So I feel very fortunate, even though. I was 25 when I moved to New York and really started digging deep into cooking. I went to the CIA, I didn't have the confidence just to go from an Irish pub in Seattle to New York City and start cooking. But I knew I wanted to go to New York City. Kitchen Confidential was a huge influence on me to make that decision. My brother bought me the book and I read it and I was like, this is what I have to do. And I always wanted to go to the East coast. I was thinking about Boston or New York or something like that. Just kind of live that lifestyle a little bit. And so I packed up my zuzu rodeo and drove across the country, you know, enrolled at the CIA and spent considerable time just researching New York City and researching food. And there's tons of young kids who go to the CIA. Right. Were you one of those that went pretty young?
Josh Sharkey [00:06:21]:
I went when I was 17 to Johnson and Wales.
Eli Kulp [00:06:24]:
Exactly. Okay. So yeah, so you know, you know how it is, like these kids don't even know what they really wanna do. And yeah, I was 25, so I took it really seriously. I really dug in and, and made the most of it and did my externship in New York at Oceania with Cornelius Gallagher, which was just an eye-opening experience. I mean, he had just come off working as an exec Sous at Danielle, and he worked for Grey Kunz at Les Panas, you know, so he had this incredible repertoire.
Josh Sharkey [00:07:01]:
He was a ninja in the kitchen. Yeah. Like he really was. I left just when he got there actually. So we must have just crossed paths. I was with Rick and Rick left and Mike Shank stepped in for a little bit. And then when Neil got there and then I went to end up with Jean Georges.
Eli Kulp [00:07:17]:
But yeah, we must have just crossed, we must have just crossed paths. It's funny, a lot of people were in that kitchen. I hear that a lot with chefs. I left there a couple months before you, so it was definitely a kitchen that was well known and you know, if you wanna learn seafood, cooking, fishing and really dive into that. You know, it was a fantastic learning experience for me, but I also learned really important little lessons. You know, I remember we did this Kohl Robbie, it was like a warm cold soup situation. We had Kohl Robbie. It was butternut squash soup on the bottom and a shot glass, and then like a kohl Robbie puree on the top.
And you know, the bottom was warm, the top was cold, and I had to polish these shot glasses, right? Well, I did that, but Neil came over one time and either he made this up, like I still never, I, I looked at it afterwards, I was like, there's no damn spot on that glass. But he lit me up and he lit me up hard. And even though I think he just was probably just fucking with me, it immediately created an eye for detail that I never have, I didn't have before. You know, where you're looking at every little thing possible. You know, the way your towels folded on your station, that was a big one for him.
And it still is today for me. I feel like there's an immense amount of wisdom, I think in a folded towel on your station at all times. You know, and just keeping, you know, everything at 90 degree angles and, and just keeping an organized station. And when I left Oceania, I was prepared for the next thing because nothing could have put more pressure on me than Oceania and what Neil did, and I left there. But he took a liking to me after a while. He showed that I was dedicated and serious. And, you know, I had a chance to work with the sassier team for the last, you know, couple months of my time there and, you know, just dove into it, you know, both feet in, loved it, loved the atmosphere, even though it was crazy and a little bit psychotic at times.
I excelled in it. And from there I worked for a couple French kitchens. BLT Fish, Laurent Thorndale, when it first opened. And again, a really high pressure, French driven kitchen brigade system, all that. And then I worked for, do you know Josh Elli? Do you remember Josh? I worked with Josh at Sumile, a little Japanese spot in the West Village. And then he opened up this Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side called Jovia. Evan Rich was there. You probably remember Evan being there. I remember that for sure. So it was this townhouse in the Upper East side, like 63rd and Lex, between Lex and Park. And it was. By all intents and purposes, a really energized kitchen. There were a lot of really good cooks there. Peter Serpico was there, Evan Rich was there. It ended up being Aaron Silverman. Now Rose's Luxury down in DC it was, even though it was a small kitchen, a lot of really talented chefs came outta that kitchen.
But the problem was that Josh Dechellis had been basically working at Union Pacific for a while, and then also at Sumile. So he is really focused on Asian ingredients for a long time. And when he met with the owners and they decided to do an Italian restaurant, you know, he's a talented cook, like super talented on the stove, right? Just like some of those concepts though are a little difficult to produce over and over and consistent. A lot of steps. Really, really intricate things during a busy service where it wasn't a three Michelin star restaurant, so you didn't have four guys on a station producing one or two items. You had a busy station with a lot of mise en place. I tell this story a lot, but this kinda sums it up. There's a couple dishes that Josh did that were just totally impossible to reproduce consistently, like during service. And one of them was, you know, like when you do like a crispy skin on a fish, right? Like a snapper or a black bass.
This case was black bass. You know, you either expect the skin to shrink a little bit or you give it some slits, right? And you know, so the skin doesn't shrink up as much. His answer to that was to start the filet of fish in a cold pan with a little bit of oil. Put the cold pan on the stove. You're cooking the fish entirely on the skin side, go in and outta the oven a little bit. But the key is, as soon as that fish, the flesh of the fish was 95% perfect. Then you put it over high heat to release the skin from the pan, and you're working on French tops, right? So you don't have a burner. And you know, so the idea, it was beautiful because the skin didn't shrink. It literally stuck to the pan. So the skin was expansive over the entire filet. But the problem was, that's impossible to do consistently over and over on a busy service. So you're doing 120 covers, you know, and it was just, it was just a train wreck of a kitchen. It was just, it was a madhouse. It was a madhouse.
So after that, that's when I met Mario Carbone, and he was helping us with some pasta recipes. His girlfriend worked there at the time, and Del Posto had just opened. So, you know, I was talking to Mario. I was really interested in Del Posto and maybe learning something other than a French kitchen. And so I went to Del Posto and you know, that's really where I fell in love with this idea of cooking more soulful food rather than cooking with your heart more in your head. You know, and I learned that, okay, a kitchen doesn't have to be complete chaos. It doesn't have to be a sabotage mentality of, you know, angry cooks at other angry cooks.
And it was like walking into a zen kitchen. Everybody had to do their job. It was a high expectation, but at the time, Mario Vitale say what you want about him, but the culture that he and Mark Ladner had in the kitchen was way more laid back. They didn't, they didn't subscribe to this high-end French mentality to get the job done. They relied more on the relationships to get the job done. So that was really a turning point for my career, going to Del Posto and, and spending almost three years there and learning like, you don't have to cook food angry. And I always say, you can't cook good Italian food angry. You just can't.
Josh Sharkey [00:13:27]:
Yeah. There's so many nuggets that we learn in these kitchens that sort of cross boundaries to other things in life. So many of them that I think Josh is an incredibly talented chef, but it's a perfect example of if you can't consistently execute something, it doesn't matter how innovative it is, that's universal to any in the industry, right? You have to sort of match, do doubt, right? Execution with innovation. If they, and if they don't, then you're gonna have to wait, right? You're gonna have to wait until you're able to do more, get the new stove in. Have people that wanna exactly afford to pay more for their food and feel like chefs sort of go through phases.
Early on in your career, you're just learning, right? You're learning every technique you wanna learn. You first learn the basics, then you learn mother sauces and then you learn, you know, some like how to actually work with a pan and the heat and things like that. And then you start to learn, like maybe develop your own flavors. But I think every chef goes through that phase where you wanna sort of impress and you wanna sort of start to, you know, show all the techniques that you know. And it's really hard because you've learned all these things and you're probably really good at 'em. And so you're like, okay, now I wanna show everybody.
And you almost have to go through that phase, right? Yeah. The key is can you get outta that phase because you, you have to go through that Facebook, getting that stuff out of you, or like being able to sort of get out of your system. I just need to go and release all these new techniques and, and test them out. But then you have to sort of graduate to this phase of, okay, now I need to step back and say, is the juice worth the squeeze? What does the end result actually need to be? And does this technique actually need to happen for that day?
Eli Kulp [00:14:56]:
And does it fit into my lifestyle now, you know, all of a sudden you're not 25, 28 years old anymore. You know, you're 35 and now you wanna spend time with a family, or you want to be able to go on trips or vacations. And if you have to be there during every service and, you know, stick your foot up every ass to get what you want every day. That's exhausting, you know? And it's not sustainable. And this restaurant I'm talking about with Jovia, for example, wasn't sustainable.
It got completely obliterated. Frank Bruney had just come off, you know, seven years in Rome or something, and he, and he just took the, you know, the critic role in New York for the New York Times. And here we were presenting an Italian restaurant that was Asian influenced, you know, he just wrecked it. Like, he was like one star review. I remember sitting in the stairwell reading that, you know, everybody printed it out on paper, right? So everybody could read it. And I was like, oh God, yeah. This is not, this is not going well. This is not where I need to be. And that's, you know, for me, fortunately, I landed on my feet in a great spot. And, you know, those relationships I built at Del Posto still exist today.
Eli Kulp [00:16:07]:
And you know, it's great to see all the people from that kitchen. Del Posto and also Jovia, like, you know, people that really stand out, chefs that you know, that you've sort of, you comrades with, you know? Yeah. So it's cool.
Josh Sharkey [00:16:27]:
You can't replace that camaraderie you get when you're in the trenches with, you know, working those crazy hours and crazy days. You know, obviously the other learning lesson is you gotta set your cooks up for success and that just didn't happen back then. It didn't matter. It was like, look, you got 12 nine pan pickups and this is just what it is. So you're gonna have to come in at 9:00 AM to set up your station and you're not clocking in. And that's just, that's just how this job works. I mean, we loved it, right? Because we got to like, you know, just do all kinds of cool things. But ultimately it doesn't work as a business model at scale, because eventually everyone breaks.
Eli Kulp [00:17:00]:
Well, no, I mean, the business model was, was borderline slavery, you know, in the sense that they're paying you, you know, they don't own you. So I don't wanna misconstrue that, but. You're making like $6 an hour if you do the math. Oh yeah. You know? And you're living in New York City and somehow you have to figure it out. Like you said, the stations that you were on, it didn't matter if, you know, I think BLT fish station, when I was on the starch station, you know, I had to do potatoes and every starch, I had like eight different pickups of potatoes and different starches.
And that's a heavy station. I would be there at 9:30 AM in the morning. You know, just trying to just get to it. And eventually, you know, you carve off your hours a little bit and eventually you're coming in at, you know, a little bit later what, whatnot. But in the beginning it's a proving ground and something that I think for the future of our industry, I don't think that it has to be like that to be successful, what we were exposed to. I do think there is something to be said though for leaders today, chefs and kitchens, that we still need to take the approach that we're a mentor, we have to push people beyond their perceived limits in order for them to achieve what they can achieve. And I think that's what these kitchens did, is that when you started that station, you felt it was impossible, right?
You were always behind, you're always getting middle service. You know your palm souffle wouldn't souffle, and you're struggling and you know you're crashing service because they need that palm souffle at the table. And, but then you learn, okay, well the potato, maybe it was too ripe. You know, the sugar content, finding the right potatoes, you pick up on all these little nuanced particular things about what makes a potato a potato, right? And you learn that it does change, the sugar content does change, and that does affect the browning and also the souffling. So you're working through these, these really difficult equations and. What seems impossible is possible, but at the time when you're a 22 year old cook, or 23 year old cook and you're struggling, like, yeah, that's anxiety provoking, that's stressful.
That's all these things. The beauty of it is, that once you get through it, you now have an immense amount of confidence for the next challenge. And today there's still gonna be challenging kitchens out there. There's chefs that are very ambitious, there's still cooks that really wanna work. But I think in general, the lack of pressure that we can apply today, you know, we don't know what the outcome is going to be. We don't know if that's gonna create spoiled chefs. Is the industry going to shit because of it? Probably not because we'll evolve, but it's still sometimes hard to wrap your mind around. Okay. So, you know, the business model used to operate, you know, you could get your kitchen labor down to 15%. Well now kitchen labor is 28%, not including management. Where does that money come from?That's the age-old question. You know, is it the menu increase? Do you cut costs? That's the challenge. And that's a very big challenge today. And the restaurant industry isn't, you're not gonna make what you used to make 15, 20 years ago if you have a restaurant, you're gonna make about a quarter of that if you're lucky.
Josh Sharkey [00:19:53]
Yeah. We do this sort of exercise of looking back and it was this way and you know, we worked six days in a double and we got paid a shift pay, and we look back on that and say, that was the good way. And, and I think a lot of it was, there's obviously so much of that. That was intrinsic, right? We wanted to do that. It wasn't someone pushing us. There was never, someone said, you have to come in. It sounds like we started in New York at the same time you came in on your day off to learn butchery. You, you came in early to learn how to bake. You, you, you stayed late so that you could get with the sassier to see how he's crashing sauces or whatever the things that you wanted to learn. You just did that because you wanted to absorb everything and you knew that the person next to you was doing the same, and if you wanted to be good, you had to, and I think there was, there was something beautiful about that. That said, I think it would be naive of us to say, That the new generation isn't like that or that because it's different because they're not working as many hours or because they're not being pushed the same way that it will change. Maybe they'll be even more innovative. Who knows? Maybe they'll be more motivated.
Eli Kulp [00:21:10]
Well, technology is also helping that, right? So just look at what's available in the market for ovens, for example. You look at like the unox ovens that are, that are so high tech that you're able to do things in these ovens that, that we can never have even dreamt of technology blending with the craft, who knows what's gonna happen? And it's all about reducing labor costs, right? That's the number one for all these companies out there. It's all about reducing the need for manpower because we know that it's inconsistent. And getting back to what you're saying about the time spent, just like, you know, a Japanese knife maker, just like a high-end carpenter, just like you know, a sculptor like.
These are crafts, right? These are what we do as a craft and we're craftspeople. I'm not talking about cutting out paper with your kid crafts, but we're craftsmen. We're craftswomen. And you know, that just takes repetition. That's all there is to it. The more you put in, the more you're gonna get out and that's it. We're not sitting at a trading desk watching the stock market and trading stocks. And maybe you get lucky, maybe you don't. Maybe you're better at it, maybe you're not. But it's out of your control in reality where your career as a cook is completely in your control at all times. So I tell people, young cooks especially, don't worry about the pay.
You know, the pay will come. Don't worry about the hours. Consider that learning. You're not putting in hours. You're actually, if you reverse engineer that, you're just educating yourself more. That's all it is. Maybe people are like, oh, well the restaurants are taking advantage of it. And look at this horrible industry. Took advantage of so many people over the years. And yes, there's definitely areas that we fell short, but we also inherited a broken system. So our generation of chefs, mine and yours, we're this transition generation. We are the last ones to kind of deal with shift pay and the highly abusive or intense kitchens, depending on how you look at it.
And then we crossed over into this, now we're operating restaurants. Because our generation is now the owners, we're now the chefs, we're now, you know, the ones operating, we're the restaurateurs and now we're dealing with something that's totally foreign to us. And that's where finding other ways to get the final product that you want and being able to teach that is really the goal I think, as any chef today because, The number one thing that's keeping me from opening a restaurant or a lot of people opening another restaurant is labor, right? Where are you gonna find the people? And if you can't find the people, what are you gonna do? You know, I remember there's a restaurant group here in Philadelphia during the pandemic, they were offering a $2,500 bonus. I think it was a sign-on bonus, like cash. Like you apply here, you get hired here, we're gonna give you $2,500. You know? And what does that do for the industry? Like every other owner's like, wait, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You're changing the rules here, you know? And now we have to like, keep up with that. So when you see a moment of evolution like that happening so quickly, and our industry evolved since 2020, so quickly, you know, there's gonna be collateral damage, there's gonna be areas that we're not gonna get right out of the gate.
But with time finding that new stride is really the goal. The owners, the restaurateurs that can do that the quickest are gonna be the ones that are most successful. The caveat is how do you maintain the principles that you have? How do you maintain the expectations you have, but do it in a way that the employee has much more power and say than they did five years ago, because you desperately are trying to hold onto them. So people are bending, you know, they're allowing their principles. They're allowing their expectations to be lowered, just to maintain a staff, you know, whether that's your front of the house. Like, okay, alright, fine. No uniforms have all the piercings you want. Be your own personality, you know, just so we can maintain you as a server where, okay, well now the tables aren't getting bussed the same people aren't, you know, the service is, is tables are messy. You know, these are just things I'm seeing and noticing that that would not have flied five, six years ago in some restaurants because you can't criticize, you can't, you know, bring up every little detail that they're missing because they're like, well, I'll just go somewhere else. I'll make just as much and I won't have to deal with it.
Josh Sharkey [00:26:01]:
I do think that, first of all, I don't think it'll ever work if all we're doing is trying to acquiesce to more demands and pay more. I think that what's the interesting sort of paradigm here is that if you really want someone to stay. The way that we sort of grew up in kitchens, and the way it still sort of is, is that you spend a year or two years, maybe you spend three years, but that doesn't happen very often, right? Because then you go to the next thing, right? We've all done it, right? We go to Oceana or, and then Jean George, and then Boule, and then Tabla. Or you go to Del Posto and then you go to, and you do that for quite a while, right? And I guess one question I ask myself is, can we set up a restaurant where a cook would want to stay here for 10 years?
Could we give them enough to learn and to grow into where they see that like, oh yeah, this is a job and a career that I could actually spend the next 10 years. You are gonna have to pay them more. You are gonna have to have benefits. But you know, when you know that someone's gonna be there for 5, 6, 7 years and that's just the expectations. Maybe it's five years, that's 10 years could be a long time. There's a different mindset, you know, and it goes for cooks and for the front of the house. But it means that we also, like, we need to be able to provide a lot of infrastructure in terms of education, in terms of like things that you can learn, different stations, you can do different things that you can sort of dig into and maybe not even just cooking
Eli Kulp [00:27:27]:
Creating that upward, that visible upward mobility, right? So people can see, okay, if I stay here, I put the time in, I'm gonna be rewarded. And what you see now, a lot of restaurant groups are giving equity to a CDC. So if you're a group that has three, four, or five restaurants, or maybe 10, you know that you're only as good as your weakest link. And if you can't make sure that you keep the strong links where they are, those weak links are going to just show themselves that much quicker. So if you have a good leader, if you have somebody in your company that you see that is really worth investing in, a lot of groups are just giving equity because what's better than that, right? You have ownership. But you don't have the risk, so to speak, and you feel like you're a part of something. You're no longer simply a pawn in the game. You know, you feel like you can really, yeah. You know, put down roots somewhere and grow.
Josh Sharkey [00:28:18]:
I still think it's not an intrinsic motivation. 'cause again, it's still, you're still paying them, whether you're paying them in cash or you're paying them in equity, you're paying them. And I think this is funny, I learned this from Dan Simons when we were chatting that really sort of spoke to me. He's the founder of this restaurant group called, uh, founding Farmers. Okay. And you know, it made me think about, you know, the kitchen, we think about upper mobility, right? Okay, you're gonna be a lime cook and then maybe you're a to knot, and then you're a sous chef, and then you're a chef de cuisine. But that's limiting, unless I keep growing more restaurants. But there's this notion that we probably don't think about a lot in terms of horizontal mobility. Why would you wanna stay in that station longer? Why would you want to spend way more time as a line cook? Because you can learn so much more and you can get so much better at it.
And then, you know, of course, yes, you can work your way up to a sous chef or a chef cuisine, but maybe. We wanna spin off a CPG, maybe we wanna do you sort of popups in a market. Maybe there's other parts of a business we can actually expand revenue to, and you can do other things and give them sort of ways to sort of get involved. Because ultimately, I don't think humans are motivated by money at the end of the day. I think they're motivated by having purpose and having meaning and having an impact
Eli Kulp [00:29:24]:
A sense of belonging I think also is really important.You know, creating a sense of belonging in your kitchen for your team is about as strong as a bond you're going to be able to make. Because we're social creatures, you know, we wanna feel like we're part of a pact. That's why gangs are so attractive. Individuals that don't come from anything, right? Because maybe they don't have good father figures. Maybe they don't have good families, good family dynamics. Well, they go to a gang and they feel like that brotherhood that they never had or that family they never had, and that's why they exist, right? And if you look at our industry, our industry historically has been made up of broken toys, right? You know, whether it's somebody that you know is a felon that needs a job and you need a body, you hire them. Historically, it was the low man on the totem pole, so to speak, that would take these positions because it was a very low barrier of entry to be able to be a cook. Now, if you're talking about a certain restaurant, three Michelin star restaurants, two Michelin star, like that, okay? We're talking about something a little bit different. But the vast majority of people who work in our industry are not educated. They didn't wake up one day and say, oh, I wanna be a chef. I wanna be a cook.
No, it's a means to an end. And you know, if you can motivate people by saying, look to the right, look to your left. This is your family, these are your people. Do what's right for them and you'll be rewarded with this, you know, this nurturing environment. I think, you know, if you can create that sense of belonging in your kitchen or in your restaurant, it's so powerful, right? Because it gives people purpose. It answers the question why, right? Why am I doing this? Why do I wanna put all this effort in? What is my why? What is, what is that? And if you can answer that, why? Like, why are we here? Well, we're here to serve guests, right? Okay, we're here to make money. Like those things are obvious, right?
If you can drill down a layer or two and say, okay, you're here because you know Sam on your right and Joe on your left. Like you care about them and they care about you, and they care about, naturally, they care about the environment because that's their safe area. That's their happy place. So if you can create that sense of belonging, and that's different ways, like you mentioned, you know, horizontal mobility, you know, if maybe that's doing fun things like a pop-up, allowing your cooks to, you know, have a night where they create menu items.
You know, just like chefs that would be like, all right, tonight's a slow night. We're gonna play Iron Chef. The secret ingredient is X. You know, everybody gets an hour and they get to like, put together a dish and then the chef, like, you know, the chef would judge it, so to speak. You know, those types of activities and keeping it fresh and keeping it light. Those little tiny things that go a really long way. And I think it's just about being creative. And I think the more creative and genuine you can be, the more successful you're gonna be as a chef and an owner.
Josh Sharkey [00:32:21]:
Yeah. No, I couldn't agree more, man. I appreciate that. We did go in a rabbit hole, which I had a feeling we would, and I'm gonna steer us into another direction. I love that we chatted about it. Correct. The ship and we could probably spend hours about more of that and, you know, why family meals are important and things like that.
Eli Kulp [00:32:33]:
Well, I think I'll, I'll leave it with this, this subject, but I think if anybody out there wants to learn more about like the sense of belonging, the culture and all that, a great book is an author named Daniel Coyle, wrote a book called The Culture Code and where he studied high functioning groups like Navy Seals, Danny Meyer, the Square Pouty group. They're in there, really high functioning groups that could have honest and genuine conversations with each other and be able to say, you know what, you didn't do that well tonight, Joe. You know, and that hurt me. And then Joe would be like, okay, I'm sorry. I realize I should've picked up that fish quicker, whatever it is. But if you can create that trust in your kitchen where everybody knows that there was a role, and that's something that Daniel Coyle explains really, really well in the book. Like it's, it makes a huge difference and that sense of belonging and everything else that goes along with it. So if anybody wants a really good read and is learning more about it, I definitely recommend that book.
Josh Sharkey [00:33:50]:
Yeah. Love it. I just made a note about that. We'll put that in the show notes. Okay. So you were talking about meaning while you're in the kitchen, you know, sort of thinking about this conversation, I thought about one of my favorite books, which is A Man's Search for Meeting. By Viktor Frankl. I don't know if you've read it, the general premise, Viktor Frankl is a Holocaust survivor. It is a dark book. It is a pretty detailed book about the Holocaust and what he and so many others went through. But the general premise of it is actually really bright in that his notion is we find meaning through suffering as humans, and it is the direct way to find meaning because through suffering, you find the opposite of it and thought of that because you, I have to imagine, have such a different and deeper perspective now on why do what you do. So if you don't mind for a minute, I wanted to sort of talk a little bit about the accident and what was going through your mind right when it happened, and then maybe a little bit about how you got through it. I'm sure your son had to have a big part in that.
Eli Kulp [00:34:39]:
Yeah, I think, you know, and it was May 12th, 2015. You know, we're almost on the eighth year anniversary now, and. It was like any other day, so to speak. I was living in New York at the time. We'd just signed the lease on the New York spot in the Meatpacking District for the next High Street. Let see, that was March, the accident was in May. So within three months to sign the lease, we really hadn't even started to demo or anything. I was injured. So I was on the Amtrak train heading to New York City, like nine o'clock at night after work, and it derailed. The engineer drove the train into a 55 mile an hour rated corner at 108 miles an hour and the majority of the train, at least the first four or five cars were derailed and it was a massive, massive accident.
Like on a scale that few, see there's over 200 people injured, eight people died, countless people critically injured. I suffered a spinal cord injury on my neck. When the train derailed, I was on the left side of the train. It derailed off to the right side of the track. I was facing forward and what happened was, as a train tilted off the track, I was propelled in the air. I turned, my body turned like I'd say 45 degrees, 90 degrees. My neck hit square against the back of my neck, hit square against the luggage rack on the opposite side of the train, and immediately smashed my vertebrae.You know, and cut off communication from my brain to my body essentially, and fell down.
It was dark. Everything was on top of me. I couldn't move. I immediately assumed that I was paralyzed just 'cause of the way my neck hit. I couldn't move my body anymore. I could barely speak my diaphragm, you know, the diaphragm muscle, which is an important muscle for speaking, was wiped out. So I couldn't even hardly yell for help. Luckily, there were a few people in the car, or in the car. There's like 15 people in the car that I was in. And you know, I remember them saying distinctly like. We hear you. We're gonna get help for you. We can't see you. And I was like, well, I'm not a ma'am first of all. But my voice was so high pitched that it sounded like an old lady.
So, you know, they pulled me out and they have a triage section.It must have been 45 minutes or so before somebody came to me. Do you remember the first thing that you thought as soon as you hit the luggage rack, you fell down? Do you have a memory of what first went through your mind?
Eli Kulp [00:37:42]:
Yeah, for sure. For sure. So really the first thing that was through my mind was, you know, I'm not dead. Because when I was flying through the air, I had the thought that this is it. I was, my life was over. And so when my neck hit the luggage rack, you remember back to the future where Michael J. Fox, in the beginning where he has a guitar and he has that giant wall speaker, and he is like, turns it up to like 10. He hits the chords and it blows him 20 feet back. Well, that's what it sounded like in my body when my neck hit. It was like this crazy screeching sound that went through my body just for a second. Like, somebody had just strummed really hard on the chords of a guitar.
And when I hit them, I was actually laying on the windows because the car was on its side, you know, I remember, you know, immediately smelling the smells of like oil and, you know,the smells of like the track essentially. 'cause you're kinda laying off to the side of a train track. So, then immediately it goes into, okay, am I injured more than what I know because okay, I can't move my body and my feelings, I don't, I still have some feeling in my body, but it's not a hundred percent. I like, okay, am I bleeding out? You know what I mean? I didn't really know what was going on. You know, I didn't know if I had major injuries in my body. So, and then of course goes to the family, right? So immediately you're thinking, okay, my son's not gonna have a dad potentially. Okay, if I am paralyzed, what does that mean to my future?
As much as I love being a dad, I love being a chef as much, or sometimes probably even more, you know, and my trajectory as a chef, it just started to really take off. You know, I put a lot of time and a lot of effort in. I was not an executive chef until I was 34 years old, which doesn't sound that old, but when you think about, you know, a lot of people were at that time becoming chefs at 28 years old, 29 years old, and doing really well, where, like I said, I, I was kinda a late bloomer when it came to fine dining. So, you know, all that work, all the effort, and I'm just like, okay, I don't even know if I'm gonna make it through the night. So all the thoughts that people say, I wouldn't say my life flashed in front of my eyes, so to speak, because I didn't have time for that. But it was definitely a moment where you're laying there and you're thinking about, you know, if I am paralyzed, what does that mean for my future?
Josh Sharkey [00:40:21]:
Yeah. So you first thought was, I'm not dead. Is my son gonna be okay? And then what's gonna happen in my career? What's. What I love, uh, I mean, yeah, probably knowing who's a high percentage that that's what you had before is gone. I have to imagine that for, I know you were in the hospital for six months before you got out. I can only imagine.
I've heard you talk about it a little bit, that it's dark for quite a while. Right. You know? Yeah, for sure. Having children, I can completely relate to like the kids being the thing that keeps you going, right? Because yeah, we have this responsibility and, you know, whenever anything is going wrong and we have like these, these dark thoughts, knowing that there's someone that relies on you, not just financially and not just, you know, companion, but like you're their dad. That, that's such a blessing and a way to, and a way to keep us going.
Eli Kulp [00:41:15]:
I was going through a lot, you know, not only, but did I lose my career, so to speak, or at least as I knew it, you know, I was the owner at that point, so it wasn't like I didn't lose my job. We had four restaurants at that point and I was a partner in all of them. And so I did have some financial security there, which was great. A lot of people wouldn't have that. And I knew that I'm adaptable. I knew that I could figure out how to, you know, still find a role. My partner Ellen Yin, within a week after I got injured, after I got outta the ICU, we're in the middle of designing a restaurant.
So that didn't stop. You know, we made the commitment, like we're gonna keep this going. In hindsight, it ended up being a really difficult project to New York and it took a lot of resources and in the end, you know, maybe we shouldn't have done that, but, you know, that also gave me purpose because I could concentrate on something other than. Just my recovery, just my family situation because at the same time, my marriage was falling apart quickly after I got injured. And so it was like this double whammy of not really feeling like I had a place anymore in the world, even though I knew this restaurant was coming. It was still almost a year later that we opened it. So there was a lot, a lot of time there. And you know, I really just had to latch on to like being a father and being a dad as much as I could be, even though I was going through this really tumultuous separation with my wife. And, you know, there's a lot of threats of, you know, whether or not I'm gonna see my kid and, you know, so it really made me dig deep and took a lot of resources and, you know, in the end it's, we're good.
You know, I have, I have him basically 50% of the time, which is how it should be and you know, but at the time it was just chaos and. You know, I went to very dark places and wondered if this life is worth living, and a lot of ways it wasn't anymore, except the fact that I, you know, had this restaurant come online and more importantly my kid. And that sense of purpose was stronger than the other option thankfully, and I think going to those dark places sometimes is too easy. I would say. In a lot of ways I regret allowing myself to go to that place. I've pulled myself to a pretty high standard in general. And even though a lot of people will say, you're very brave and you're an inspiration, and all of those things, you know, for me it was just really about managing my abilities in the best way possible because, and, and still relying on the things that I could still do, I could still be a leader. I could still be a coach. I can still do a lot of the things that I enjoyed as a chef, but I'm not gonna be able to sit there at the pass at night, you know, plating dishes and watching, you know, the guests enjoy their food.
That was really the hardest thing for me. And there's still a hole there. That hole will never be, will never ever go away. When I got injured in 2015, you know, it was three years after I came down to Philly, roughly from New York. We did some great things. You know, our company was really, you know, kind of hitting that hockey stick, putting a lot of time, effort, and, if you're plotting on a graph and then all of a sudden all that time and effort pays off and all of a sudden your value or your company's value or whatever it is, really starts to skyrocket.
And we were just, we were hitting that. And I feel like, you know, I tell people, like, it feels like getting kneecapped, so to speak, and having to start over when you're quadriplegic. And that refers to somebody who has any level of any deficit in all four limbs. And, you know, when you're quadriplegic, it's really kinda learning how to live again. You know, it almost takes you back to your infancy as a human, because you're completely reliant. I couldn't feed myself when I got hurt. I couldn't hardly move my arms. Now I have a lot more mobility than I did just from, you know, working on it and, and all that. Still in a wheelchair. But, you know, I can still, I'm a lot more independent than I was when I first got injured. You know, having people brush your teeth for you, wipe your ass, it's everything, you know, it's every little thing. You're basically an infant, but you have the mind of an adult. So that's where it's really hard to figure that out. You have to rely on people. There's no option. You will die if you don't. Like, if I don't have somebody to help me throughout the day, I would not survive. Like that's reality.
Josh Sharkey [00:46:01]:
Hearing you talk about this, Eli, it's obvious there's been a lot of reflection and a lot of acceptance. And you're still handling all of it, I'm sure on a day-to-day basis, but mental health is something that so many people struggle with. And I'm sure that you have had a tremendous life lesson in learning how to, you know, manage mental health. And I think as humans in general, when we lose something that we had or that we don't have control over, or we don't have something, or, you know, we just know that we can't have it or we, you know, that loss creates this trauma and, you know, I, we've all had it and we've all gotten to those, these, these dark places. I remember when I opened my first restaurant Bark, I don't talk about this much, but. I was really depressed because I left the fine dining world that I spent 12 plus years, you know, mastering and, and, and becoming, you know, as best as a cook as I could. And then I, I don't even know how I got to it, but I ended up opening a fast casual restaurant. Every night I would go to bed, like, you know, upset. That's why, you know, why am I doing this? And, and, and this is sort of an internal thing, you know, this is not, You know, an external catalyst, this is me. Something that I did. And always wondering.
Eli Kulp [00:47:18]:
Did it feel like you weren't living up to your own expectations?
Josh Sharkey [00:47:20]:
Yeah, exactly. And then seeing my friends and colleagues that I worked with for the last 10, 12 years, going and opening things and feeling like, God, I threw it all away and like others, I could never know what it's like to lose functions in my body, but like, yours was just an external catalyst.
Right. You didn't even have any control over it. One, I wonder what, how those impact, you know, like something that you have just no control over something that happens to you. And then, you know, I'd love to just get a sense if you, if you can, of like what helped you get through? Like what was, I know obviously your son was a big, had to be an influence on like saying, hey, right dude, fucking get, you know, move on man. You gotta push through this because You have a son and you gotta take care of you. But do you recall, you know, any instance where, where that was like the turning point of that dark time where you're like, this is not worth it. Why am I even doing this to like waking up and being like, no, I'm here.
Eli Kulp [00:48:16]:
No, for sure. There was definitely kinda a line I drew in the sand, you know, and going back to, you know, anytime someone has a traumatic experience that could be your girlfriend left you right? But you had these songs that were your songs and every time you hear about them, you hear them, you know, it tugs at your heartstrings and you feel bad and you feel you miss that. And, you know, it just takes time to get over it, right? It's exposure therapy that, you know, eventually if you hear that song 10 years later, you're not thinking about that. Right? So, you know, with something like spinal cord injury, you have to grieve every little detail of things you used to be able to do or things you wanted to do.
A good example of that is being a father, and I love sports, right? I really look forward to being able to throw the ball with my kid, you know, do batting practice with him, shoot the ball, teach him the techniques, like all these things that a father is supposed to do. I was excited about those things. I love playing golf, you know, even though I wasn't good at it, but because in, you know, our industry, like who has time to play golf, right? But I play it once or twice a year. I really loved it, but in my head, I had my retirement plan worked out. Like I'm going to work my ass off and get to a place where I can go play golf once or twice a week if I want to.
You know? And like, these were like the goals that you have in, you know, in your mind that maybe you're not telling people, but these are things that you look forward to someday. And the very wise but overused statement, you know, yesterday's gone. Tomorrow's not promised. Today's a gift. And it's reality. Like any one of us can walk outside of our door today and get hit by a garbage truck. Like that's just reality. Like, we know that those dangers exist. Do we think about them all the time? No. Like, who's gonna, like, you're never gonna leave your house if you think about all the threats. And there are people that don't leave their house because they do think of all the threats, and you can only protect yourself as much as you can. When I got hurt, it wasn't because I was drinking. I drove a car into a tree. You know, this was somebody else's mistake. And I think what human nature does is that you, you wanna have a reason, right? So you wanna find a reason that that happened. Even if you had no control over it, you're like, okay, well maybe if I would've stayed later.
And taking the later train like I usually did, I would not have got injured. Okay. Maybe if I didn't come to Philadelphia that day, because I came down specifically to cook for this group of women who had requested that I do lunch for them. There's this group of incredibly successful women here in Philadelphia and I wanna do something nice for them. I wasn't planning on coming down that day, so it was like, okay, if I didn't agree to come down for that one meal, I'd still be walking today. Right? So you're always, your brain is like battling this desire to put a bow on it, so to speak, and give you the exact reason why. But the reality of it is, there was no reason, like the guy just made a mistake.
He didn't do it intentionally. He was distracted, you know, he was driving a train and you know, he was distracted by some other things that happened on a different track, and he just lost his bearings and he thought he was on a straight stretch and he excelled and he wasn't. And so, you know, being able to grieve all of these things, you know, now when I go to a park and I see a father, you know, playing catch with their son. I don't grieve that much. I might still notice it, you know what I mean? But I also know that I still can do a lot with my kid I couldn't see before. I can still teach 'em a proper swing when we're doing batting practice. Maybe somebody else has to throw the ball, but I can still do that.
Right? I can still teach him the, you know, the way to hold a knife in the kitchen, even though I'm not physically the one showing him, you know, I can explain to him the process of cooking, you know, or braising a pork shoulder. You know, there's still things I can do that I couldn't see before. And when you, when you're going through this process and every day's a learning experiment, right? So every day you're, you're saying, okay, I couldn't do this before. Now I can do it. And eventually you get to a point where, Now you maybe max out on those things, but at least you have a good idea of what you can and can't do still.
Josh Sharkey [00:52:29]
Was there something that clicked for you that turned the corner from, fuck, I can't do this, I can't do that. I don't have this to like, you know what, but I have this?
Eli Kulp [00:52:35]
Yeah. That's what it was. I think for the first 18 months it was like woe is me. Like, look how bad I have my life, or how shitty my life is, and feeling sorry for myself. And I had a really important person in my life. And her name is Angela Riccobono and she is the head counselor psychologist for Mount Sinai Rehab. And rehab medicine is different from regular medicine, right? So rehab medicine is not about healing somebody or getting them, you know, make them feel better, curing cancer or something like that. Rehab medicine is about making their lives better with what they got. And Angela has been at Mount Sinai for 20 plus years now. She's helped countless people be able to see the forest through the trees, and be able to paint the picture like it's gonna be okay. And the rule of thumb is that five years is really how much time you should give yourself to figure your life out after you get injured. And you know, for her to be able to paint those pictures for me, gives me the confidence to really fight, like fight for my kid, fight for my way of life. It really inspired me to do that. Like if it wasn't for her, I don't know where I would be today. It's hard to say.
Josh Sharkey [00:53:48]:
Was there something particular that you remember that she said to you that that really stuck?
Eli Kulp [00:53:53]:
You know what it is? She gave examples. And a lot of times, words, you know, words don't mean shit. And she showed me a picture, right? And say, look at this kid. He was 18 years old when he got injured. Now he is married and he has three kids and he's thriving. He's a thriving attorney. You know, and he did all this after he got injured. You know, those types of examples where I saw that, okay, if I do these things, if I work on my mental state, if I work on my ability to be grateful for what I have, all these little details, then maybe I can have that someday. And the problem was that through this recovery process, I had lost my sense of purpose. And even though I could still do these things in the kitchen, we know being a chef is really physical and you can explain everything you want, but to show somebody eliminates about a thousand words. It's so frustrating. Like, so if I'm cooking at home and I have somebody helping me, I'm like, all right, hold the orange this way. Okay, you're gonna, you know, you're gonna cut off both ends, you're gonna take off all the peel.
You know, like, try to do that. Try to explain that to somebody without showing them. They'll be holding the knife upside down. They'll be holding it backwards.You know, you're like, what the hell? Like, no, like, hold it this way. And they're like, well, I am going that way. I thought that's what you meant. You know, it's really, really difficult. So having to find ways to still have a purpose was really important for me, and that's really what I was searching for and something to fill that void. And I guess that's kind of how I found podcasting in a sense, because I think a lot of times, and you probably felt the same way when you left fine dining, is that you lose a connection with not only the restaurant and the food and that culture, but you're also losing a connection with your fellow chefs that used to be sort of a certain level with, right. And now you're not going to events, you're not seeing, you're not jumping in, you know, just popping in their kitchens and saying hello anymore.
I lost a lot of those relationships and I think that was a really big thing for me. And that really, that void was really hard to fill. And I think as a chef, you're always striving to be relevant, right? Like a good chef. Like you're not looking for accolades, you're not looking for notoriety, so to speak, but you wanna stay relevant in your field.And I think that goes for anyone who has ambition. And for me, I wasn't relevant anymore. That was really hard for me because I worked really hard to become relevant and to become somebody who made a difference in the industry that I'd love so much. I'm in love with the industry. I really am. You know, and to not be able to do that, not be able to perform on a nightly basis was huge. And so after about the 18th month mark, I made a decision like I have to fight. Like I had to fight for everything. I had to fight for my kid, I had to fight for my life. I had to fight for every little thing. And that really gave me the motivation to start thinking, okay, what do I need to do to get better, like mentally?
And you know, fast forward eight years later, and I think it really was that five year mark that Angela used to talk about that I was able to say, okay, I've done everything that I hoped I could have up to this point. And I feel really good about it. And you know, when podcasting found me, you know, that was really an opportunity to reconnect with the industry. That's really what it was. It was a very selfish decision. I can talk, you know what I mean? That's one thing I can still do. I can surmise about the industry and what we think is gonna happen. We can talk about what has happened. And, you know, for me, reconnecting with those chefs and being able to talk with them about their journeys and just like we're doing here is really special.
I felt very fortunate that I was able to do that. And, you know, fast forward to today, I have two different podcasts and you know, it's keeping me really busy and connect to the industry and we're doing events with the podcast and be able to expand the, you know, beyond just the radio wave, so to speak, and, you know, meet people who are listeners and do events that are focused around nonprofits and things like that. So it's, it's really filled. I have to stay busy, like that's really important for me. I have to be busy and if I'm not busy, I don't feel like I'm, I'm relevant. So if I'm busy and there's things going on and like, then I feel more relevant. But if I'm not busy, it's really hard.
Josh Sharkey [00:58:41]:
That's probably part of the chef in you as well. I mean, it is really incredible the things that you've been able to accomplish, even though you went through all this, I'm sure the podcast was also a big help. I have this list I've been keeping for about 20 years, and every time something bad happens, I write it on there, but I write the opposite. So I got shingles. It sucked. It was terrible. And so I'll write here. I don't have shingles anymore. I used to get really bad canker sores, and I would say, I don't have a canker sore today. I used to get terrible migraines. I don't have a migraine every time. Something, you know, I'm in love. If I was struggling to find love, I added it to the list. And so I keep it, I still have it. It's digital now, although I kept the paper. I guess what it is for me to always have the perspective of, you know what, there's always something good today, right?
No matter what. There was something bad that happened to me. There's something that I suffered through or someone else did, and that's not happening right now. Even if something else is, I can't imagine equating that to, you know, to, to something as traumatic as you went through. But, you know, I think we all have to find these ways to cope and then to find ways to move on.
You talk about sort of starting the podcast, you can connect with the industry. I think about this a lot. I don't know if you do, but because I was a chef in fine dining, and then I started fast casual stuff, and then I went to this restaurant group as a chief operating officer. Now I'm in the tech world, but whenever someone asks me, what do you do? I always think chef first, no matter what, I think as chefs, and I don't know if that's just in every craft, but like, no matter what we do, like after we have a cooking career or while we're still in the cooking career, chefs do other things as well. I think we all sort of identify as chefs, at least for me. I'm curious for you, like, do you still, like, first and foremost identify Eli Kulp, as like a chef? Then podcaster that, is that sort of something that crosses your mind a lot?
Eli Kulp [01:00:51]:
Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, it's still when you know, when you pour so much passion and love and effort into something, especially in your early twenties. Those really impressionable years where you're still developing parts of your brain and you become hardwired to be [something. And starting at 14 years old and working my way up through it, like there were hardwired habits, hardwired thought processes that I still, you know, hold myself accountable for those things. And do I work as hard as I used to? No, no doubt about it. I don't have that stamina. There's no way I could do it if I wanted to. But there's still a lot of ways that I can put my effort forward that it's still really rewarding. I think that's what it's all about. Like if you lose your job, if you lose your career, if you lose something in your life, it's really about, you have to grieve it, but then you have to replace it with something if you don't replace it with something. I think that's where, that's where the danger is, and. If you can replace it with someone or something, you know, your heart gets broken six months later you find somebody else that you really love, you know, you kind of, kind of heals that. And the same thing goes with going through a traumatic injury like this, a catastrophic injury or just, you know, going through something small.
People always say, oh, you're such an inspiration. And honestly, I don't like that. I think that's because I don't feel like it. And I think just like anybody who you hear on the news, you know, some guy runs into a burning house and he saves three kids, like, oh, you're a hero. And they're like, no, I'm just a regular guy. And it's really what it is. You're just a regular guy. But you showed up at that moment. And same thing for me, like I just was dealt a shitty card and I just had to deal with it and kind of climb outta that hole where everybody has their struggle. And I don't care if it's, you stub your toe today and your toe freaking hurts, that's a lot. Even though it's stubbing your toe and breaking your neck, it is very different. There's still a lot of similarities in the sense, like, it's highly inconvenient, it's annoying. It can really get you down and you have to dig your way out of it, you know, so you can let that stubbed toe bother you all day, ruin your day and you know, not get shit done.
Or you can say, you know what? I'm gonna deal with this stubbed toe. I'm gonna keep going and I'm still going to accomplish what I want to accomplish. And I think that's where I am today. I'm still figuring that out exactly. And what that means because I'm not a tech guy. Other than being interviewed on TV a couple times, I'm not an audio guy and you know, so I've had to just kind of fumble through it and find the way to make it work. And you know, up to this point it's, it's done that. And, you know, I look forward to kinda the future of how this evolves because some things that I could never have imagined happening after starting a podcast that when I started it, that I would be doing a CHEF Radio live event at a local charity raising $35,000 in one night for local charity.
When I started a podcast, I could never have imagined that it would be something that I would look forward to every year doing this event. And it just shows that if you just keep moving forward, even if it's just an inch a day, whatever it is, eventually you're gonna get to where you want to go. And it might not be as fast as you want or as linear as you want. It might be ups and downs, but if you're able to just kind of keep that fortitude, that resilience, you're gonna be fine. One thing that chefs are, we're, we are resilient because you have to be resilient. You have to be able to show up every day, even after a shitty service, and get back to the grind and prove that you're not a schlep. I think for me, it was holding myself accountable and that chef mentality of, you have to go the extra mile to make yourself better, to make your team better. And you have to go that extra, that little bit of extra effort that separates you from, you know, everybody can get to 90% really easily. You know what I mean? I always say that like a dish, for example, creating a new dish, you can get to 90% really easy, but to get that a hundred percent or 99%, that last 9% is really, really hard. And those are the details, that's the, you know, the devil in the details, so to speak. And that's where I guess the way that I look at my life and 90 percent is great, but can I get to 91%, 92%?
Josh Sharkey [01:05:16]:
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It's a gift and a curse when you, as an entrepreneur, I think it's sort of inevitable. You have to be, hopefully, 90% makes us sick in the stomach, you know, like if I'm not constantly getting that last 0.1%, I would literally like get sick to my stomach. Because the idea of that you've mentioned before, so that mediocrity that is, ugh, it's like the worst. And within our team,we like to embrace kaizen, which is like this Japanese premise of constant improvement. I bring up Kaizen, which I love because I think the idea of constantly iterating and improving, you can start on something at 90%, for example, and over the course of a year, if you keep working on it, you'll get to 99 at some point.
You know, you might not ever get to a hundred. It’s actually the part of you constantly improving and tweaking and learning and doing it again, and doing it again. But you've mentioned this other premise that I didn't know much about, but I dug into a little bit after I heard it of Ikigai, and I love it. And you know, I think Ikigai essentially being like, everybody needs to find their purpose in life. And there's a sort of spectrum of it, it reminds me of, there's a concept called the zone of genius, right? And so you have, there's four zones, right? In terms of what you do with your life, you have a zone of incompetence, which means doing things that you're not good at. And a zone of competence means doing things that you're just okay in the zone of excellence, which is the most dangerous one, which is doing things that you are good at. Even really good at it, but you don't love. And then there's the Zone of Genius, which is doing things that you're really good at and you really love.
And Ikigai seems to be a very similar premise of finding the thing that you love to do that you're very good at and which is also interesting, is that you can actually generate revenue from. And I think, you know, when I think about your sort of career and your path from cooking, becoming Food & Wine’s Best New Chef, to having this sort of life-changing experience that took a lot of that away and then starting a podcast that has helped so many people. I'm curious how you think about your purpose in life today as opposed to, you know, 10 years ago and what's different. But then also what's the same, right? Like we all start to wanna be the best chef in the world. You want it to be like, have that sort of legacy of being an incredible chef and now you have a different sort of objective maybe. But where's a crossover and why? Why are you here today, man?
Eli Kulp [01:08:38]:
Yeah. Why are we here? That I can't tell you, but I can tell you like the concept of Ikigai and how that plays into your physiological self. You know, it's not physical, it's not mental, it's just kind of this whole body high, so to speak, of when you do something and you love. I immediately think of, you know, these Japanese knife makers who've been doing, you know, the same knives over and over, trying to reach perfection even though he knows he'll never reach it. But it's constantly these 0.1%, 0.2% increases towards that perfection. And the Ikigai gives you that sense of purpose and that sense of purpose fulfills your ability to live a purpose-driven life, one with fulfillment and one that you can appreciate and be grateful for. And you mentioned the lake of mediocrity and that was something that somehow I fathomed that in my head, or I must've read something one day where, you know, I've seen so many chefs like, who were brilliant like that were so good, but they never got where they wanted to go because they couldn't put all the pieces together at the right time with the right purpose.
And I never wanted to be that. I always wanted to get to that other side and feel like at the end of the day there was a legacy that I left for the industry and, you know, my little niche of the industry I made better because of the work I did where now, you know, I might not be feeding people physical food but I’m able to feed them knowledge, wisdom, you know, maybe some lessons that that they would have to learn, have to go through if they didn't hear it from me or one of my guests in the first place. You know, that navigate the challenges that are today that we didn't have yesterday. And also I think what these podcasts do is that in a kind of a maybe roundabout way, they do create a sense of belonging because chefs from California or Arizona or Ireland can dial into this podcast and they can see that their struggle is as real as the person that they're listening to.
And they can say, okay, I'm not the only one. When you can find other people that are going through a similar struggle or hear similar stories that you've gone through, it makes it feel that much more manageable. It's like if you have a rare disease, so to speak, and then you meet somebody else going through that rare disease, or for me, one of my biggest nemesis and the thing that can really hold me back physically is nerve pain, neuropathic pain, you know? So when I find somebody else who has a similar level of injury who also struggles with neuropathic pain, You feel like, okay, you're not in this alone and whether or not you're interacting with them every day or you're interacting with them occasionally, it still allows you to feel that you're not the only one fighting that battle.
I think that's where, you know, these podcasts come into play and people can hear, they can get a nugget of knowledge that they didn't quite think about when it comes to leadership or a dish, or the style of cooking or technique or scheduling or business, whatever it is that they took away. But also they can relate and that relatability is a key factor in why people keep coming back to the podcast, I feel, because they do find they can relate with other people and the struggles and the challenges that go into their day to day.
So I think that now is maybe my ikigai guy, so to speak. Will it be forever? I don't know. I don't know if it will or not. You know, will I be 60 years old doing chef podcasts? I don't know. I hope not. Honestly, I hope that I still dream of opening a restaurant that is truly mine again, just to prove it right, it's almost just to prove to myself that I can do it. It's to prove to my kid that, you know what? It doesn't matter what life gives you. You can still find a way to reach the goals that you wanna reach. Is that a dumb move? I don't know. Maybe it is dumb, you know, will I lose a million bucks trying? I don't know. But I still mentally, I want to try, you know?
But I also have to take into account, okay, I get to see my kid three, four days out of the week, four days outta the week. You know? That's really cool. Like I told him just the other day, like Sunday, it was, you know, three days ago, I said, you know, Dylan, if I was still a chef, we would not be able to spend as much time together as we do. He goes, yeah, I know that it would've been maybe the weekends, you know, maybe every other weekend I would see him be able to spend time. I wouldn't be able to go to his baseball games. I wouldn't be able to go to the soccer games. You know, I wouldn't be able to be the father that I am today if we spent those three or four days together. And I realize that, and I can really appreciate that fact. At the same time though, it doesn't mean that I still don't want to do it to prove that I can still do it, and I would not be able to be the chef of a restaurant. It's impossible. You know, the way I envisioned, hopefully someday if I had the opportunity is really taking a chef. You know, that's, that's a generation behind me and helping them succeed and find their success through me and be able to coach and mentor as needed. But that's down the road. That's a dream. It's okay to have a dream. It's important to have dreams. Those are the things that keep you going and working towards them.
Josh Sharkey [01:14:35]:
I don't see any reason why you're not gonna do that. I'm pretty sure you will.
Eli Kulp [01:14:39]:
We'll see. We'll see. You might be dumb. I mean, just owning a restaurant these days is hard. You know, that's reality. It's not, we talked about in the beginning, you know, your, your margins are so tight and you're kind of held hostage by the fact that there are circumstances that might be outta your control that might make or break your restaurant. And when your margins are so small, Let's say you're operating on 5% margins and every million dollars you were able to take home $50,000. You need a $3 million restaurant if you wanna, you know, have a nice car and a decent house and a nice in a school district that your kids can thrive in, right? So now you're beholden to, okay, I have one $3 million restaurant.
Well, I want to be able to buy a lake house. Okay, I'm gonna open up another $3 million a year restaurant to pay for that. But the problem is we know double the restaurants double the problems, and that's just reality. So I'm trying to be very careful with my ambition because sometimes my ambition will get the best of me and I want to be smart. If I ever was able to do something again that was, that I could call, not necessarily my own, but that within the company that I currently own or some other project to do something that feels very personal. Again, I. I don't know if it's possible. It might be. Maybe it is, but if it's not, I guess I'm okay with that too, because I have other ways to fulfill my desires, you know? But I think in a perfect world, that's where I'll eventually land.
Josh Sharkey [01:16:08]:
Yeah. Well, I'm just gonna, I'm just gonna throw out some positivity there and say it is possible. And I think you are gonna do it. Just hearing you talk, you know, I think what you're doing right now, I don't even know if you planned for it, but to your point of creating this sort of like, community of chefs with the podcast, that is what helps, you know, you know, the, the number one prevention for mental health issues, depression is community is building a sense of like, belonging. And that's just human nature. That's there's, I mean, obviously there's an incredible amount of studies that have proven this. And the more that you can do that, the more that you can create a sense of belonging and you can help people, to your point that, the thing that sounds like helped you the most with Angela was seeing other examples of people going through what you're going through, that's human nature.
The more that we see, oh, someone else did this, because guess what someone else did. There's billions of people on this planet. Someone else went through something very similar to, uh, another person. And if you can find that there's so much power and, and, and helping in it. So I, you know, I love that you're doing that to help people.
Eli Kulp [01:17:13]:
Well, I mean, if you look at Maslow's theory of hierarchy of needs. You know, you look at the very bottom level, it's just, you know, creating income, essentially sustenance. So yeah, you can have shelter, right? You can have your basic needs met as a human being. And then as you work up that pyramid, you know, you're able to put things in place. And at the top of that pyramid is happiness and fulfillment. And the reality of it is the vast majority of people on this planet will never get past that third level. You know, that second or third level where, you know, they have fulfillment, a lot of people, a majority of people will be born into a family that doesn't have a lot of money.
They'll become whatever X, y, or Z profession they wanna be. And you know, they're not going to have a high education. You know, they're going to just be a worker bee, and then they're going to, you know, someday hopefully they can find happiness, but maybe they'll never find happiness. They'll never find fulfillment. So if you're able to find that you're a very, very. Fortunate person. Yeah. I've had to realize, you know, I've always struggled with this idea of happiness and fulfillment. I think as chefs sometimes, we're never fully fulfilled. We're always looking for the next high, right? It's almost like an addiction.
We're, we're looking for that next dish that's gonna blow up, right? The next cronut, the next whatever it is that's gonna be, you know, those moments of brilliance that you had in those unique dishes that really became you and your calling card in your restaurants, your signature dishes, right? Those types of things. And we're always chasing that high. And sometimes I. You don't need that. You don't, you realize that goes back to, you're talking about early as a chef, you know, you're trying to prove things, right? You're trying to be the next Farhan Adria, you wanna be the next David Bouley. You want, you know, those are the things that you strive to be because those are the examples that you're looking at as you're sort of gods right in the industry.
Well, maybe you don't become that, but maybe you become something unique and different in a way that is still fulfilling to you. That's what our industry is. I love our industry and it's so great, because we have those opportunities, right? And like I said, the harder you work, the more opportunity you're gonna have. Yogi Berra said it best harder, I work the luckier I get. And that's just, that flies in the face of luck. There's no I, I don't feel like luck is something that, That exists in our industry because Sure, right place, right time, you know, yada yada, yada. You know, is Bobby Flay? Bobby Flay? If he didn't, you know, if he wasn't, you know, one of the original food network people, you know, those types of things.
Of course, like there's those one in a million type situations where the fact of the matter is, that no matter what you do, if you put in the effort, you work for the right people, you maintain the relationships with those people. I can honestly say I could go back to any job I ever had, any job, any, any job I ever had, and I would get either that job back or I would be referred. You know what I mean? And, and that's something I'm really proud about. You know, even jobs that I left because it wasn't the right fit or it wasn't the right situation for me. I didn't leave it in a bad way because our industry is so interconnected that I understand that it's, you know, sometimes you have to swallow your pride and, and kinda get through it and, and move on to the next thing. And, you know, going back to luck, it's, it's just really about doing. I say this on my podcast all the time, don't be lazy. Make sure you seek out the right people and work for those people. If it's not a good culture, if it's not a good leader you're working for, if you're not feeling that you're getting the most out of it, don't waste your time with it. You know, don't go chasing rainbows all the time. You know what I mean? Looking for the pot of gold, but don't waste your time working for mediocre people, because if you work for mediocre people, if you surround yourself with mediocre people, you will be mediocre. That's just reality.
Josh Sharkey [01:21:18]:
No, I couldn't agree more. It's funny you mentioned Maslow's hierarchy of needs, because I find this big flaw in the, just in the way that we think about it, right? Obviously at the bottom you have food, shelter, water, right? That you need these physiological things, and that's the baseline. There are people who don't have that. And same goes for safety, right? Are you in a place where you're not gonna get murdered? I think finding love and belonging, finding self-esteem, finding purpose, which is the top of our hierarchy needs. I think if you find purpose, the majority of those things, and I wanna be sensitive to those born into poverty, there's things that you can't control. You know, that part is incredibly tough, but independent of that, like finding purpose, is gonna solve the rest of those things.
You bring up, like, don't be lazy. I find that humans naturally are not lazy. Naturally, many of them do not have purpose because if they had purpose, they would not be lazy. Because purpose is what is gonna bring you joy. It's going to make you want to get up and do the thing. Someone is referred to as lazy because of something that they're not doing at work or something. But maybe they are spending 20 hours playing video games. Okay. And that's, and maybe that's just, maybe that's just a distraction. But if they find the thing that they love, they're gonna do it. No matter who the human is. I don't care. Any human you find. But if you don't have purpose, I bring this up because, you know, as we're getting to the end here, for me, like the theme of the conversation today with you is around finding purpose and the importance of it, and making sure that you're checking in with yourself around why, what is your purpose and why you're doing what you're doing. Because anything can change at any moment, as long as you push to make sure you know, what's your purpose? Why are you here, what do you really love? What do you love to do? You won't be lazy and you won't stand for mediocrity. You won't stay at a job that's mediocre because you have purpose and you wanna go find and seek more of it.
And I think that's the hardest thing, right? By the way, it's not easy. We're very lucky. We started cooking when we were 14, and I love cooking more than anything else in the whole world. Holy shit. Am I lucky that I got to just find the thing that I love and I found purpose that young, that's not common, right? There are people that go through 15, 16 careers if they're resilient enough to do that before they find the thing and I think we're lucky in that regard. That's our luck. Right? And that is luck in that regard, right? Because we could have just not found that, but we did.
Eli Kulp [01:23:58]:
Well, I say if this woman never moved to this small town I grew up in to open a restaurant, I wouldn't be a chef.I literally, I know that for a fact. I would not be a chef. There was nothing in my family, you know, restaurants were not a thing we did, and we didn't have the money for it. You know, we lived in really rural home-cooked meals. You know, we raised chickens for our eggs. You know, we had ducks, you know, I remember butchering chickens and cows that we'd raise a cow every other year and we'd stock our freezer up with that cow.
You know, like that was. You know, a restaurant dining out like that was like McDonald's or the pizza place in the next biggest town that had a pizza place like that was eating out for us. You know? And that's the majority of people. So yes, like luck maybe has something to do with it. Destiny. Karma, like all these theories, God, you know. Whatever you believe in, if it's destiny, if it's not, the reality of it is, is that you either have it or you don't. And if you have that sense of purpose, like there's plenty of people that work really hard, their careers and they'll never be fulfilled.
I think a lot of people have met people like a lawyer, right? Like I heard somebody the other day say, I'm a recovering lawyer. They worked incredibly hard to be successful. They had a practice. But the thing is they never loved it and they burned out and then they had to find something else to fulfill that. And you're right. For us, we're very fortunate, blessed, whatever you wanna call it, to be able to find that and to never struggle with that reality. And I think anybody in our industry or somebody who's listening to this outside of our industry. That's a struggle that you have, the one thing that I can tell you that will help fix it, it might not fix it all the way is action. And just doing it. Just starting it. Putting one foot in front of the other and working towards something that you need to explore as an exploration process that will get that. And if you're curious, if you're a curious human being, I think being curious is a very important skill as a human.
You know, you're gonna find that, and don't get sucked into scrolling on your phone every day, and don't do things that don't make you feel good. I think Instagram and these things, often people leave them. I, I do. You know, a lot of times if I'm, if I'm scrolling, I will feel less than when I started because you're naturally comparing yourself to what, what you think other people's perfect life is. And we know it's not perfect, but we still see the pictures and we just, our brains go there. And I want to be in the Caribbean. I wanna be swinging off a swing under a waterfall in Hawaii. You know what I mean? But maybe that's just not where I am today and that's what I have to deal with. And so just like anxiety, you know, action is the number one killer of anxiety. If you have anxiety, just do it. Just start. You can't control a negative prediction. These are all things that I've learned in theory, in therapy over the years.
I still do therapy. I do it once a month. I still rely on that just to kinda reset my perspective every month. And for me it's really about having somebody there that can help reset that perspective because as human nature to allow your brain to kind of go places that it shouldn't, and, you know, have an opportunity to reset that is really a big part of my, my, my mental stability. And I think also, I'll just share this nugget, this realization that I've had in the last couple years is that I've always, I've always wondered what happiness is. Even when I was at my peak and you know, things are going the right way, I had never felt fully fulfilled.
I never felt like I was fully happy. It was always something else right that I wanted. And that's a really big trap that people can fall in. But I've realized that for me, happiness really is something you have to put yourself in that state of mind. It's not something that happens, or at least not for me, I think everybody has their own relationship with what happiness is. But for me, I've realized. It's a frame of mind. It's a mindset that I have to put myself in in order to be happy. It doesn't always naturally happen. If I'm having a really shitty day, make sure I'll accept that day. I'll be like, all right, this day was a shitty day. Let's move on. Tomorrow's a new day. I'll wake up feeling better physically, and you know, but when I have those hard physical days, I'm in a lot of pain.
My spasticity and my muscles are tight. I don't even want to go in public in case I have a spasm. Those are really hard days. They're depressing, you know, but own that, right? Like, okay, this is a shitty day. You know, tomorrow's not gonna be shitty. I'm gonna go tomorrow assuming it's gonna be great. If it's not another great day, so be it. Happiness is not a straight line. Absolutely not a straight line. There's ups, downs, curves, and for me, happiness is just a mindset that I've had to develop. Maybe that's a self-preservation tool that I've had to come up with, but that's just the way I look at it. You know, it's a mindset and just being grateful. And, you know, there's moments when you are in the, you know, you're, when you're down in the dumps, just framing that perspective and keeping that perspective.
Josh Sharkey [01:28:53]:
Yeah. Because that's, that's what it's all about. Yeah, absolutely. It's funny, this all is definitely revolving around the Ikigai concept that you're talking about. I find a divergence between luck and happiness, actually, because luck requires action. I. You have to go and do it, otherwise you won't find luck. And happiness, I think is the opposite where at least for me, it requires, you know, the ability to accept that no action will create happiness. It, it's, you have to accept yourself and, you know, we're talking about sort of how people spend their time and things like that. There are days, I dunno about you,I wish that I could be that person that could have a nine to five and then go home and watch the game and go do the thing at night. As soon as you play with a child, you're not thinking about it anymore yet. And that's just never been me, ever.
I don't know why I've been, I, you know, I, I spend a lot of time at therapy trying to figure out why do I keep doing these things? And to your point, I also like, Always thinking about like, okay, I, I know I love this. I know I love building businesses. I know I love having it, but I know I love cooking, but why am I doing this? What part of this is bringing me happiness? And, you know, I'm 42 now. I think we're around the same age and you know, it's taking a very long time. And I still am. I'm working at it. But I think what I'm starting to realize is just accepting that like, whatever you're doing is part of it, right? No matter what, it's part of your journey.
Whatever the good or the bad. If you can just like, you know, be okay with it, with each day, something good will happen, something bad will happen. And that's hard. It's almost like the antithesis of working at it. You have to actually not work at it and just let it be. And as a chef, as a, you know, as an entrepreneur, as someone, we are constantly like thinking about getting past the 90% to that’s contrary to happiness, right? Because you have to sort of figure out this way to reconcile this pursuit of excellence with this pursuit of happiness. And they are in competition with each other in so many ways, even though they're part of what makes us happy. And I think that, again, sort of wrapping this up after hearing you, I think that you are learning this through, sometimes we need something crazy in our life to, to help us sort of step back and say like, why am I doing this? What actually is making me happy?
Eli Kulp [01:31:15]:
Well, I mean, so often, right? Like you lose a loved one, suddenly life is framed differently. Atragedy happens all of a sudden. All of a sudden, people are really grateful for what they have. That's the struggle. Don't wait for those moments to frame your perspective. Wake up every day, allow yourself a little opportunity to reflect. It can be two minutes. Just reflect on what you've accomplished, what you've done, but also what you wanna do and what you wanna accomplish going forward. And if you can do that, just take a little bit of time every day to be grateful.
Show gratitude, whether it's towards yourself or to someone else. Just something, those little details, those little little moments matter. And it's once people lose perspective, and this could go back to your business as well, if you lose a perspective of what you're there for, what you're doing and why you're doing it. You're a ship without a mast, you know, floating in an ocean of challenges. So if you're able to keep your own perspective, but then also keep the perspective of your restaurant, keep the perspective of your menu, the North Star, so to speak. What are you working towards every day? And if you keep a perspective, Mentally, personally, and professionally. It’s a life changer.
Josh Sharkey [01:32:25]:
Yeah, absolutely. And tying this into sort of our industry, even if you love cooking right? And you're a cook now, and this goes basically for any, any craft, also any entrepreneur starting a business. I love Simon Sinek has a great book. Start with Why. It really ties into this, like you have to be really careful because you could be spending a lot of time, years can go by and you're growing into more as a chef,but you might forget why you started and what your specific individual purposes in the industry that you're in or the endeavor that you're in. And that's when things can really start to go south, right? Because you don't know. You don't have a framework for making the decisions that you wanna make, and you start to, you know, enjoy it less because you forget the reason why you started it. And so, all the cooks out there and anybody starting a business or running a business or as a chef, make sure you're checking in with yourself.
Eli Kulp [01:33:21]:
Yeah. Like, why am I doing this? It'll probably make you better. I think it's great. I mean, as human society develops. We're learning a lot more about how the brain works and how to manage that process of, that you go through on a daily basis of, you know, you're, you're either battling depression or you're battling sadness, you're battling some challenge. But we know more about the brain than ever before, and we know that certain things work. You know, not negatively predicting the future, not assuming the worst. When you do those things, your mind, even though you, it feels like, oh, you're just thinking it, but your body feels it, right? So if you're having those moments where you are in the shits.
You're mentally, you're not there. It's so important to be able to say, you know what? I need to do things to get out of this. And if you can do those things to get out of it, my therapist always says, action is the number one killer of anxiety. If you negatively predict that you're gonna walk outside and a bird's gonna shit on your head, you're not gonna go outside. You're not gonna wanna do that. But if you have the mentality that you're gonna go outside and life is, you're gonna rock the day and you're gonna enjoy it, it's a good chance that you're gonna positively predict the future. So it's just those little brain things that you learn as you get older. That's what I like about these podcasts, is that somebody listening to this, they might hear this for the first time.
Here's an example. When I was probably 30 years old, I was kinda lost. I felt like I was in my prime. I was still a cook. I was a sous chef. I didn't know where they were to go. I was in New York City, but I didn't feel like I was connecting to people, you know? And New York City can be a great place. We can also be a very lonely place. I went into a Borders bookstore, into the self-help section. There's the borders down on Broadway and by Wall Street. And, you know, I went to this self-help section and remember opening a book and I'm reading about anxiety and, you know, the physiological response that your body has.
I'm like, oh my God, I have anxiety. Like, this was before anxiety was a thing. You know, nowadays it's talked about all the time. It's in pop culture, back then there wasn't anybody, this wasn't discussed. This is probably going back 15, 16 years ago probably. And you know, so when I was able to identify what I was going through, I was able to manage that better. I think that's what this is all about. 'cause a lot of times, as you're an adolescent and getting into your early twenties and you know, you're not thinking about that stuff 'cause you're naturally happy, but then reality slaps you across the face and you're like, oh shit, I'm 26 years old now. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know what my purpose is. That's when you have to educate yourself and, and get a better grasp of how your brain works and be able to control that for a positive response.
Josh Sharkey [01:36:13]:
Yeah, absolutely. Well, this was awesome, man, and I love the premise of action. There's a lot to talk about, but you know, I love the premise of action is prevention for anxiety. In comparison to these joys, there's a lot of these things that I think are so obvious but innocuous. I'm glad we had a chance to talk about them. You know, and I'm glad we spent more time talking about this than just about kitchens cooking in the old days. Those things are incredible when we love them, but there's a lot more that we go through that I think that you have an incredible perspective on. I'm glad we got to chat about it, but anything else you wanna share with the audience or anything?
Eli Kulp [01:36:47]:
If they're curious, they wanna check out what I'm talking about in the podcast. Feel free to listen to the Chef Radio podcast. You can check that out. If you wanna connect with me, it's Eli Kulp on Instagram. Feel free to reach out if you know, if anything, you have any questions. I love mentorship and coaching, you know, that was really what, as a chef, I loved. I still love that and I know that that's one thing I can still make a difference in people's lives with. So I always appreciate if somebody's going through something and no matter how small or big it is, you know, if you wanna reach out to me, I'm happy to talk through it with you.
Josh Sharkey [01:37:28]:
Thanks for tuning into The meez Podcast. The music from the show is a remix of the Song Art Mirror by an old friend, hip hop artist, Fresh Daily. For show notes and more, visit www.getmeez.com/podcast. That's G E T M E E Z dot com forward slash podcast. If you enjoyed the show, I'd love it if you can share it with your fellow entrepreneurs and culinary pros and give us a five star rating wherever you listen to your podcasts.
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