Podcast Episode 72

“People, Planet, Plants, Profit:” Chef David Delcourt’s Sustainable Business Model

David Delcourt | 43 Minutes | December 13, 2022

In today’s episode, we speak with our guest David Delcourt, co-founder and Chief of Flavor at Seed Ranch Flavor Co.—a company that creates unique blends of hot sauces and seasonings with clean and organic ingredients.

To inspire others, David and his team create accessible meals that are always healthy, delicious, and sourced responsibly. Through his sustainable business model, he remains committed to partnering with farmers and suppliers who hold themselves to the same high standards of integrity.

Listen as David talks about creating a vegan mac and cheese line, how to leverage your ROF (Return on Failure), and his startup culture & strategy around people, planet, plants and profit.

Watch the podcast episode:

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Notes & Transcript


Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. In today’s episode, I’m speaking with David Delcourt, the founder and Chief of Flavor at Seed Ranch Flavor Company, a company that creates sophisticated flavors for everyday use. Their unique blend of hot sauces and seasonings are made using clean and organic ingredients, free from preservatives, GMOs, or refined sugar. Earlier this year, they also launched a line of vegan mac and cheese – I’ve had it, it’s great! – under their GrownAs* Foods brand.

Here in Boulder, David and his partners work with farmers and suppliers who hold themselves to the highest standards of integrity. David is a Wesleyan University graduate with a BA in Economics and International Relations, and his passionate about plant-based food.

Join me today as I chat with David about growing up with a diverse culinary tradition, plant-based food and innovation, entrepreneurship, and the dynamics around leading a startup culture.

And there he is. Buddy, how are you? In yellow – in yellow! – today.

David Delcourt: Doing great. Doing great. Thanks, Kirk. Yes, I’m rocking Mac Man today, from the GrownAs* Foods side. Nice and loud.

Why He Wears Yellow

Kirk Bachmann: I absolutely love it. It’s so funny. We didn’t even plan this, and I was going to harass you a little bit right off the bat because I follow you on social media. You were at, I think, the Fancy Food show, and you were in a yellow jumpsuit circa ‘70s. While we’re on that topic of social media, 1) how did they get you to do that all in yellow? And how is social media helping you get your message out? We’ll dive into the companies in a minute, but it’s a great tee-off right there.

David Delcourt: I will say that my team is good at making me do things that are maybe a little outside – it’s not outside of my comfort zone. I don’t mind it. I have fun. That video was shot at the beginning of the show when everyone still had energy, not at the end when we’re like, “Please, get me out of here.” Especially with GrownAs* Foods, Seed Ranch is much more sophisticated. We wanted to bring the farm to bottle to table approach. GrownAs* was designed to be fun and loud and a little cheeky from the beginning.

They push me. I have a good time doing it. It’s about creating fans of the brand and of the food. It’s not just about creating customers; we want people to feel like they’re part of our family, and we’re all together around one table. It’s just another way. You think about Thanksgiving. Everyone’s got the people in the kitchen who are really serious about it. People who are having fun, who are throwing the football outside. It’s all about that feeling of community, family, everyone coming together around delicious food.

Kirk Bachmann: I particularly love your comments about the customer. Our mutual friend Bogo said it beautifully months ago when he was on the show. I think I was asking him, “What’s the secret to success?” And he says, “Liking your customers.” That’s another approach: just get them to join the fun, right? Absolutely love that, and if you’re willing to put on a full-body yellow tracksuit, bless you, Man.

Before we dive into it all – speaking of which, we’re so happy that you’re out and about. We’re post-pandemic here. We had lunch a couple of months ago. Like I said early, I really love seeing you on social media. You’re busy. How are you, first and foremost, and then parlay that into how’s the business?

Managing Work and Life as an Entrepreneur

David Delcourt: You know it well from running Escoffier here in Boulder, and for me as an entrepreneur, it’s really hard to separate out the entrepreneur’s emotions from the company’s success or challenges. We’re just getting on what I would call the growth curve. We’re super excited. We’re rolling out to Sprouts nationwide this week with our sauces.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh, congrats!

David Delcourt: We just heard we’ll be going into Sprouts in January or February with the mac and cheese, and some other partnerships that we’ll be able to announce.

We’re hitting this growth at the same time as having supply chain issues. We’ve got maple syrup that’s stuck in the middle of the country for one of our sauces. “Wait. Why? Why do we not have [that]?” The challenges, the ups and downs – I always say It’s Everest and the Grand Canyon. It rarely seems to sit at sea level in New York City or a mile up in Boulder.

I’ve learned over my – sheesh! – now 16 or 17 years of being an entrepreneur, there’s a few ways that I learned to cope with it, including exercise, spending time and covering that time to be with my boys, get outside. I have a Buddhist meditation practice that helps me a lot, a glass or two of wine definitely doesn’t hurt. And getting in the kitchen.

I joke that when I wasn’t in the food world, cooking was my sanctuary, being in the kitchen. Now, I deal with food all day long, and I get home and I think, “Man, I’ve got to cook again!” And as soon as I get into it, it’s not [an issue].

The long and short of it is that emotional tie is never far away. As an entrepreneur and as the entrepreneurs around me, if you don’t learn to cope with that, then you can just get burned out and fizzle out.

Kirk Bachmann: Exercise is important. Meditation. Work-life balance sounds like what you’re saying. Is that something that you encourage your team to partake in as well?

David Delcourt: Yeah. I have a small team. It’s myself, three full-time employees, a couple of contractors, and then co-manufacturers. We stay small. We have any type of vacation policy. My team is regularly working from Brazil or from France or from elsewhere. We just know that as long as we’re getting things done, then good, right? We don’t operate on a 9 to 5. We run with it.

The other piece, and I lead by example with this, is most of the time when I get my exercise, it’s around either 8:30 in the morning or around noon. The afternoons are with my boys, doing things with my boys, school. I’ll tell my team, “Hey, I’m going to go and do an hour-long workout. If you need me, I’ll be in the gym.” We literally have a huge gym in our warehouse, which is fantastic. Health is wealth, and I think exercise in whatever form that takes is so key.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that, and I love having you speak to our entire audience but particularly our Escoffier students who listen to this show. Talk a little bit more about you. Your father is from France, and I happen to follow your sister, Alice, who is a chef with a beautiful, beautiful restaurant in Milan, Italy. You can’t even make this up.

David Delcourt: No, not at all.

Kirk Bachmann: It doesn’t get better than that. You’re here in Boulder with me, with us, making the magic happen with food. Talk a little bit about your background. How did Alice become a chef? What’s the background of the family and the love of cooking and that sort of thing? I always like to dive in. Where did that passion come from for food? And in your case, it’s become plant-based food.

David Delcourt: That’s right. I would start with just physically where my family, when we’re together, we’re always gathered around the kitchen or gathered around a table. Growing up through middle school, high school, I’d be doing my homework over at the kitchen table. My mom would be cooking. My father’s French, like you mentioned. My mother’s English. Ironically, while there is a lot of food culture from the French side, my grandmother was basically legally blind. She was not really a good cook. It was my English grandmother who was a phenomenal cook. The pre-Jamie Oliver, doing things just so, simple to complicated, but always perfect food.

My uncle, who passed away 12 years ago now, sadly enough from cancer, was a huge influence on both me and my sister. He taught my sister and he taught me the basics of cooking. He lived in Bologna for a long time. That was a huge influence in terms of understanding that cooking is not just about eating. It’s about serving people. It’s a love language. There are all kinds of ways you can cut it. The most basic human commonality is eating together. I talk about together as around one table a lot of the time.

That was the metamorphosis of how I came to really love food and think about food as more than just fuel.

People, Planet, Plants, Profit

Kirk Bachmann: That’s the diverse culinary tradition that you’ve talked about quite a bit. How does that translate into what you do every single day? How do you stay focused on that? It’s a great foundation. As you mentioned earlier, it’s easy to get off that. Exercise is grounding you. Is there something very specific about the way you approach your work every single day that keeps you grounded?

David Delcourt: You alluded to it in the intro, that I decided at the beginning of Seed Ranch we were going to hold ourselves to a certain standard, starting with flavor. There is a reason my title is Chief of Flavor. We’ve all seen brands or restaurants or food trucks that start great, and then because of the pressures – economic pressures, losing staff, or turnover – suddenly it goes from A-plus to B. Then maybe it’s B-minus, and you revamp something and it’s back up to B-plus. For me, flavor is king. I talk about being a master of the art and science of food. Whether it comes from – these are the ingredients that we will lose. These are ones that we will never touch.

All those pieces, those qualities. Also, we’re down to how my team and I run our day-to-day business. Internally, I have this motto, which is People, Planet, Plants, Profit – plants being, obviously, the addition to the classic [motto] – but it really is.

First of all, we take care of our people. That’s us internally, my team, our customers, anybody we meet.

Planet, we have a compostable pouch in our mac and cheese, the first plastic- and foil-free on the market and a recyclable box. We’re always thinking about that. We’ve stayed in a glass jar.

Plants: I really believe that, Look, you don’t have to go 100 percent vegan. I think it’s a fantastic diet. I’ve been vegan for over five years now. I have no reason to turn back. It’s better for you, better for the planet, better for the community. Even just moving toward Meatless Monday, moving towards a mainly plant-based diet is just helpful for everybody.

And then profit. I do believe that business is such a fantastic force for change. I have tremendous respect for nonprofits, institutions, and people furthering all of those. But I think the force of enterprise and free market in changing consumers’ behavior and opinions is super important. That’s really where we’re driving at.

Kirk Bachmann: Well said. Fantastic force for change. Brilliant.

Let’s get to a high level about Seed Ranch and GrownAs. This is plug time. I love your products. The taco is probably my favorite, but I love them all. Truffle – I love them all. If we’re heading up to the top floor of a building, the corporate execs are jumping in, what’s the elevator speech? Let’s talk about Seed Ranch. Let’s talk about GrownAs. Let’s talk about the logo on the chest.

David Delcourt: As I said, it all starts with flavor. Chief of Flavor. We are pioneers of flavor. My Seed Ranch and GrownAs, what we promise every fan, every customer, is that all of our ingredients are going to be quality. The flavor is always going to be fantastic. You just have to choose between classic mac and cheese or a truffle mac and cheese. You can trust what’s in the box. You’re making a decision on, “Okay, what do I feel like tonight?”

All of our products are designed to take that category, that product set, to the next level. With the mac and cheese, having been vegan for five and a half years, I could never find a vegan mac and cheese off the shelf that I liked. Look, it’s great to have thousand-dollar Vitamix and two hours to make your own mac and cheese, but on Tuesday when you’ve got 12 minutes to cook for your 11- and 7-year-olds, you want something delicious you can trust that you can feed them. And then, Oh, by the way, guess who’s eating the second box that I make. It’s me.

It’s fundamentally simple, in my mind: it is really great flavor, which in the CPG food world, people often forget. “Oh, look at this. It’s got 47 grams of protein and 17 grams of fiber, and it tastes like absolute turd.” It’s got to be delicious, and it’s got to be something you get excited about, your family gets excited about, your friends get excited about eating. At its most basic, we want to change the world one bite at a time.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. You studied at Wesleyan. Boston originally?

David Delcourt: Originally born in Chicago, moved to North Carolina, kind of the backwoods outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Then I went up to Wesleyan for college, then to Boston.

Kirk Bachmann: I love the background of how important food was. You studied economics and international relations. Super interesting. What drew you back to food?

David Delcourt: Food was never far. Food was always what I would enjoy in the evenings cooking for myself or my friends. Throughout my professional career, that was a bit of that sanctuary that I talked about. In 2016, with Siva Energy, my previous company, we were winding that down. I had some time to figure out what I wanted to do. My original co-founder, Joshua, was growing peppers on his porch. I’ve always been a huge fan of spicy food. But I was the guy who would take Cholula or Tabasco or Texas Pete or whatever was around and then add to it. Actually create flavor out of something that is just spicy and vinegary. The thought was, Let’s bring flavor back to this. Let’s bring the culinary back to this hot sauce space that is renowned for sauces that are called Colon Cleanse or you know, whatever you want. Just about heat and no flavor.

That was really the transition, for me, but the whole time it was about pouring myself a glass of wine and making what really would make me and the people around me excited and have a great time through food.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. You’ve told me before, and you said it a little bit ago: You’re interested in making the world a better place. That, of course, takes time. We’ll come back to your first company in a minute. Could you talk to us a little bit about how important it is to understand how we can make a difference: carbon footprint, energy efficiency, just doing things better, from your perspective?

David Delcourt: Throughout my professional career, it has been basically about doing good business by doing good. That’s my personal, internal memo. But I think that people always point to, “I bought an EV; I feel great about that.” You don’t have to go out and change your life. It’s about the small steps and the small conscientious steps and thinking. It can be as simple as turning off the lights when you leave a room. It’s making sure that when you leave the house for the day, your heat’s turned down, your air conditioning is turned down.

Then in terms of consumption behavior and eating, I like to point to plastic. Plastic is a terrible problem. Everything is still in plastic. I don’t expect anybody to live a plastic-free lifestyle. I’ve tried it for a month, and it is nigh impossible unless you completely change your life. But the little efforts [matter]. Something I like to do is, I have some Tupperware in my car. If I go to a restaurant and I have leftovers, I just grab the Tupperware and put in the leftovers. It’s silly, in some ways. It’s small, but those small steps that each of us take together build to be one really big fixture. I liken it to a bucket of water. Every little step you’re taking is just a drop, but it does fill up. Then you are actually left with a larger change.

Passion, Curiosity, and Challenges

Kirk Bachmann: It’s like the starfish story, too. All the starfish on the beach.

Before your current venture, Seed Ranch, you had another startup, MakeMeSustainable. I’m curious, David, from your perspective as an entrepreneur and starting a new business venture ideating [sic], is there a podium of critical elements that just cannot be missed when you’re trying to put something together?

David Delcourt: It’s a great question. I will say that I started MakeMeSustainable.com when I was 22, 23. Didn’t have a lot of business training. It was really about passion. I think passion and curiosity are super important. A lot of the time I talk about the tough times, the failures, the learnings that you have when being an entrepreneur and starting a company, and in larger companies, too, you learn from your mistakes. That passion and the curiosity is what I think will keep you going and enable you to take those learnings and do better.

I talk about the return on failure. That’s a phrase I personally look at. It’s super important because it’s not “if,” it’s “when” you’re going to fail. It’s big failures, small failures. I do think the passion and curiosity are core to that.

The other piece is self-education. If you’re an autodidact, this is the kind of thing that is great. You’ll read all about it. There are so many folks with great ideas that sound really fun, but they are not necessarily solving a problem for people. You’ve got to understand your customer before you ever launch a product. I talk about customer interviews. That’s in the startup lingo where you want to talk to fifty or a hundred potential customers before you launch it and understand, “Okay, what do you really need? What is something that is a real pain point? Does my solution just solve something for me? Which is great – that’s called a hobby. That’s fun. But if you want to build a business, small or big. A plumber is solving someone’s problems. That’s a great thing. A food truck is solving someone’s problem, which is, “Okay, I’m hungry and I want something that tastes good.” The whole line of thought between the passion and curiosity, solving that problem, doing the education.

On the execution side, making sure you’re holding yourself accountable as an entrepreneur to what needs to be done and you’re constantly celebrating the little wins. I think that’s really important. Call them KPIs, call it goals, call it Big Hairy Audacious Goals like the tech stars folks like to talk about. It’s this trajectory of, “Here are the basics.”

If I had to come back to the two core pieces, it is the passion and curiosity, and what is that problem? Without a problem, a solution is hard to make work.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s really good feedback. A lot of my line of thinking when I have these chats is, “What would the students ask?” You talked about asking your customers for their opinion. We do that in the classroom as well. We call it Needs Analysis. We come in as teachers, and we try to find out what a student knows already, and then what their expectations are. That makes great sense.

When you, David, sold MakeMeSustainable, which for many entrepreneurs – all entrepreneurs – is a great moment to have. Build something that can stand on its own and allows the founders a successful exit. That’s the goal. What was that moment like for you? Then, the tougher part, what would you have done differently, or did you need to do anything differently?

David Delcourt: Hindsight is 2020. I would say the moment was phenomenal. It was my first startup. We got an exit. Between you and I, it didn’t make me wildly wealthy, but we achieved the goal of bringing this through to market, getting an exit. That was phenomenal. There are so many sleepless nights and lows and hard times you go through as an entrepreneur, so when you get that win, there’s nothing better.

Honestly, I think if I had to do anything differently, it would have been to look, at the time, and say, “What did I do wrong? What were the things?” Because when I started my next venture, I had this idea of, “Well, I’ve been there.” There’s a little bit of hubris going into the next one and saying, “Okay, this is the playbook.”

I think back to the initial [time,] the passion and curiosity were there. We were solving a problem. I think there were definitely some larger problems we could have solved with easier solutions. It was about that initial side. We probably built a solution too quickly rather than diving into those problems. I’m not going to lie, this is now going on 12 years ago, so the details are a little fuzzy. It was a fantastic experience. It taught me so much. I like to say, I never did an MBA because I had my startup MBA, and that was basically it.

The Challenges of Commitment to Quality

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. We talked about the inception of Seed Ranch and your first company and where those ideas came from. I’m really curious about what it takes to maintain. You’ve said this a couple of times: Flavor is super, super important, and great flavor comes from great quality ingredients. I loved your analogy of the A that drops to a B and maybe even a B-minus. Maybe you make some changes and you’re back up to a B. That’s hard. What does it take to maintain your commitment to quality? Period. And under quality you’ve got ingredients, you’ve got flavor, you’ve got customer commitment. What does it take to maintain, because you’ve got outside forces, too.

David Delcourt: For me personally, part of the Chief of Flavor part of everything we do is that it starts in my kitchen. Every iteration that we do as a company, whether it be a tweak in ingredients, a new flavor, it literally starts in my kitchen. If we’re going to go back to the drawing board with something, it’s going to come back into my kitchen. The reason why is that, to me, that’s where the core flavors have to come from in order for them to be food and not a science project. When you read ingredients on the back of the package that are [blah, blah, blah], basically something that my mother wouldn’t recognize as a food ingredient, then it is not going to go in my food.

In terms of the quality and ingredients, we do. We constantly have to choose. For instance, all of a sudden an organic ingredient is two to three times as expensive and literally breaks our pricing model. Now I have to make a decision: do I go to a non-GMO version that I can trace to a farmer/producer, somebody who I can get behind even though it doesn’t have a stamp of organic certification? Those are some of the types of challenges we’re always coming to.

And then we think about our customers. We’re always thinking about how it affects our biggest fans and our biggest customers. It’s dangerous sometimes to ask your customers what they want because you’ll get ten people who really want this one thing, but the other 4000 say, “I don’t know. I don’t care that much.” We definitely want to think about what is important to them. Back to fans, not customers. We want every single one of our customers to be fans. We understand that some of them will just be consumers. Others will get behind the brand and really get involved. How do we keep them in the loop? How do we keep them at the table?

Again, two product iterations is so important, especially in CPG – Consumer Packaged Goods. When something is sitting on the shelf and you see that label change, you see whatever change, whether it be an outside force saying, “Okay, you have to make it cheaper.” The margins are really slim in grocery. They’re really slim for food in general, in restaurants, too. Committing to the quality and not saying, “We could shave a few cents here.” You get to a sub-par quality or a sub-par flavor. Then it’s not worth it.

A Culture of Liking Each Other

Kirk Bachmann: So with all of that – great information – I want to talk a little bit about the startup culture. Clearly as the Chief of Flavor, you’ve got that. How do you keep that passion going in your team as you grow, as you develop? Again, thinking about my students as they climb the ladder. They’ve got that passion. Where does that startup culture come from, and how do you keep it going?

David Delcourt: Culture is the right word there. It starts, for me, in the interview process. It’s about passion, curiosity, and a common mission. Mission, vision, values are really important. For instance, if one of your vegan chefs is interviewing at a steakhouse, maybe that’s not such a great fit. When the times are stuff, you’re going to be behind it. It’s about making sure, as a chef, you can get behind the culture. You can see that when the times get stuff, there’s a common mission, common vision, common values.

The other piece of culture for me is I want to be able to invite everybody on my team over to my home for a meal with my family and feel like, “This is good.” After a hard day or after some constructive feedback, I still want to be able to go out and get a beer or have a coffee with my team members. At the size that Seed Ranch is at, we are very much a family. As you grow, larger organizations, it’s more of a team. If you’re running a thousand-person company, it’s a different feel. Right now, it’s about that we fundamentally like each other. It’s a simplified version of it, but we like each other, we enjoy spending time together.

When we got OT shows or things like that, if we’re there for two or three nights, I’ll always have one night where, as a team, we get together, we have a meal, we spend some time. I’m not going to force everybody to hang out with me every single night. “Okay, go take some time off. Go do your thing. Go do your morning run. I’ll go to the show early.” But it is about feeling the give and take and making sure that all those pieces fit along the way.

Getting People to Cook More

Kirk Bachmann: Is it too much to ask, what’s the dream North Star? Where would you love to see this go?

David Delcourt: That’s simple. I’d like to have a bottle or a box of Seed Ranch, GrownAs* Foods in every American household. I want in every cupboard for people to have this great flavor right at their fingertips. When I look at Seed Ranch, the soft side, how many people have that bottle of Cholula that’s in their fridge, or Tabasco, or sriracha for six months, a year. I don’t want it to be just when you think about it. I love the idea that, “This meal is going to go with this sauce.” It’s a daily occurrence. We are part of your culinary experience, whether it’s cooking, saucing.

And with GrownAs* Foods, it’s about anytime you’re in the grocery store in the center aisles – everything that is shelf stable, anywhere there is a cheese component, GrownAs* food is the one-to-one replacement that is as good if not better than the traditional dairy that’s in a plant-based form.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s great feedback. Self-disclosure: until I met you and sampled and bought some of your beautiful products, I was just as guilty as everyone you’re talking about. How old is that Tabasco? No offense. We know the folks down in Louisiana. How long has that been there? Truth be told, my son refers to Seed Ranch as David’s sauces. “Hey, you got those David sauces? I want that on my avocado.” Which is fine. It’s pantry literacy. It gets you thinking. “Wow, I need to rotate some of this stuff out.” It’s important.

Is there a dream? Shelf-life is shelf-life, but you and I have talked about this before. These types of ingredients, to your point, unless you’re using them every single day, they sit there on the shelf. How do we motivate people to think more about that? Not just that. There are other ingredients that need to be rotated in and out of the fridge or the pantry. But if you had your pantry, what would that be? Is there some sort of initiative? Is there a social media push? “Clean your pantries out? Restock with Seed Ranch.” I’m going crazy here, now. I’m trying to help you with the plug!

But it’s important though. It’s really easy. We teach our students FIFO – First In, First Out. It’s easy to just push stuff to the back shelf.

David Delcourt: A really basic one is I love that we can get people to cook more. I love that, with our Thai Green Sauce, guess what? That is a Thai green curry base that you can just add to your sofrito, your onions, or shallots and garlic and ginger. Voila! You throw in your vegetables. You throw in your proteins. You and I have talked a little bit about the science of cooking, and how it pains me when I see friends-

Kirk Bachmann: Here it comes! Here it comes!

David Delcourt: -dump everything into the pan at the same time while the pan is still cold. “Oh, man! Please! Just go use the pressure cooker if you’re going to do that.” I do think fundamentally, I love the idea of getting people to cook more. That’s a really basic piece.

Pantry literacy, that’s a fantastic word to me. I want people to discover the culinary behind it. We really love Easter egg ingredients. We have an Umami Reserve sauce that has chocolate, habanero peppers, and porcini mushrooms in it. It’s very unique. We throw hominy in our Everything but the Taco to give it that ode to the corn tortilla. It is everything that you would put on a taco, but just been condensed down into a bottle.

With GrownAs* Foods, it’s really interesting on that side. I think about it as giving people really simple, delicious access to plant-based eating, or majority plant-based eating. Mac and cheese is a base. I think about it, as adults, if you’re eating a box of mac and cheese that you just cooked and you haven’t added anything to? If it’s one in the morning and you’re a college student? Okay, you get a pass. But otherwise, it’s just a base. People ask me about tofu, for instance. I say, “Look. If you took a piece of chicken and you just pan fry it with nothing, no salt, guess what? It doesn’t taste like anything. It’s a blank canvas you get to build up on.”

I’m motivated to give people all the tools to get to cooking and get to those a-ha moments. You see it when people take a bite of great food. It’s an inspiration. It’s this moment of delight where all of the umamis and the salty and the sweet, they come together in just the right way. That’s, at [their] core, Seed Ranch, Flavor, and GrownAs* food is all about.

Consistency and Knowledge

Kirk Bachmann: This is like the favorite part of our chat for me. I’m getting chills. When you said, “We’ve just got to get people to cook more,” it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s kind of simple. We’re not asking for a lot: just cook more. Then you’re presenting them with this beautiful product that enhances what they’re doing. I’m going to send you a bill for this buddy, because this is great plugging. This is great plugging!

No secret. We’ve talked about some cool ideas and different ways that we could work together. Some are secret. Coming back, thinking about my students: get people to cook more. I absolutely love that. Totally stealing it. That’s TikTok. But from a business perspective, David, 100 percent from a business perspective, is there that one piece of advice that you would give – or even love – to share with culinary professionals? Whatever their path is. Maybe they just want to cook great food. Maybe they are entrepreneurial in their own ways – curiosity and passion, super important. What really stuck with me through your previous comments was this idea of knowledge. When you’re describing the flavors in that little bottle or in the box with the mac and cheese, it’s adding knowledge to the experience. I love the term “pantry literacy” as well, but I also like cooking literacy. I like refrigerator literacy. We’re just trying to help people understand what they’re doing and to do it a little bit better.

So, from a student perspective – again, tough question, I apologize for that. There’s no perfect answer. I always tell my students to just do the best you can to be a cook for life. Don’t worry about the chef title. Don’t worry about the pressure. Just be a great cook for life. Be a great cook. What’s that one-liner for you for culinary professionals?

David Delcourt: There are two concepts, and they dovetail on what I’ve said before. The first one would be consistency. Where maybe you know as a student, as a chef, what type of food you want to be cooking, or what type of customer you want to be serving. But staying consistent in business is so important because that does two things. One, it makes others know that “Kirk is always there and he always gets stuff done.” That’s incredibly important.

The second one is: Share your knowledge. When you’re serving food to a customer, tell them about it. Let them live through the actual process. We started the farmers’ market, and I can’t tell you how many people would just ask us, “What’s umami?” That was the number one question for a year. Yes, it’s the fifth flavor. It’s the glutamates and that. But I’d say, “Hey, if you take a bite of savory food, and you immediately want another bite, that’s umami. It’s the addictive savor.”

Kirk Bachmann: Such an easy way to describe it. I love that. So simple. We make it more complicated. Go on. I appreciate that.

David Delcourt: Long-winded way to say consistency and knowledge sharing. I would say knowledge sharing also goes beyond your customer. It’s also to your peers, maybe even your competitors. It’s about creating a community where everyone is getting better.

Internally, we talk about kaizen a lot at Seed Ranch. It’s been for me an important thing, this constant culture of getting better, constant culture of education. It’s a Japanese borrowed word from one of the former CEOs of Toyota that I love. We’re never happy with, “Okay, we’re good enough. We’re doing this.“It’s always about continuing to learn and improve.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s beautiful. I wrote something down as you were talking about sharing your knowledge. Where would you rate knowing your audience on a stacked ranking? Is that on the podium as well?

David Delcourt: Yeah. I think it’s right up there. Back to what is the problem you’re solving and your customer interview, the customer query. That’s it. You learn through that process. “Am I right about who my customer is?” Fans, not customers, but it’s also about building your tribe. The tribe is beyond customers. It’s advisers. it’s other chefs who have been there, done that. It’s people writing about food. It’s people who get excited about the same dorky things as you do, or Facebook groups that are focused on healthy-eating – moms – for kids. You’re building that. You’re not just going to sell and advertise and market. If you already know who that tribe is, it’s so much easier. You target them. You talk with them. You really build a rapport with them.

Tying it back to social media: it’s become such a powerful tool. People aren’t just reading the best restaurants in L.A. in a review. They’re actually living it through. “Now that I’ve read about Kirk’s best restaurant, I’m going to go check him out on Instagram. I’m going to look on Facebook. Sure, I’ll look on your website, but I want to see what it’s really like behind this.”

David Delcourt’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: Sure. I love the building of the tribe. Bogo used that, too. That was one of their mantras over at zingfit when he had that company. Absolutely love that.

Gosh, I could just keep talking. I’ve got a couple of other things for you that I just want to share. The name of our podcast, David, is the Ultimate Dish. So I have to ask, probably the toughest question of all: in your mind, what is the ultimate dish?

David Delcourt: I’ll get meta about it, and then I’ll get specific.

On the meta side, to me, the ultimate dish is the dish that every single person at your table is going to fawn over and remember a year out. It will be, “Man, do you remember that souffle that Kirk made over Thanksgiving?” If you’re cooking for a table of 11-year-olds, the ultimate dish is very different than if you’re cooking for a table of adults. That’s my meta side of it.

I would say my ultimate dish – oh, man! It would definitely have some vegan mac on the side, and I’d dress it up with a bunch of hot sauce, sprinkle some chives on there. Probably the truffle – I’d go with the truffle sauce. I love – love – creamed vegetables. Prior to going vegan, it would be creamed kale, creamed spinach. Once I became vegan, I was like, “Oh, this is really easy to make again.” That on the plate.

In terms of protein, I will say tofu, just because so many people will go, “Oh, no way!” But tofu is the blank slate, remember. That’s the protein that I can make into literally anything I want. I can dress it up with a soy-ginger glaze, some crispy shallots on top, lots of ginger, all that Asian-inspired cuisine. You can go Southern, and you can marinade it and bread it and fry it and have a cutlet-style. There are so many different things you can do, and it’s just a soybean, which is both super-easy to grow, very efficient, etc.

Kirk Bachmann: Perfect answer. I love the food memories, too, the meta food memories. So, so, so important.

Before I forget, and when this airs it will sound silly. This is graduation week at Escoffier. Really busy week with tons –

David Delcourt: Congratulations!

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. Thank you so much. So many cool people are coming to town. If you’re around: Table Mesa, Friday – this Friday – between 11 and 2, we’ve got an open house here on the campus. No classes, just fun. Demos in each kitchen. Farmer Lee Jones coming in from Ohio to talk veggies.

David Delcourt: Oh, love him.

Kirk Bachmann: Michel Escoffier, the great-grandson of Escoffier, coming in from France to shake hands and talk to our students. If you’re around, you don’t have to come for the whole thing. 11 to 2, Bogo will be here. Diana will be here. Other friends will be here. Pop on by, nibble on some food, shake some hands, and give me a big hug. Wear the yellow outfit.

David Delcourt: I will be there in my yellow tracksuit, I promise you that.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. David, thank you so much for joining us today, Buddy. I really appreciate it.

David Delcourt: It’s been a pleasure. I love our conversations. I think this is so much fun. I can’t wait to work with you and Escoffier and your students. Yes, I’m biased toward vegan, but I think there is just so much fun and so much that we can do together.

Kirk Bachmann: Lots of energy. I 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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