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Dan Giusti on Revolutionizing Institutional Food Service in the U.S.

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About this episode

Dan Giusti is the founder of Brigaid, an organization dedicated to revolutionizing institutional food service in places like public schools and prisons. Before shifting his focus to improving food systems in these institutions, Dan was the Chef de Cuisine at NOMA, one of the world’s top-rated restaurants. 

During the episode, Dan highlights the importance of self-awareness, humility, and recognizing one's strengths and limitations as a leader. He also discusses the significance of being comfortable with oneself and having the courage to start something new, as Dan did with Brigaid. Dan reflects on the physical and emotional aspects of his work, highlighting the significant contrasts between being a chef in a restaurant kitchen and an entrepreneur overseeing chefs in various organizations nationwide.

While the physical aspects of the job are vastly different, Dan emphasizes that the mindset remains similar. He believes in the importance of approaching every task with the mindset of striving for excellence, regardless of the context. Drawing from his experience at NOMA, Dan stresses that there should be no limit to the effort and thought put into preparing food, even in school kitchens. He encourages chefs to bring the same level of passion and dedication to every aspect of their work, no matter the circumstances.

Where to find Dan Giusti: 

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

What We Cover

(2:18) Dan’s background

(8:28) How Dan ended up at NOMA

(11:36) Comparison is the enemy of joy

(12:46) Dan’s leadership superpowers

(15:31) Why staying humble is important

(17:41) Restaurant vs school kitchens

(25:40) Why does Dan cook?

(28:56) External gratification and reviews

(35:33) Dan’s first experience at a school

(38:13) How Brigaid works with schools today

(40:52) What is the National School Lunch Program?

(43:14) Nutrition guidelines at school

(48:24) How Brigaid preps meals during the week

(51:18) What does the future of Brigaid look like?

(53:45) Why more chefs should work in schools


Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]: 

Welcome to The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world-class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show. 


My guest today is a chef that you probably know, but if you don't, I think it's incumbent upon all of us in the culinary industry and beyond to get to know what he's doing and the impact that he's driving in the us. Dan Giusti is the founder of Brigaid, an organization dedicated to helping institutional food service like public schools and prisons, create delicious, wholesome food and generally just thrive as food service operators.


And there's a catch here. Prior to founding Brigaid, Dan did not have a background in institutional food service. Rather, he was the Chef de Cuisine of NOMA restaurant, lauded, of course, as the best restaurant in the world for quite some time. Dan spent the majority of his career working in the upper echelon of fine dining.


That said, I think he actually values his leadership and management skills far more than he does his creativity as a chef. In getting to know Dan, I can tell you that he's also one of the most humble people you will ever meet. Dan and I talk about what it's like working in these school systems and where there's opportunity for improvement.


And more importantly, Dan continually praises the incredible people that are working in these food service establishments. On top of that, we discuss what it really means to be a chef and where our responsibilities lie, how reviews and rewards can sometimes have a negative impact on the motivations of chefs.


And we spent a lot of time talking about his plight to improve the food system in America. I'm really grateful that we have chefs like Dan using their craft to effectuate positive change in our food system. And I learned a lot, and I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.


Maybe if we could start like how you got to Brigaid, because you started at Clydes, CAA, back to Clydes/ You probably worked at Clydes like 600 times before. You went to NOMA and then somehow from NOM to Brigaid. So I would love to hear like, how did that happen?

Dan Giusti [00:02:18]: 

I started working in restaurants when I was 15 and that was at Clydes of Georgetown in Washington DC. I happened to be going to high school in Northern Virginia at the time, so I became interested in cooking primarily because I come from a big Italian family where I have some folks in my family who are really good cooks.


I would consider them above your stereotypical good home cook for some folks, really your strong, strong cook. So I just became interested in it at a young age, and I went to a high school where people were really ambitious and really talking about career goals and colleges during Freshman year of high school.


So I started doing the same, and because of my interest in cooking, I thought, why not give that a shot? I had the opportunity to kind of go to a career fair. I met a representative from the Culinary Institute of America, so that woman told me that I should get a job, so I got a job. I can't really remember.


I think actually she knew the corporate chef applied and she put me in touch with him. At which point I was able to apply and then I got a job. So I started working in kitchens when I was 15. In that kitchen, I was primarily doing a lot of prep work the first year that I worked there. So just cutting things and whatnot.


And really, through high school I continued working at Clydes of Georgetown and worked my way up. And by the time I was a senior in high school, I was doing most of the work in that kitchen. So working at all the different stations on the line. And that restaurant is a very, very busy restaurant. I would say that stations that I worked at during certain services were some of the hardest things I probably have ever done in my career.


Working at the grill station during Saturday brunch was always interesting because I had a big grill and on each side, on the left side and the right side of the grill, I had four inch hotel pans with water that you would poach eggs. So on that station you would do burgers, toast buns, cook burgers to temperature.


And then you would also do eggs benedict. So you'd toast English muffins, do eggs benedict. You would get rocked. It was super busy. I learned a good amount in high school. 

Josh Sharkey [00:04:22]: 

How old were you? So you were, you were in high school still when you were working at a brunch station. 

Dan Giusti [00:04:27]: 

15 to 18. Yeah. So by 18 I was pretty good.I mean, in the grand scheme of things, not amazing, but I would say that if I worked that station now, I would probably struggle just the same. So, when I was a Senior, I applied to go to the Culinary Institute of America. I got accepted. I only applied to one school and then I went there. So really leading up to the CIA though, my kind of idea of working in restaurants was just, I enjoyed being in a restaurant.


I enjoyed the environment, I enjoyed cooking. By that time, I was involved with coming up with maybe like the soup of the day, I'd make the soup of the day and we'd get great feedback on it. And it was amazing to hear that positive feedback. So for me, that's what working in a restaurant was like.


It wasn't about, you know, I didn't really know much about famous chefs or fine dining restaurants. It was a little bit of a different time. This was in 2002. This is like the Food Network work was just kind of coming about, but it wasn't like now where, you know, you see all these Netflix shows and all these famous chefs.


But then I went to culinary school and it was like, literally, I swear it was like the day I got to the CIA, people were talking about where are you gonna go on your internship in basically like five to six months. And it was all about, all these restaurants, a lot of which were in New York City and where are you gonna do your internship and do you know who this chef is?

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