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Eli Kulp on Finding Purpose and Overcoming Adversity

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About this episode

As co-founder and culinary director of High Street Hospitality Group, Chef Eli Kulp has left an indelible mark on the culinary world.  Originally from Philly, Eli's culinary journey took him to New York, where he honed his skills at renowned spots like Del Posto and the Major Food Group. His achievements include a James Beard Award nomination and being named Food and Wine's Best New Chef. Notably, he's been hailed as Chef of the Year by both Eater and Philadelphia Inquirer, showcasing his remarkable leadership.

However, Eli's path was marred by a tragic incident in 2015—an Amtrak accident that left him paralyzed. Despite the immense challenges, Eli's resilience shone through. He not only recovered but thrived, becoming the host of The CHEF Radio and Delicious City Philly Podcasts and maintaining a pivotal role in his award-winning restaurant group.

Eli's story is a testament to the power of the human spirit in overcoming adversity. His experiences highlight the importance of gratitude and perspective. As Eli wisely advises, we needn't wait for tragedy to strike to embrace these values.

Where to find Eli Kulp:

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

What We Cover

(1:59) Eli’s background and when he started cooking

(13:27) Innovation versus sustainability in the kitchen

(17:00) Building Confidence and cooking in the early 2000s

(21:10) Motivation and the challenges new chefs face today

(26:01) Keeping talent, community and building a work culture

(33:50) Eli’s accident and how it changed his life as a chef

(46:01) Dealing with trauma and mental health struggles

(52:35) Action as a cure for anxiety and depression

(58:41) Ikigai, gratitude, and discovering purpose again

(1:16:08) Finding a community with CHEF Radio


Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]:

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


My guest today is the very inspiring chef Eli Kulp. Man, we had a really awesome conversation. Eli's the co-founder and culinary director of High Street Hospitality Group and the host of two incredible podcasts, one called CHEF Radio and the other one called Delicious City Philly.


He lives in Philly, but he spent a lot of time cooking in New York at spots like Del Posto and for the Major Food Group. Uh, he's a James Beard Award nominee. He's won Food and Wine's Best New Chef. He won Chef of the Year from both Eater and Philadelphia Enquirer, and generally speaking, just a really awesome, talented chef, great leader and restaurateur.


What's more? In 2015, Eli was left paralyzed from a spinal cord injury, uh, from a tragic Amtrak accident. This type of tragedy would devastate really anyone. And of course, Eli went through an immense amount of pain and struggle and like anyone found it really hard to push forward. But he did. And he's doing more than ever now hosting podcasts, maintaining his role with the award-winning restaurant group.


And generally speaking, just inspiring chefs and people of all walks of life. Tragedies like the one that Eli suffered completely change our perspective and force us to be grateful for things that maybe otherwise we wouldn't have. And in the words of Eli, don't wait for a tragedy to frame your perspective or to find gratefulness in your life. I love this episode. I love chatting with Eli, and I think you'll too. So I hope you enjoy the episode.


Eli, I think a lot of people already know you, but maybe just a little background on, you know, coming up in the food industry, how you started, and then. How did you get to these two podcasts? 

Eli Kulp [00:01:57]: 

So my story starts like a lot of people, you know, just needed some income. When I was a teenager , I really wanted a dirt bike. I grew up riding dirt bikes. I wanted a new one. So my dad naturally was like, let's get a job for you. And it just happened at the time that this lady had moved into this small town. I grew up in Washington State. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, kinda on the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, really beautiful lakes, rivers, you know, just a perfect childhood, roaming the trees and the prairies and everything.


So just constantly outdoors, exploring, but dirt bikes, all that. So it's just a big part of my childhood. And this lady moved into town, and wanted to open this little restaurant. The story is pretty hilarious. So this town is, I jokingly say hillbillies and rednecks, but it's kind of, there's some truth to it.

Josh Sharkey [00:02:53]: 

Yeah. What's the difference? I forget, between a hillbilly and a redneck.

Eli Kulp [00:02:57]: 

Hillbilly and redneck. I think hillbillies are just more up in the hills and they have 'em there. Yeah. Yeah. Like they don't come down much. They come down for provisions and they head back up and they hermit away. There's definitely places like that up, like the Winston Creek area where you like, how do these people live?


You're like, you never see them, but, but they're isolated. They're isolated people and you know, it's not like the Beverly Hillbillies and stuff. And then rednecks of course are just, you know, shooting shit. You know, anything that moves. We always had rifles in our car and anything that moved would be the target and we'd roam around at night time with spotlights looking for eyes, you know, and like, it's just what we did is it's, I think people look at small towns a lot of times. They're like, what the hell did they do there? I tell you what though, it's just getting into fun trouble. That's all it is.


Whether it's tearing down road signs and just doing silly dumb things to fill up her time. But this woman had moved into the town and she wanted to open this restaurant, and my dad was like, well go ask for a job washing dishes or something. So she made me a busser slash dishwasher. My uniform was black pants, white shirt, and Irish green cumberbun and bow tie. Yeah, I mean in a small little town of, you know, and you know, during the summer it would get a lot of tourism and we have a lot of lakes and parks and stuff like that.

Josh Sharkey [00:04:11]: 

How old were you when you started? 

Eli Kulp [00:04:13]: 

14? Yeah, so I was 14 when I started and then really quickly I gravitated towards the kitchen and I did some cooking and I got, you know, sucked into that and I stayed there all through high school. And it was one of those things where I'm hanging out with adults, you know, I mean, I'm 15 years old, I'm hanging out with like industry veterans of guys with tattoos and you know, they've been cooking this place and that place and these chefs that kinda just like move around and work at crappy places, you know, it's like it supplies their drugs essentially is what, is what I can surmise now later on what was going on there.


But it really exposed me to this whole other side of culture and I really fell in love with that idea. And as soon as I graduated, I moved down to Portland, did a culinary school down there and just started working. And before you know it, I'm up in Seattle. I did four years up in Seattle, and then I sort of got away from real cooking. I was working at like an Irish pub company and, which was great because it was a corporate company and I learned a ton about food costs, labor costs, management, scheduling, you know, all these things that a lot of chefs don't ever learn until they're thrust into a sous chef role or thrust into a CDC role, where all of a sudden now you have to do dollars and cents before all you're doing is throwing stuff in a pan and cooking it.

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