyone starts at $20 an hour with full health benefits on day one. That’s where you start. You have a 401K if you want one. Day one.
Kirk Bachmann: Attractive, right off the bat. How much is that a reflection about what we’ve just gone through, years of pandemic, so on and so forth.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: That’s the reason I joined the company. If we can lift tens of thousands of people in this industry up and give them at least a decent starting wage, give them health care, take that stress away. Then if I can go into the kitchens and make, for lack of a better phrase, “take the suck out of it.” If I can remove all the Fryolators from a menu, every chef in the world is going to be like, “Hallelujah!” There’s nothing worse than cleaning a fry-o-later. There’s nothing worse than coming home with that atomized all over you. You feel it. We’ve all been there. You show up at a bar, you put your arm down on the bar and it sticks. “Were you cooking fish tonight? God, damn!”
I think, for me, I’m looking how comfortable is the kitchen. How easy it is? Can you do everything on a pivot, like a sushi chef? Does everything happen in this area? Is it easy to order? We’re looking at lighting that actually kills bacteria, so the whole place would just be bacteria and virus free as you worked in it.
I can’t get too much deeper into it, but it’s expansive. It lives out there.
Kirk Bachmann: I’m watching the exciting social media presence. You’re cooking, you’re talking, you’re doing your media. I have to ask: the geometry story. The Ramones. Stand-up. Radio. Teaching. Exercising – you’ve been a fanatic, I know for years. Has it all come together? Is this where Jon-Paul’s supposed to be?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: It is right now. I just want to be at the tip of the spear. Everything that we’re doing, it hasn’t been done. That was attractive to me. The fact that we’re going to take care of workers, number one. I’m trying to take as much suffering as I can out of this industry. I’m going to call it unnecessary suffering. Hard work isn’t suffering.
But living in an environment where you just sweat like a pig in a grimy environment. You have busted equipment that’s being held together with a wire coat hanger to keep the oven door shut. We’ve all been there. You know what I mean. It shows a lack of respect for the worker. Since I’m not going to have dining rooms, whatever money I had can now go into my back of the house.
But we’re also looking at other technology. As I get into impingement ovens and start playing with this stuff, and I have a landscape of food that’s written in pencil. Remember when Wingstop became Thighstop? If I have 14 brands, what are the proteins I’m going to get to play with, or is it going to be random proteins. Or is it going to be chunks of protein? Or am I going to have to start going plant-based?
Do I have to commission stuff to be made? Because we’re going to be doing stuff on such a massive level that I will need a lot of it. What do those commodities look like next year? Whoever thought eggs would quadruple in price? The breakfast menu was the most profitable thing you ever had, now that’s wiped out. What are you going to serve? A smoothie in a bowl of steam? We’re running out of food to cook!
But I also look at the food and say, “What’s our responsibility in it?” When I look at some companies right now, chicken companies that are actually buying their own chicken production facilities. They’re raising their chickens. They’re slaughtering their chickens just for them. They’re not going to Tyson anymore, or whoever, Merrill, and Foster Farms. They’re not doing that. I think as people start raising their own beef, you get to take it away from that soul-less industrial thing.
I’m sure you’ve been to slaughterhouses. That was part of a tour I would give to kids every three weeks. I’ve never seen anybody in a good mood at a slaughterhouse. I’ve never gone to Costco and looked at the meat wrap person and they’re high-fiving each other. Then you get into the kitchen with that stuff, and it’s drudgery.
As much suffering as I can take out of the industry. We’re the only industry that’s allowed to put something in something in someone else’s body without a medical degree. That’s crazy. That’s a lot of trust that gets put into us. We don’t treat the people well enough that are producing that food, from planting it, to picking it, to harvesting it, slaughtering it, packaging it, processing it. There’s not a lot of happiness there. If I can do something where we can buy animals that are more humanely treated, I can invest more in plant-based proteins. I can take a fryer out of a kitchen and take 250 calories out of every meal just because I’m not frying anything. If I can just nudge that ball forward. This is a business of hard work, but it has integrity. There’s decency in our business. there’s the integrity of hard work. Today, if you’re a hard worker, you’re a sucker. And I don’t agree with that. I think hard work is a beautiful thing. I think working with your hands is incredible. You work on your feet, you work with your hands, it’s work. But how do we take the suck out of it.
That’s my goal with this company, as much as I can. It was so big, it was so massive, I thought, “We have an opportunity to disrupt the industry. If we start paying everybody $20 an hour, Marriott, all those guys that used to yell at us. “Why aren’t you making students ready-made for my hotels?” “Because we’re not the Marriott school, I guess, or we’re not the Hilton school.”
Grow them up with a sense of self, a sense that this is a never-ending journey. It’s the beauty of food, and music: it’ll never end. There will always be somebody smarter than me. That’s intriguing.
Kirk Bachmann: I’m super proud of you. Congratulations. You’ve got to keep us posted. Behave in Miami, okay.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I’m doing the best I can, but it’s Miami, man.
Kirk Bachmann: It is Miami.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: It’s like Vegas with more bikinis.
Kirk Bachmann: 20 cars, going in circles.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: I will tell you something: this place is littered with Lamborghinis.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh, I bet.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: When you’re at a stoplight and you’re driving an Integra and all around you is Lamborghinis, guess who has the most special car? The Integra! Because these guys cancel each other out.
Kirk Bachmann: Do they give you a head start? Do they let you go? Green light! Go, Jon-Paul.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: No. I just lean over and I’m like, “It’s paid for.”
Kirk Bachmann: Real quick: the name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish. So happy that you’ve been here today, but I have to ask. In your mind – I think I know where you’ll go – what is the ultimate dish?
Jon-Paul Hutchins: For me, my final dish is a dish that you and I actually shared one night in Paris. We were with Patrick Martin I think it was the first night we were there. We went to a brasserie and we had duck confit on sliced potatoes that were perfectly crisp with a bitter green salad. That was the night I was like, “This is perfection.” Everything. The bitterness balanced off the fattiness. The leg was shatter-crisp, but it was tender. It wasn’t crazy salty. The potatoes, in the duck fat. That was it. Just something super simple. It was perfection.
Kirk Bachmann: Was that Benoit? I think it was Benoit.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: Benoit was where they brought out the tureen of chocolate and then brought out the two towers of profiteroles. We just sat there dunking profiteroles in this cauldron. I don’t think it was Benoit. It was really late at night.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh, now I remember. It was right around the corner. Yes. Unpretentious. Absolutely beautiful. What a great memory.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: Lots of kirs. There were lots of kirs that night.
Kirk Bachmann: That goes in the memoir. Keep me at a chapter towards the end. One paragraph. Don’t give all the details.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: Me, Kirk, and the Problem with Paris. That will be the title.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh my God. Jon-Paul, thank you so much for spending time with us today. I love you. You look great. You’re happy. You’re laughing. that’s how I’ll always think about you.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: My love for you is undying. We’ve gone through stuff. I’ve known you before I’ve known wives. Honestly.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s a whole other podcast.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: We go back, man, several wives ago.
Kirk Bachmann: We do. Oh my gosh.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: You’re always a thread in me. You’re one of those people. Once a week, you’re going to cross my mind. You just do.
Kirk Bachmann: Beautiful, buddy. I love you so much. We’ll have you back. Once you can talk a little bit more.
Jon-Paul Hutchins: Please. That would be fun.
Kirk Bachmann: 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.