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Mike Traud on What to Expect For This Year’s Chef Conference in Philadelphia

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About this episode

#54. Welcome to this captivating episode of The meez Podcast, where we explore the heart of culinary innovation and education with our distinguished guest, Mike Traud,  founder of The Chef Conference (formerly known as the Philly Chef Conference) in the gastronomic hub of Philadelphia. With a legacy spanning over a decade and 10 groundbreaking conferences, Mike has significantly contributed to the culinary landscape through this annual event, which started during his tenure as the Director of Hospitality Management at Drexel University.

In today's conversation, we uncover the essence of The Chef Conference, exploring its evolution, significance, and what makes it a beacon for culinary professionals worldwide. Mike, with his rich background in hospitality law, culinary arts, and education, and his notable stint with Marc Vetri, brings a wealth of knowledge and insight into creating an event that not only celebrates but also advances the culinary industry.

Our dialogue extends into the meticulous planning and sheer effort required to bring such a conference to life, highlighting Mike's dedication and passion for fostering community and innovation among chefs and culinary enthusiasts alike. The Chef Conference has become a coveted gathering, attracting an impressive roster of culinary talents and thought leaders, indicative of its prestige and impact on the culinary world.

Adding a personal touch to our discussion, our CEO and founder, Josh Sharkey, shares his excitement and anticipation for moderating a panel on menu innovation and development, featuring celebrated chefs Ariel Johnson, Mr. Lyan, Rosio Sanchez, and Thomas Frebel. This opportunity not only allows for an engaging exploration of culinary creativity but also marks Josh's inaugural experience in panel moderation—a journey inspired by the conference's ethos of organic, passionate participation from all involved.

Moreover, we delve into the vital conversation about the intersection of education and industry, a theme close to Mike's heart, given his extensive background in academia. This discussion sheds light on the ongoing debate regarding the relevance of culinary education and how initiatives like The Chef Conference are pivotal in bridging the gap, ensuring a symbiotic relationship between learning and practical application.

As we gear up for this year's Chef Conference, taking place from April 12th through the 15th, we invite you to immerse yourself in the plethora of panels and special events lined up, including a sneak peek into Alain Ducasse's memoirs. For more details and to be part of this extraordinary culinary gathering, visit [](

Where to find Mike Traud:

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

What We Cover

(04:53) Mike's background in law and how he transitioned to food

(11:50) Where to eat in Philly

(14:21) How The Chef Conference was created

(16:23) The gap between education and industry

(19:49) Mike's goal for the conference

(22:41) Menu Development 101 panel

(24:09) How Mike chooses which panels to have during the conference

(30:10) What Mike loves most about the conference

(37:35) Biggest challenges faced every year

(44:52) The benefits of an intimate conference

(52:54) Goals for future conferences


[00:00:00] Josh Sharkey:

You're listening to season two of The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, a culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, we're going to talk to high performers in the food business, everything from chefs to CEOs, technologists, writers, investors, and more about how they innovate and operate and how they consistently execute at a high level.


Day after day. And I would really love it if you could drop us a five star review anywhere that you listen to your podcast, that could be Apple, that could be Spotify, could be Google. I'm not picky anywhere works, but I really appreciate the support. And as always, I hope you enjoy the show.


Today's guest is the founder of The Chef Conference, formerly the Philly Chef Conference, located in, well, you guessed it, Philadelphia. Mike Traud was the Director of Hospitality Management at Drexel University, where this conference had started. And fast forward 10, 11, well, 11 years later and 10 conferences later, man, it is just an incredible conference.


and we talk all about it on today's show. Mike has a background in hospitality law, as well as cooking and education. He worked for Marc Vetri for a very long time. And we actually just met recently and took advantage of the show, this podcast, to one, get to know the conference a little bit more, make sure that everybody knows why it's really special, what to expect from it.


Also just, I was really curious about what does it take to put on a conference like this. It is a ton of time. and effort and resources and capital and just hats off to Mike for everything that he is doing and continues to do for the industry with this conference. Mike over the years has been able to curate just the most incredible list of chefs and other culinary professionals that attend the conference.


Think of a name, they've likely been there or are still going there. Today, I'm actually moderating a panel with some really incredible chefs, Ariel Johnson and Mr. Lyan and Rosio Sanchez and Thomas Frebel on menu innovation and just menu development in general. So I'm super excited to dig into that panel at the conference.


Thanks, Mike, for having me. And like I said, I really took some time. To one, learn more about the conference and also I've never moderated a panel. Obviously, we've done this podcast many times, but I was interested to hear from Mike. What does it mean to have a successful panel? What does he look for? What has worked?


What are guests like? And I think the common thread I hear from Mike, not just about these panels and there's a lot of great panels, but generally the conference is it works well when it's organic and everybody clearly wants to be there. Not just the guests, but even the people speaking. And I think that's something that's really special about this conference is


You know, there are sometimes panels where. The folks speaking do the job, they'll speak, and then they're gone. And this is certainly one of those conferences where they are not. They are in the audience at the next panel, the prior panel. And that's something that Mike takes a lot of pride in is creating a conference that everybody wants to be at.


It also takes a lot of pride in Philly as a city. And I'm excited to just explore the city. I haven't been there in a very long time. A couple of things that we dig into because of Mike's background is really sort of this gap between education and the industry. Uh, given he spent so much time at Drexel University in the hospitality space teaching.


I think we all know that there's this sense that should I go to culinary school, should I not? If I go to culinary school, is it completely out of touch with the industry? And I think it's incumbent upon all of us to embrace that education and figure out how we can help be a part of it. And Mike's doing a lot.


to move that forward. So we tried to time this episode such that this is airing a few days before this actual conference goes live. So the show is April 12th through the 15th. There's a ton of panels. Go to Also Alain Ducasse is doing like a sneak peek of his memoirs on Saturday. So some really cool stuff going on.


Anyways, wrapping up, Mike is such a great dude. And I was so honored and grateful that I was able to catch up with him and meet him before I meet him in person at the Philly Conference. And, as always, I had an incredible conversation, I really enjoyed it, and I hope that you do, too. And I hope that I see some of you at the Chef Conference in Philly this weekend.

[00:04:34] Josh Sharkey:

I'm stoked that Gia reached out, because we had never met. I don't know a ton about you, meet in LA.

[00:04:40] Josh Sharkey:

Yeah, so this is just like a good opportunity to, you know, get to know you.

[00:04:46] Mike Traud:

Exactly, before the real thing.

[00:04:47] Josh Sharkey:

Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, you were, you were a chef and a lawyer. I don't know if you practiced law, but you sound like you did hospitality.

[00:04:53] Mike Traud:

Yeah, I practiced law for a couple years, four years.

[00:04:55] Josh Sharkey:

What was that like? Different world, you know? Did you enjoy it? Parts of it. What parts of it did you like?

[00:05:03] Mike Traud:

You know, I like the analytical aspects, you know? I like, you know, the whole mental, you know, constructing arguments and plotting and strategy. You know, but it's also there could be monotonous times, but I always had a passion for food.

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