meez podcast

Dan Latham of Culinary Guide Shop

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About this episode

In this episode, we are joined by Dan Latham, an exceptional chef, charcuterie expert, and advocate for sustainable agriculture and animal welfare. Dan is not only a crucial part of Meez's origin story but also the founder of Culinary Guide Shop, a consulting firm aiding restaurants across the Southern region.

Dan's culinary journey took root in the kitchens of New York City, where he honed his skills under the mentorship of Mario Batali at Po. Later, he ventured into running Mario's salumi shop, known as Studio L'Agusto, nestled within the charming confines of Italian Wine Merchants in Union Square. It was here that Dan and our CEO, Josh Sharkey, first crossed paths, planting the seeds for meez's inception.

Dan's trajectory eventually led him back to his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, where he embarked on his journey as a restaurateur and consultant. His remarkable achievements include James Beard award nominations and the esteemed title of Gourmet Mag's Best Restaurant in the South. Today, Dan is committed to assisting Southern restaurants in crafting sustainable, profitable menus while streamlining their operations.

In our engaging conversation, Dan and Josh Sharkey delve into the prevalent challenges faced by the restaurant industry, the intricacies of sustainable sourcing, and shed light on the current state of agriculture in the United States. Dan also generously shares his expertise on crafting exquisite salumi and passion for fly fishing.

Where to find Dan Latham:

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

What We Cover

(03:21) Dan's start in the metal business and his transition into food

(05:10) Dan's transition into culinary school

(06:05) Dan's experience with The Food Network

07:18) Dan and Mario's meeting leading to Dan's long relationship with Batali

(08:38) Dan's expertise in salami

(16:45) The difference in curing salts

(20:50) Dan's favorite salami cuts

(25:12) How the book, The Dorito Effect, inspired Latham

(28:00) Producers doing it well on an industrial scale

(32:43) Animal husbandry and sustainable farming

(44:48) Regenerative farming

(48:33) Dan's philosophy in restaurant consulting

(50:29) Common struggles restaurants are facing

(52:11) Fly fishing


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 not only an incredible chef, a charcuterie expert, and an advocate and activist for sustainable agriculture and animal welfare, but he's also a big part of the origin story of meez. Dan Latham is the founder of Culinary Guide Shop. It's a consulting firm that helps restaurants around the South. And the name is inspired by his two passions, cooking and fly fishing. Dan spent a lot of time cooking in New York City. I worked for Mario Batalii at Po before running Mario's salumi shop, the Studio L'Agusto, which was housed in the back of this wine shop called Italian Wine Merchants in Union Square.


The salumi shop is actually where Dan and I met. I would come to work there in the mornings for free before my day job at Tabla, and I would learn to make all types of salumi and charcuterie. And, you know, I had this little notebook where I would write the time that it took, and the temperature, and humidity, and of course the recipes, and ingredients, and every little detail about that type of casing that we used.


And all of that was written down in this little notebook that I friggin lost. And that notebook that I lost is the catalyst that really created the idea for what meez later became. So I thank Dan. Not only for teaching me so much about salumi and letting me make mistakes and learn with him at the studio, but of course for being the impetus for what I have today with meez.


So, Dan, thank you very much. Dan eventually left New York to start his first restaurant in Oxford, Mississippi, his home state. He's been nominated for James Beard awards. He's won Gourmet Mag Best Restaurant in the South, among many other awards. But he now helps restaurants across the South build sustainable and profitable menus and generally just helps them with their operations and helps them run really, really tight operations.


Dan and I had a wide ranging conversation where we talk about what restaurants are struggling with these days to how to source sustainably and what the state of agriculture is in the U.S. today. We go back in time a bit and talk about life as a cook in New York City in the 90s and 2000s.


He gives some tips and insights about making great salumi, and we ended the conversation talking about fly fishing. Something that I've been learning a lot more about, and I think something that chefs definitely have a propensity to do. It's meditative, but it takes a lot of work, and he gave us some tips on how to start.


I didn't realize that there's saltwater and freshwater fly fishing. So I'm stoked to get started. And generally just stoked about the conversation that we had. So as always, I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.


Welcome to the podcast, man.

Dan Latham [00:03:04]:

Thanks. Appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

Josh Sharkey [00:03:07]:

I think Dan, there's obviously backstory with you, not just because of what you do, but a little bit of the origin story of meez maybe just for the audience. I know your background, but just share a little bit about what you're doing today.

Dan Latham [00:03:21]:

We'll probably dig a bunch into the past as well. I started cooking about 1997, 98. I know those years are kind of fuzzy, but you know, I was, I was a little bit of a career changer. I was in the metals business, meaning I sold titanium to airplane manufacturers for fan blades for engines. And one of the funniest things I sold a 900 pound block of titanium to the Tomahawk war missile manufacturer in Huntsville, Alabama, where they carved out the warhead.

All the circuitry and the whole thing. So I was for a long time, could never get out of my head that I wanted to own a restaurant. No idea. It just was, it was pervasive. Like never could get it out of my head. And I was leaving a missile cop.

Josh Sharkey [00:04:00]:

Was there like a bunch of restaurants in your town, your family cook? What, why restaurants?

Dan Latham [00:04:01]:

I tried to trace some of that back. My grandmother and grandfather were, grandfather was a war vet, drove a tank for Patton. He had a victory garden, my grandmother canned. And I mean, she had a room that looked like we could have survived till today. So it was. It's one of those places where just really a very humble upbringing, but that would be the first interactions with food and gardening and just kind of understanding how to take care of yourself or your family. And I don't know that obviously you had some, I've never done the psychoanalysis of it all in the sense of how it came together.


You know, I, I do think about piecing it together in the sense of with my grandfather, who grew up in Mississippi and grandfather was kind of mid central Mississippi and a lot of farms, a lot of, you know, I remember having a pig stick when I grew up, like walking around pig farms and, you know, outdoor pig farms and not really knowing what the hell is going on, getting knocked over, stuff like that. Just a little kid.

Josh Sharkey [00:04:54]:

Were those like industrial farms around you?

Dan Latham [00:04:56]:

No, these, just total local farms and my grandfather knew the guys and we would go pick up fat back. We'd pick up lard for the, for a cookie and things of that nature, just. Very small, no, not industrial at all. We're talking local farms.


So, uh, those are early memories of food and just interacting with food. The path led me to this company was based out of New Orleans, the writer of college lived in New Orleans and this guy was an entrepreneur. He sold metal to all these big ship manufacturers, airplane manufacturers. We actually sold a lot of metal to the booster rocket manufacturer out in East New Orleans. So that was a big part of my early deal. Now, this guy had private tables at Commander's Emeralds, all these great restaurants. So, I started to kind of see this kind of way of life and, and was really more interested in that than what I was doing and just can never get it out of my head. So I was transferred to Atlanta to run the aerospace division. Was working with Gulfstream Boeing, this missile manufacturer I was telling you about, and I left a missile conference one day. I was like, that's it. I'm going to go. I'm going to go figure this out. I did my research, on different schools, figured out the night program at French culinary was probably the best way to kind of do a transition out of what I was doing into something else.

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