Podcast Episode 74

Chef Brad Barnes Reveals the Major Trends in Culinary Arts

Brad Barnes | 39 Minutes | December 27, 2022

In today’s episode, we speak with our guest Brad Barnes, award-winning certified Master Chef, author, food strategist, and president at Pure Food Consulting.

Chef Barnes is the co-author of the American Culinary Federation’s Guide to Culinary Certification, as well as So You Want to Be a Chef? A Guide to Culinary Careers. He is dedicated to helping a new generation of chefs understand the shifts in technology, business, and education so they can “make space” for innovation in the culinary arts.

Listen as Brad talks about how to reduce the cost of food, society’s growing interest in plant-based foods, and other emerging culinary trends.

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 Brad Barnes, an award-winning Certified Master Chef, author, and president at Pure Food Consulting. Chef Barnes is a two-time medalist at the Culinary Olympics, where he received a perfect score for his buffet work. The American Culinary Federation appointed him to the Epicurean World Master Chef Society and bestowed him a President’s Award, President’s Medallion, and Hermann G. Rush Humanitarian Award. He is a food strategist who co-authored the American Culinary Federation’s Guide to Certification, as well as, “So You Want to Be a Chef.”

Join me today as I chat with Brad about his strategy for training great chefs, the role of mentorship in the industry, and the future of chef education.

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

Bradlee Barnes: Hey, good. Thanks, Kirk. Great to see you. Thanks for having me today.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. You look great. I’m not going to let it pass. Are you sitting in the meat locker?

Bradlee Barnes: Sitting in the meat locker, man. That’s a boneless oxtail. If you ever want to know what one looks like, there you go.

Kirk Bachmann: There you go. I’ve had many meetings in the cooler. That was the office back in the day. “Meet me in the cooler.”

Bradlee Barnes: That’s right.

Kirk Bachmann: I can’t take my eye off it. I love it.

It is so good to see you. There was a time when we saw each other quite frequently at conferences and committees. Then you throw a pandemic into it, and the years just fly by. I can’t even believe it. You look great. Got the baby face going still. I love it. Are you living well?

Bradlee Barnes: You’re too kind. Yeah, man. Listen, I like to say I’m the luckiest cook around. I get to do lots of cool things, meet lots of cool folks, work in all kinds of situations with food. Very lucky. Very fortunate.

Kirk Bachmann: No. I love that. You’ve stayed consistent. And if I could say from a humility perspective, I’ve probably known you over 20 years now – I’m giving away our ages. I think you were 12 when I met you. You’ve always been so considerate, thoughtful, kind, respectful. People forget all the years of flying around and judging young culinarians at competitions and certifications. I don’t forget that stuff. I just publicly want to thank you for that mentorship. It’s always been so good to know that you were out there. You were with one organization. I was in another, but we were always able to cross paths for the same common goal and the same common good. Thank you for the two decades and more of incredible commitment to our industry. I certainly appreciate it.

Bradlee Barnes: Listen. It’s always been good. I appreciate you saying a couple of decades. I will cross year 49 as a cook next April.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. As a cook, too. So many students come to me and say, “Chef, when am I going to be a chef.” “Slow down. Just be a great cook for life. Everything else will fall into place.”

I love your new website. We’ll get to that in a minute. You’re really bringing it back to the basics. We’re going to talk about cooking methodology in just a minute.

I have to ask, though: where are you these days? I know you’re at a conference today. Are you still in Connecticut?

Bradlee Barnes: I generally land and sleep a little bit in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Kirk Bachmann: Okay

Bradlee Barnes: It’s always good. Getting a little tired of the winter. We’ll see how much longer that lasts. I get to leave so much that generally it’s not too bad.

Ingredients, Time, and Temperature

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. Since you’re sitting in a meat cooler, I want to dive right in. Even before the mise en place, in terms of – it’s a big word! – cooking methodology, your cooking methodology, I’d love it if you could talk a little bit about – in general. We didn’t practice this – about ingredients in general, how important it is that all ingredients are prepared in a specific way. What’s the technique around that? To showcase ingredients, to show them off, I’d love to hear about pre-cooking, seasoning, marinating. I love how on your site you suggest that allowing natural flavors to mingle is important. Can you clarify that? There’s a lot there, but you’re off and running. Go.

Bradlee Barnes: To keep it basic and simple, I think, is really important. I learned that from my mentors. Simplicity is, as we know, very difficult because it requires skill to really keep things simple. At the end of the day, we have a tool in cooking. It is the application of heat to food. That’s to change it in one way or another. To master that idea of applying heat to food, of course, is what it’s all about. That’s as complicated as I like to start with. That’s all we’re going to be able to do. There’s a lot of things to get it ready to do that, as you suggested: seasoning, marinating, caring for, trimming, or manicuring, whatever it is. Each of those things requires that we need to really understand the product.

I had a great conversation with a gentleman last night in Australia. Meilleur Ouvrier de France. I won’t use his name because I didn’t ask him if I could use his name. He’s been working for many years on the preservation of truffles. I don’t know if you know it or not, but Australia has the largest harvest of truffles in the world. Very fascinating, but him talking about how he had worked to care for that particular ingredient and maintain its flavor, its aroma, its texture, and then make it permanent, if you will, was pretty fascinating.

That’s the depth. That gets to the ingredients and how we care for the ingredients, which is critical to getting them into the process of cooking. I think that’s a good place to start with that.

Kirk Bachmann: No, it is. I’m going to come back to your mentors in a moment. While we’re on the topic of how critical heat is, can you speak a little bit to time and temperature? Time and/or. It’s an and, not an or.

Bradlee Barnes: It’s always an “and,” because we’re not going to stop time, and we are going to apply temperature. Temperature is always there. I always like to note that we are working with things that are temporary, for the most part. Temperature either increases or decreases their staying power. When you think of a piece of lettuce, and putting a piece of lettuce in a 70-degree room, it’s got a time before it’s going to change. That’s not a good way to change it. When you think about any food product – plant, animal, whatever it is – that’s generally going to happen. Things like salt, probably not, but certainly spices and things of those natures. They change. Salt is one of the few that is super stable.

The application of temperature and the amount of time that application occurs is how we create control. That’s what we’re in charge of.

Kirk Bachmann: I love – absolutely love, love, love – that you used the visual example of lettuce. This last weekend on Saturday, we had a massive graduation here in Boulder for Escoffier.

Bradlee Barnes: Saw the pictures.

Kirk Bachmann: Very cool. Farmer Lee was here as our keynote, Farmer Lee Jones. To your point, Brad, we had a big round table, standing room only, Farmer and a bunch of samples from the farm. Several times during the presentation, he commented about his vegetables. “It’s 70 degrees in this room! My vegetables don’t like it! They don’t like it!” That’s just brilliant. Beautiful analogy.

Bradlee Barnes: I’m actually involved today with a project that is all about precision chilling. It’s really fascinating. We can take anything and move it to a desired temperature ultra-fast not using refrigerants, not using anything else, only applying pressure.

Kirk Bachmann: So what’s the ultimate. Who’s going to pay that price? If I’m in the dining room and these amazing things are occurring behind the scenes, who bears that?

Bradlee Barnes: This is the really cool thing with this project. It actually is going to reduce costs.

Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t that something?

Bradlee Barnes: It increases throughput. It reduces power by ten times. Like I said, it does not use refrigerants, so we remove that aspect of refrigeration. We expect that it is one of these things that’s going to pay itself back so rapidly to those who use it that it should help reduce the cost of food.

I don’t know if we get to it today or not, Kirk, but at some time I’d like to talk about the paradigm that we exist in today. We spend too much on producing food that we don’t need. That’s another way of saying, It’s time to mitigate food waste.

Kirk Bachmann: You know what? Let’s take an exit here and jump on that topic. I know that you’re working on an eight-part series on our food supply. I think that’s first quarter of next year.

Bradlee Barnes: Yeah.

Kirk Bachmann: Tell us about that, what you can tell us.

Bradlee Barnes: I can tell you anything, but it’s 70,000 words that I wrote during Covid, so I don’t think you want to go into that. But it’s really cool because one of the premises is – and Rockefeller Foundation has done a great study on this called True Cost of Food. When you think about it, 40 percent of the food that is grown or produced, raised in America, is not eaten. Some of that percentage is necessary. We take peas and we turn them into a field to make nitrogen to enrich the soil to make the soil better for the next crop. That’s part of that number. But that number is 38 percent of what you take home in groceries and put in the refrigerator. 38 percent goes in the garbage.

When you think about that, let’s talk sustainability. Food waste is not the problem there. It’s the idea that we’re actually spending time, energy, money making that food that will be garbage. If we could mitigate that, then you go backwards in the chain there and you really solve some issues.

Kirk Bachmann: You’re getting me excited. Farmer talks about the same things. I bet a symposium with you up on the panel with Farmer and others would be really exciting. We’ll get Richard up there. That would be a lot of fun. I love this conversation for the students and professional cooks who listen to the show and read.

This idea of cooking methodology, Brad, how does it change – or does it change – depending on your audience? You work with large companies like Google, universities like Stanford, the military, restaurants, hotels. I imagine it’s not one size fits all, right?

Bradlee Barnes: It is, because you go back to that thing that I said, but when you actually apply heat to food, you may do it in different ways with different time considerations for different volumes. But at the end of the day, you’re after that same result.

Kirk Bachmann: Technique is technique is technique.

Bradlee Barnes: It is. It’s just how you can generate the technique in different ways, but it’s still the way you apply it precisely in order to end up with a result that is pleasurable to people.

All About Communication

Kirk Bachmann: When you share that, it feels so simple. It’s so obvious, but I know it’s not. For all the reasons – the 40 percent, the 38 percent that you mentioned. We need to fix that.

You worked in education for countless years. When it comes to consulting, -providing others with direction, advice, strategy – how important are those years in the classroom, in front of students, to your approach to consulting today?

Bradlee Barnes: All my life I’ve spent figuring out how to tell people things. That’s not a one size fits all, either. It’s so important. My son’s in high school, my youngest one, and I try to help him spend time on thinking about expressing himself for a reason. If you want to get a point across to somebody, that takes practice to help them understand and be able to understand and see what the real message is. Oftentimes, I think that is where it goes south. You’ve seen that, too.

Go back to education. There are all kinds of good teachers. There are great teachers. There are teachers that are not so effective. It generally comes down to how they convey the information and ensure that their students take that information, at least part of it, and hold it, and are able to use it at some point.

Kirk Bachmann: Well said. I’m going to stay on that topic of education for a minute. Co-authored the American Culinary Federation’s Guide to Certification, and “So You Want to Be a Chef.” Your expertise, among other things, is chef education, cook education, and training. I would go so far as to say it is at the core of who you are, Brad Barnes. In your mind, in your opinion. I want to go back to who your mentors were. I love those conversations. And while you’re talking about that, why is mentoring the next generation of young professionals so important – like your son, or those in the kitchen? Because there’s distractions these days. Lots of distractions.

Bradlee Barnes: There are distractions. There are also tools. It really is all about life management, skill management, time management, all the things that are not subject matter-related, so to speak. It’s how you get your message across. My son has a basketball tryout and bowling match at the same time. How does he communicate to those individuals that this is an issue? They actually don’t want that issue either.

I think it’s a lot about – and culinary educators, culinary students, cooks. You’ve seen it. I would venture to say that communication in the kitchen has changed since you were a young cook. I know it’s changed since I was a young cook. It’s much better. It’s much better.

However, the interesting thing, to me, is that our industry has been unable to really integrate one of the most valuable tools or settings for business use, which is technology, thoroughly into what we do day-to-day. That I designed back in 2000, and it yet is really able to be used in a way that it should be used.

I think professional practices and getting those into place and being a really good professional is probably one of the most important pieces there, when you think about mentorship. That’s a gen ed subject, if you want.

Lessons from Mentors

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. Can we go back to your mentors and how important they were to you?

Bradlee Barnes: Absolutely. Listen. I had a lot of them. Folks that, for some reason or another, were always eager to help, always eager to speak to me about whatever I needed to talk about, invite me into their kitchens, show me what they do. There’s nothing like that. You feel it now. At some point, I think I turned 60 and I said, “Oh, maybe some of this is the wisdom that people have always told me about.”

Kirk Bachmann: The light goes on.

Bradlee Barnes: The wisdom, or my joints hurt. There’s a thing that starts to happen. One of the most important things that I learned from them was impressions of outcomes of food. When you cook something for somebody, you cook it for yourself. You work all day. You make a meal. You sit down and eat it. It’s very hard for you to be extremely critical until you’ve practiced that. Self-criticism or self-critique is very difficult, just naturally difficult. They were key in helping me learn that skill and realize where the benchmarks were. I think that’s probably the biggest thing.

That, and setting examples in a number of ways from things you really should do, things you can’t do without, to things that are maybe not a good way to do it.

Room for Improvement

Kirk Bachmann: Let’s stay on that thought for a minute. You mentioned technology as maybe lacking. Is there something that stands out? You also mentioned before that things have gotten better. Are there one or two things over the past decade that have made such a big impact – a big impact! – on how cooks are trained? Even more than trained, stewarded into the industry. I call it the bridge from your mother’s kitchen to the professional kitchen. Are there any things that stand out to you that have really made an impact? Maybe outside of education. Maybe outside of technology?

Bradlee Barnes: You’re saying in the pathway of going from not in a kitchen to in a kitchen.

Kirk Bachmann: Correct.

Bradlee Barnes: I’ll tell you, and this is perhaps a little heresy, but you know me.

Kirk Bachmann: Finally! The good stuff!

Bradlee Barnes: We’re still not there, my friend. There are a lot of things that are better. There is more diversity in kitchens. More. Not right yet. There is some attention to the responsibilities associated with being someone that prepares food for a living, or feeds people for a living.

I’ll tell you: when Covid set in, I knew what was happening. I knew what was going to happen because we still have a business model that does not allow people to have growth-based professions. We have a workforce that was predominantly built on the backs of folks who were in dead-end jobs. That means the foundation is a dead end. That’s why they left. They’re all working in fulfillment centers. They’re working at places where they get benefits, they get paid vacation, and they have an eight-hour day. It’s probably air-conditioned. Until we fix those things, food service will not be, probably, what it should be. That end of the pathway still needs a lot of work.

I do think we’ve come a long way in the way that we recognize people and the way that we allow them to work in a food service setting. I’m generalizing here. There are a lot of people who do a super job with this, but the majority, that’s why everybody is looking for help, now.

Kirk Bachmann: Super transparent. Really good response, thoughtful response. Exactly where I was going.

Brad, at Escoffier – this has dictated what we do, now – so many of our students have busy, active lifestyles, family obligations, work obligations, and quite honestly, learning online is the only way they can pursue their dreams while managing the aforementioned. As such, the outcomes still are important, and they have to remain consistent and constant, but our approach to reaching our students has changed. Are you seeing similar trends in the way companies are seeking consultancy? Or do you still need to be face to face, or are you reaching out in all kinds of different ways to impact?

Bradlee Barnes: Both. I was using Teams and Zoom in 2015 with my clients.

Kirk Bachmann: Really?! Okay.

Bradlee Barnes: Google Meet, all of those things, to get people together quickly, to caucus, to do whatever you’ve got to do. But there is nothing like face-to-face for certain things. All of my clients, we do both. There’s an expediency with getting four people on a screen. If you always were to do that, you wouldn’t be in the right place. It’s a great tool. It’s a great thing to see happening.

A Way to Make Food Taste Good

Kirk Bachmann: Well said. Brad, as you said earlier, you’ve been a cook your whole life. Now I want to go back to the beginning. When did you want to do this? You talked about your son. He’s in high school. When did you know? Did you grow up in that kind of family where cooking was super important, dinners were on the table? How did you get it? {For] me, my dad is a master pastry chef. It’s in the DNA. I did not have a choice. I was going down this path. How about you?

Bradlee Barnes: I will always say, with all due respect to everybody involved, I decided at some point that there had to be a way to make food taste good.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh. Big statement. Let’s pause and take that in for a moment. I love it. Read into that one.

Bradlee Barnes: I’ve said that in different ways throughout my life. It’s getting more polished now.

Kirk Bachmann: I bet.

Bradlee Barnes: That is the challenge, right? You get a really nice piece of food, whatever that piece of food is – it could be a rutabaga – and you take ten people at random, and maybe one of them makes it taste good. There’s something there, and that always intrigued me.

I really started cooking at nine or ten. It’s a little weird. [I’d find] several recipes for something – I remember specifically Manhattan clam chowder – and redoing the recipe by combining a bunch of recipes, and usually some sort of historical story, if you will. That was that obsession to make things taste better than I had before.

The Fun (and Anxiousness) of the CMC Exam

Kirk Bachmann: I love the word “obsession.” You probably don’t remember this. This was kind of a fun thing. It was in New York. I popped in with a bunch of other people. We did a quick competition. I forget his name: a lovely Italian gentleman who had a restaurant in Manhattan. He put on this beautiful competition. I had a pretty cool dish. It was a scalloped dish. I was pretty pumped up about it. You were a judge there that day. I’ll never forget: I had some shallots that were slowly sweating, but clearly as you walked by and turned the heat down, I was cooking them too high. That’s an obsession! That’s an obsession, right there. I didn’t win that competition, for the record, but I had a blast.

Let’s talk a little bit about: Leonard always says – and DeSantis says the same thing – that you don’t show up for the Certified Master Chef exam to learn anything. You show up to cook. You took that exam. I think, when you took it, it was eight grueling days.

Bradlee Barnes: It was for ten.

Kirk Bachmann: Ten days. I’ve spoken to a few different CMCs on the podcast. Again, they had one thing in common that they agreed to, and that was that you’re there to cook. It’s you and the judges. It’s you and your peers. Your peers are pulling for you.

Bradlee Barnes: Absolutely.

Kirk Bachmann: They know you can cook, but it’s the Olympics; you’ve got to come to play that day. Can you talk a little bit about that memory and that experience? Because very few have achieved it.
Very few.

Bradlee Barnes: Just a note on that, too: you can’t always blame the people. There’s plenty of room for making that test better and more appropriate, particularly today. I think that’s always part of it. I never understood anyone that would come to any exam – math, reading, or otherwise -thinking they’re going to learn something. That’s not the way tests work. I know; I’ve failed tons of tests. I was a serial bad student. That’s okay. I learned something along the way.

Kirk Bachmann: You can make food taste good.

Bradlee Barnes: Make food taste good. The test, for me – and people often often think, “You don’t remember. You’re lying.” It was a good time. Period. And it was because I made up my mind before I went that I was going to cook. I understood it inside and out. I knew everything I thought I could possibly know in order to achieve that particular exam. I wasn’t really worried. I wasn’t particularly tired, either, because I worked long days all the time.

I’ve judged quite a few of those. I always hated when I started seeing people look worn on day two or three, because all that meant to me was there was a level of stress that was intolerable. Stress comes from not having the confidence that will allow you to be successful. That’s how I would equate it. I would always see that look on their faces. Like I said, nobody’s there to hurt anybody. You don’t want to see – I’ve had friends who weren’t successful. Good, long-time colleagues – friends – weren’t successful. I can’t change that outcome, not by my perception, not by anybody’s. You just see it and you go, “Ah, that’s not good.”

Kirk Bachmann: It reminds me at times when I’m talking to students, and they have an exam or a culmination of some sort, and they are feeling nervous. I immediately try to clarify, “Are you prepared? Done the work? Do you know what you’re going to execute?” If they say, “Yes,” I’ll respond by letting them know that they’re not nervous; they’re just anxious. You’re just anxious to get going. It’s a big difference.

Bradlee Barnes: Huge! I would also say everybody’s good at some stuff. I’ve always been good at turning anxiousness into energy. I’m lucky. I could do that. That helps. Certainly, you’re anxious. Certainly, you’ve got that built up, but if you can channel it into positive energy, then you just turn it on and go.

Kirk Bachmann: Win-win.

So many accolades throughout your distinguished career. Are there any or one that really stands out that you’re really proud of?

Bradlee Barnes: You mentioned it: the perfect score in the Olympics, that was a big deal. Many times, you’re in a sport and you’re like, “I’m going to win this. I’m going to win this.” That’s not something you put your platter on the table and go, “That’s a perfect score. I got this.” That doesn’t even come here. Of course, they say it in German. I didn’t know what the hell they were saying.

Kirk Bachmann: Ausgezeichnet!

Bradlee Barnes: Yes. I didn’t know. I got my medal. I come back to the gang and one of the German coaches goes, “You know what that is, right?”

I was like, “No.”

Priorities and Shifting Philosophies

Kirk Bachmann: Frank works for us – Vollkommer. I always give him a hard time. “You know what Vollkommer means in German.” “No, Chef, what does it mean?” “It means perfection. No pressure, Frank. No pressure at all.” I love that.

So let’s talk about your consulting business, launched Pure Food Consultancy. You’ve been in the consulting world for a long time. On your website, you mention that customers want delicious food derived from responsible practices. I’m paraphrasing. Can we go back to talking about responsible practices? I sort of get it on coming out of the kitchen, but what about a business operator? A company that brings Brad Barnes in. What is their responsibility?

Bradlee Barnes: Number one is to provide a living for all the people that work for them.

Kirk Bachmann: Great answer.

Bradlee Barnes: That’s done by accomplishing several things. It depends on what those are. One of the things I do immediately with a client is I like to learn about their business and understand it. Again, I’m lucky. I call myself that. If at that point I figure out that you’re not terribly responsible, I don’t need to help you. When I take a client – and I’ve got a few of them that are really good, interesting people that do great work – and once I learn what they are doing and I know all the right stuff, we just try to do more of the right stuff and figure out where is the space for the innovation.

Kirk Bachmann: What’s going well? Capitalize on that. Are you seeing more and more requests for assistance in the plant-based world?

Bradlee Barnes: For the past decade, really. It’s snowballing. It’s actually interesting because all of my life as a cook, I’ve been fascinated with cooking everything that we could apply heat to. I know that’s not always the way, particularly 30-35 years ago. Whatever it was. Today, people are much more interested in doing that well.

I do a lot of large product strategy, working with a surimi group today. Surimi is actually very interesting. Everybody knows who it is: imitation crab. We don’t like to say that, because it is actually a way of processing fish that would normally get turned into fertilizer or whatever, because it’s the fish that is left on the bones after the filleting process. There is nothing wrong with this fish. It’s a premium product, and then it’s made into, actually, a premium product that is extremely affordable. That sounds like a good idea to me.

When we start thinking about using other varieties of fish for this, anything that has extra trimmings, so to speak, there are some really good things to be had. We’re working on a smoked salmon surimi. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a beautiful piece of protein that could be afforded on a very modest food service budget. You think about taking something that may have been garbage, putting it into a situation where it will now be a meal, I think we do pretty good.

Kirk Bachmann: Along those lines, I appreciate your approach. I got this from your website. “Treating your clients’ business like your own.” Brilliant, really. One piece I wanted to mention: you list the idea of shifting philosophy as one of the opportunities that you can provide, along with creativity, driving revenue, respecting the team, building quality, all of that. But shifting philosophy, that theme really resonates with me. I’m going to steal it by the way. How hard is it to get a client to shift philosophy? Not change their mind! Shift their philosophy. Their mission is now Brad’s mission.

Bradlee Barnes: Actually, it’s not. I want to clarify that. When you solve a puzzle, you figure out what’s the right answer. It’s not my answer. It’s not their answer. It’s the right answer.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s the right answer.

Bradlee Barnes: Yep. And I help them figure out how to get there. I’ll give an example, and I’ll be a little vague because of the way it would play out if I’m not vague. I have a client, and their name indicates that something is really important about their product. Yet, when I look into the way they are producing their product, they don’t pay attention to this item. All I’m going to do is help them focus on how to make this item what their whole company says it’s about anyway. Abstractly, what I’m doing is I’m saying, “Well, you all said you’re this, but you’re really not this because of X, Y, and Z. Let’s do A, B, and C to get you to being the expert at this.”

That is a philosophical shift, because for a little while it’s probably going to cost them more. They’re probably going to have to look in their value proposition and understand, then, how to recoup some of those costs through a higher and more acceptable value proposition. And most importantly in this type of situation, to create a higher ratio of re-purchase. A lot of people can buy something once. That’s easy, but to get them to buy it repeatedly is a different story.

Kirk Bachmann: I’ll also mention – and I love this quote – “At every turn, the people who do our business are critical.” You’ve also said that “great consultancy starts with understanding you.” You mentioned this earlier today. I love when you talk about the team and the people. How important, how critical – stronger word – are the people in the business?

Bradlee Barnes: I think that’s everything, really and truly. When I am in that learning, the discovery part of the project to understand the business, I’m also learning about the people. I’m seeing who’s there. That, frankly, is what usually makes or breaks my ability to believe that I can make our interaction together worthwhile. The last thing I ever want to do as a consultant is charge somebody money that I can’t deliver on. The people are usually what tells [me] “Am I going to be able to make a difference here or not?”

Kirk Bachmann: That can be applied to any business. It’s a good foundation.

Bradlee Barnes: It’s everybody, Kirk. That is why, again, back to the Covid setting, that the restaurant business fell apart. Because we didn’t have our ducks in a row with our labor force, with the people who did the work, and the cash flow cycle was certainly a big part of that. That was also a big trouble spot. A lot of people did that well. They let their business blossom and did what they had to do and kept people employed as best they could. Nobody could win that race. It was too much for anybody.

Still, it ends up being about the people and how we integrate them in our businesses.

Chef Brad Barnes’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: That’s a perfect segue. I don’t know where these 45 minutes went. I’ve really enjoyed chatting. The name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish, Chef. In your mind – toughest question of all! What is the ultimate dish?

Bradlee Barnes: The ultimate dish is simple. It’s prepared for the right reason. It’s something that comes from caring. When you think about the origins of cuisine, almost every great dish was invented by, I’ll just say “Mom.” Maybe it was Dad, but it was about feeding people you care for something that was going to nourish them. I think when you think of the perfect dish, there’s not a lot to it. I often think of steamed blue crabs as one of the perfect dishes. Like they do in Chesapeake Bay. That’s an incredible dish. There’s a seasoning. there’s some crabs. Lots of dirty hands, a couple of cuts. But there’s one night 120-some years ago, and I ate. It was an all-you-could-eat. I grew up in Baltimore. I ate 111 blue crabs.

Kirk Bachmann: How old were you?

Bradlee Barnes: I was about 12.

Kirk Bachmann: Unbelievable. You’re 134 now. Okay, let’s go.

Bradlee Barnes: I’m 134, and feel every year of it, particularly after the last two and half years. I think it’s about that. You just have to go to the real simple aspect of food. When you think of that smoked pork butt that comes from North Carolina. Any great bean dish where you just have Feijoada that you eat in Sao Paulo or something like that. Also, each culture has those dishes. That’s the way I think about it.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s perfect. The best part is, your words, because you care. You created that dish because you care. Probably the most eloquent response that we’ve had to that question. I’ve had some people respond with four courses, which was also eloquent, but this is very, very, very thoughtful.

Chef, thank you so much for spending some time with us. Really good to see you. Congratulations on the business. Hopefully, we’ll see each other.

Bradlee Barnes: I hope so.

Kirk Bachmann: This pandemic’s behind us.

Bradlee Barnes: That’s right.

Kirk Bachmann: It was my first and hopefully my last. Appreciate it, buddy. Take care of yourself, okay?

Bradlee Barnes: Alright, man. Thank you.

Kirk Bachmann: Alright.

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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