#23. In this episode of The meez Podcast, we’re joined by special guest Chef John Adler, the Senior Vice President of Culinary and Physical Products at Blue Apron. John's culinary journey started in some of the world's finest kitchens, including working for chefs like Thomas Keller at Per Se and Chef Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. He also spent time at Michelin-starred restaurants across Spain and England before becoming the chef at the beloved Franny's in Brooklyn.
During the episode, John discusses what it was like to transition from the restaurant world to a large-scale institution like Blue Apron. He delves into the unique camaraderie and intimate connections formed in restaurant kitchens and how that differs from the corporate environment. John also shares how Blue Apron values customer feedback and constantly improves their recipes based on customer input. From recipe ratings to customer interviews, Blue Apron seeks to understand their customers' needs and preferences to create meaningful and delicious meals for homes across America.
Join host Josh and John in this insightful and heartwarming episode as they discuss the art of culinary innovation, the impact of recipes on people's lives, and the power of food to bring people together.
Where to find John Adler:
Where to find host Josh Sharkey:
In this episode, we cover:
(2:19) John’s background
(5:59) How Josh and John first met
(7:57) Restaurant vs. Corporate environment
(13:09) How Blue Apron gets customer feedback
(17:59) Recipe R&D at Blue Apron
(23:18) Helping Home Cooks with the Basics
(26:50) What is the goal of Blue Apron?
(34:00) What skillsets translate from hospitality to technology?
(35:25) The importance of the entire guest experience
(40:10) Soft skills in management
(46:10) Why John loves to cook
(51:29) The legacy and impact of food
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 Chef John Adler. John is the Senior Vice President of Culinary and Physical Products at Blue Apron. He has an incredible background in kitchens, having spent many years working for chefs like Thomas Keller at Per Se, and Chef Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and a bunch of Michelin star spots across Spain and England.
Before joining Blue Apron, he had spent the prior eight years as a chef of the beloved Franny's in Brooklyn. And if you don't know Frannie's, what an incredible restaurant. It really just changed the game for not only what an Italian restaurant could be, but just what a restaurant in general could be.
And at the time, there really was nothing like it. I remember seeing John in the past all the time. I lived on the block and I actually owned a restaurant on the block and a few times they were sure to cook on my day off just for fun. I would come in and help out on the line. So I had the pleasure of working with John.
He's an incredible cook and just a real technician and really I think this is just another example of how large scale institutions like Blue Apron can effectuate meaningful change when they take culinary seriously and hire folks like John. John and I talk a lot about what it's like to leave the restaurant world to join one of these corporations, how the restaurant experience sets you up for success in any endeavor.
And of course, we dig into the whole world of Blue Apron, what it's like working there, running the R&D kitchen and just, you know how he's creating really incredible food for homes across America. So as always, I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
Welcome to The meez Podcast
John Adler [00:02:04]:
Josh Sharkey [00:02:05]:
Is it a damn pleasure to have you here? I'm grateful to have you on. If you're in the food world, if you're a chef, specifically if you're a chef, sort of maybe in the fine dining world, you probably already know who John Aler is. But for those that don't, John, maybe just a little background on yourself real quick thirty second like where you come from, where you worked, and what you're doing today.
John Adler [00:02:19]:
Sure. Yeah. My name is John Adler. I am the Senior Vice President of Physical Product at Blue Apron, which is one of America's original meal kit companies. And before joining Blue Apron, I worked in restaurants both in New York and in Europe.
So I was the executive chef at Franny's. Well, I joined Frannie's as a sous chef and then became co chef to cuisine, and then executive chef. I worked for Thomas Keller and Jonathan Benno at Per Se. I worked for Dan Barber and Michael Anthony in the early days of Blue Hill at Stone Barns and peppered in there I also worked at a local restaurant in Pleasantville, New York, where I'm from. That taught me a lot and there's still a lot that I pulled out of my days there and then peppered in throughout that, some time in Europe, so I was lucky enough to spend the summer cooking in Italy. I cooked at a restaurant in Spain, and also at the St. John in London and Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons with Raymond Blanc right outside of Oxford.
Josh Sharkey [00:03:26]:
Quite the pedigree, I would say.
John Adler [00:03:29]:
I would say I got really lucky. The big thing that's missing from my resume is culinary school. I never went. And so there are some people that call that a strength. There are some people that kind of cock their heads inside about it. For me, I grew up loving cooking. My mom was an amazing cook. I was a crazy picky eater though, like I didn't eat a lot of food, but I like unique foods because I'm half Israeli and so I loved Middle Eastern food. I used to say falafel is my favorite food, and it still kind of is, probably pops up between that and pizza.
I grew up eating unique foods and then as I got older I was jealous of my sister. She got to travel more with my mom, and my mom basically said, well, you got to be able to try more things. And so I think around like sixth grade, I really just kind of dropped the whole, I don't like that approach, and I would just try anything. There's only a couple of foods now that I stay away from. Wait, there are foods you stay away from.
Josh Sharkey [00:04:24]:
What, what? Which ones are these?
John Adler [00:04:25]:
Yeah. I really don't like bananas. I know. I know. It's just, here's the thing. I like bananas cooked into things, and I think it's a textural thing, and I like melons a lot, but honeydew has always been one that I'm just not that big a fan of.
Josh Sharkey [00:04:41]:
No, I mean, honeydews probably, you know, of all the melons you're going to stay away from.
John Adler [00:04:47]:
If you put it like a perfectly ripe, super pungent charentais melon in front of me in the middle of the summer, like I'm going to embarrass myself eating that thing. Yeah, those are probably the only two foods, I mean, awful.
All the rest of it, like no issues here. But yeah, it was definitely one of those unique journeys to cooking. I got through college and was planning on going to Washington, DC and working in nonprofits and maybe getting into consulting or politics. And the job that I was lined up for didn't start for a few months.
So I got a job at a local restaurant, the chef who had been through the kitchens of Larry Forgione and then the original Grammar Street Tavern crew. He was sort of like a textbook new American chef, and I got a job with him six weeks into it. The sous chef walked in and he said, Hey kid, if you finish your prep early, I'll teach you how to break down a strip loin.
And I was like, oh yeah. I'm like, busted through my prep and did the butchery with him and it just, I notified the organization that I was gonna go work for and that they should reopen their candidate search because I was gonna cook for the rest of my life. And it's just, it's been off to the races ever since.
Josh Sharkey [00:05:59]:
Well, glad you did that. So I think we first met, well, I guess at Franny’s when you first started, right?
John Adler [00:06:04]:
Yeah, I needed my garde manger covered one night. I mean, I think I'd been there for like three weeks. It was one of the first nights that Danny let me expedite without him there. And of course, you know, like a typical restaurant, I mean, things haven't really changed in restaurants, right? Like you're always looking for picks and it’s the perfect storm. I didn't have a grade manger and I called Andrew Feinberg, the owner, and I was like what should I do in this situation? He is like, oh, why don't you give Josh Sharkey a call? I'm pretty sure that he, you know, I don't think he likes doing anything right now. He might be in between projects and I got your phone number and I called you. You're like, yeah, sure. I'll be garde manger.
Josh Sharkey [00:06:49]:
I don't think I was in between projects. I had a sadistic thing for many years where I just, whenever I had days off, I would go cook somewhere else. I think at that time I was working at Bouley, and I just had the day off. I was like, yeah, I’ll cook. You know, because sure, why not? It's just like a nice little respite. And I did that often, but I remember it was a great night because I hadn't seen a kitchen with Brandon Gillis, a former business partner who hadn't been there since the new guard of you and Danny.
And it was awesome, man. It was stuff I hadn't actually seen before. And the way that the food you guys were doing was just really, really cool. And so it was not only fun like that was just a really fun night, but I learned a lot. And I was like, who's this guy John Adler? You never heard of him in New York? Everybody knows everybody.
John Adler [00:07:42]:
Right, and you and I were in the same building for years because you were at Cafe Grey and I was above you. Actually, when I was applying for jobs after I came back from Italy, I handed in my resume at Cafe Grey and they were like, okay, that's cute. But I ended up, I think we were neighbors for a brief period of time.
Josh Sharkey [00:07:48]:
You guys would use our Cryovac machine when you broke?
John Adler [00:07:53]:
Yeah. Or when the health department was showing up.
Josh Sharkey [00:07:57]:
Mm-hmm. And remind us why we don't deal with stock the right way. Alright. I think that was just, I think that was just Matt Ackerino. Matt. I love you buddy. I love you. So anyways, okay, so you know your background now, and now you're running food and R&D with Blue Apron. But being in the restaurants, that was what you did for so long and you moved on to Blue Apron. So we're going to talk a little about like what, what it's like at Blue Apron, but what do you miss most about those types of kitchens now that you're in more of a tech, corporate kind of environment?
John Adler [00:08:30]:
The camaraderie that exists in the kitchen is really unique, right? Like you end up spending more time with the people who you work with in restaurants, especially the restaurants where you and I worked than anyone else in your life. Like, you know, your partner or your family, your friends. So whether you like each other or not, you find a way and you know, you kick back at the bar afterwards. And so that camaraderie is hard to replicate. We've gotten pretty close with our test kitchen team, which is great, but truthfully, you know, the intensity, the sort of spontaneous creativity is a really hard thing to let go of. I know you went to the green market constantly. When I got to Franny's, there was some relationship with the green market.
One of the things that I really pushed was that we should go to the market first, and if we can't get it from there, let's work through a distributor or a local aggregator. So we were at the green market four or five days a week and everything was hand selected. And the relationships that you build with farmers and suppliers over time is, I mean, there's no monetary value to that.
The emotional value, how much learning there is. When a farmer tells you about how they're changing their fertilizer and they're putting more mineral rich fertilizer in. Or, I remember Rick Bishop being like, dude, I was up all of yesterday just spraying seaweed all over my field. And I'm like, wow, tell me why.
You know, what's that gonna show up? Like, what's that gonna turn into labor-wise? And then being able to carry that all the way through to your kitchen, that's a tough thing to let go of and it's not something that you can replicate at necessarily a national scale. You know, I miss my suppliers, like I've asked some of them to just keep me on their email lists.
Just because, I mean, some of it's living vicariously and some of it's because I like to just send them messages to be like, you know, you guys are awesome. I love what you're doing. I'll try and make it to the market. I live out in New Jersey now. I commute to Brooklyn, or I commute to our facility out here, and so I don't necessarily just get to go through the green market whenever I want the way I used to, but I love being able to just to continue to support them in any way.
And the other part about it that I think is really hard to let go of. There are aspects of working, right? So when you have total control in a restaurant, being able to control the end-to-end experience for your guests, which is something that I had a voice in the whole time I was there. And even when you're at places like Per Se, you're picking the plates for dishes and things like that, you really have a voice in that experience and that's something you have to. Being able to let go of it, to a certain extent, or at least acknowledge that you're not gonna be a decision maker in a tech company all the time.
But I was at Franny's for eight years. I watched people have babies, and then those kids be able to sit at a table with their grown ups and order by themselves. And when I first got there, you know, to a certain extent, I thought about the transition from Per Se to Franny’s. It was almost harder in certain regards than the transition from Franny's to Blue Apron because, Per Se, to Franny’s, like just being in an open kitchen and working in a more casual environment and that was in some ways, like more jarring.
It probably took me a little bit longer saying that it's my own immaturity at the time, but probably took me a little bit longer to make that adjustment in certain regards. But I miss the guests. I stay in touch with a lot of the old regulars from Franny’s through Instagram and whatnot simply because you really do develop at a restaurant like it's a neighborhood restaurant where people are there every week and you're seeing them, you're watching how they might change week to week and you're there when they have kids. You're there when they lose family members.
You're there when they're celebrating engagements. That level of personal connection through your product is something that is really hard to let go of because the feedback loop is so immediate. It's not only just about the like, oh, it's so nice to see you again, but we'd be trying out a new dish and we had this family of the Goldbergs who had come to Franny’s and I'd walk over the table and I'd be like, Hey, you know, I'm working on this, but like, I'd love to know what you guys think about this.
And that's something that you can necessarily do at a national scale when you're servicing hundreds of thousands of people on a given week. And that's the kind of stuff that I don't wanna say would get me out of bed in the morning, but it would give you a different sense of gratification. For sure.
Josh Sharkey [00:12:49]:
You know? Well, you talked a bit about the skill sets and how they sort of carried over to Blue Apron. So I wanna get into that, but I am curious, it was similar sort of construct with, you know, I have a software company and connecting with our customers is a lot more digital than it is obviously face-to-face, which is similar to Blue Apron.
But are there things that Blue Apron does to have a deeper connection with customers. Do you have any sort of advisory boards or customers that are sort of part of a group that you can connect with more often to get, you know, more direct feedback? How do you sort of like to emulate that in Blue Apron? What happens in restaurants?
John Adler [00:13:27]:
Yeah, it's a great question. I think it's important that you engage both when you're doing any kind of brainstorming or thinking or decision-making is based in hospitality. It's something that I wish we could just spend all like a ton of time on. But we have, at a very basic level, recipe ratings. So anytime someone cooks a recipe with us, they're giving us a rating. They can leave comments and someone from our team reads every comment every single week, talking about thousands of pieces of feedback. I mean, you know, if I thought my life was one giant Yelp review, working in restaurants, it's that on steroids, but in a really great way.
There are some people who will tell us what they like and they don't like. And that's a good indicator of what we need to do better as a culinary team, but also you start to get a sense of why the product works for people. So people will say, you know, my child's a teenager and I'm having trouble connecting with them, but we come together three days a week to cook Blue Apron and it's been amazing. And you have people who have gone as far to be like this to save my marriage. Or people say, you know, I'm writing this on behalf of my friend. They're going through a tough time, but I've been sending them my box and they've said it's their favorite part of the week. And those are the stories that we share company wide, not with the customer's name necessarily, but we share those company wide and we make sure that there's also the opportunity to correspond with those people. So somebody, a few years ago, wrote a review in the voice of Game of Thrones.
As if they were, you know, like writing a raven’s message. And our customer experience team ended up corresponding to this person in like snail mail. And what it resulted in at the end of it was us sending them a free chef's knife. It was such a high touch moment that Will Giludera talks about unreasonable hospitality. There’s a certain amount of unreasonable hospitality in that, but it's a good reminder that you have a product that brings you into the most intimate parts of someone's life. How someone chooses to feed themselves or feed their family, it's a really intimate decision when you think about it. You know, it's high stakes. And it's not, I often say like, I'm very humbled at the opportunity that we have with our product because of all the things we have access to in the world and things can be delivered within one day to one hour. all the delivery apps and whatnot, the idea that somebody makes space for you and welcomes you into their home two, four, five nights a week, that's a humble opportunity that you should take seriously.
And then when they give you feedback on it, it's something that you really, you have a fidelity in that relationship and you've got a fidelity to that customer to think about that feedback. And so our customer experience team speaks to people after their first box. They reach out if we get a concerning review where we'll say, like, we should probably get in touch with this person. And so it's a constant feedback loop. And then when we do product R and D or research, we will reach out to customers and we will do video interviews. And we have listening sessions. And I like, I get giddy when I can, when I have time in my schedule that I can sit in on these interviews because you learn so much about people.
Josh Sharkey [00:16:54]:
I bet. Obviously the feedback loop from customers is so incredible. Especially because you guys have so much scale. But the other thing that I find fascinating about the model of Blue Apron is the feedback as it relates to improving these recipes, because for me, obviously I have a special relationship with recipes and I think that there's so much more to them and especially coming from from kitchens where we think a recipe is just like what, how much, and maybe how to do it. And there's so much that is left to be implicit instead of explicit. And a recipe actually should just be getting better over time in the place that you're making it, right? Because it's not just the amount of ingredients and cooking it at this temperature and sauté it like this. There's so many little, as you and I know, like elements that make that thing great. What color should those shallots be when you caramelize them? And what size of pan and how long should you preheat it for? And how should you stir them? And should they be the center of the pan, or should they be spread out?
And all these things, they matter. And when you write a recipe, it's very hard because as chefs, we have this cognitive bias around, like we just assume things because we know how to cook. And we also assume things erroneously that we just assume that people know what we're thinking. And so we write something. and I find often that it will be executed poorly or just not the way that you wanted to because you didn't know all these things and all these questions. You guys have thousands of these questions, so you can constantly be making these recipes better and better because you put a recipe out and within a week, I'm sure you're going to get all these questions. Well, you said to, you know, add the garlic and do I add the garlic and the butter at the same time? And do I add all the butter and do I wait till it melts or? You know, like all these things that you don't think about that we just do, right? You know, as just part of our cooking. And you have the opportunity to make these incredibly accurate and explicit recipes. And so I'm curious, as I wanted to talk about the R&D process, and I believe in it, but how often are you iterating on a recipe that's already live from feedback that you get from customers?
John Adler [00:19:00]:
It's a great question, and I think you say this, I've listened to all the episodes of the podcast thus far. And I'm excited to listen to more. But staying curious, right? Like you've gotta stay curious about what's working for people and what's not. You've gotta be willing to say, I know this is 98% great, but what's 98.2 And there's the old Thomas Keller quote, which is like when you acknowledge and you accept that there's no such thing as perfection, it's just about making good food and making people happy. Like that's what good cooking's about. And so, you have to accept that you're never gonna get the perfect recipe.
But there have been little things that have caused somewhat obvious, but noticeable changes. So for example, sometimes you get what's called the diaper when you get ground meat. That's like a little pad that absorbs liquid. We never thought that we should specify to people to not put that in the pen, which I know sounds crazy until we had someone say, I ended up with a bunch of paper in my ground pork tacos because I thought it would dissolve and you're like, wow, that's it. As a cook, that feels very surprising. But also the point of our product is to engage people in the kitchen, some of whom have never thought or been able to cook for themselves before.
And so that's a detail that matters a lot. It's basic, but it's a detail that matters a lot. So if that comes up, we go back and we say, okay, all recipes with ground pork, let's make sure we include this language. We were doing, you know, you're asking about how much you engage customers? Some of our most loyal customers, unsurprisingly, are our own employees. So we will do employee testing of recipes. And we had an employee in the kitchen and he was cooking four ounces of rice. And he said, well, in my house, the only pot I have is a pasta pot. And so he's taking, he's got half a cup of rice cooking in a huge pasta pot. And I'm watching him cook it. The answer is like, don't say anything. And he's taking off the lid and stirring it constantly as he cooks the rice. And I know like you worked for Floyd Cardoz, you are well aware of how specific rice cookery is. And I got, Per Se, I got the hand-me-down or the handed-down Corey Lee lecture on how to cook kosher curry rice. So I'm watching him and I'm like, oh my goodness. But we came away from that and we were like, okay, we need to go back and add language to cook covered without stirring for 12 to 14 minutes. But then there are little things that will pop up.
We put a recipe out and within three days, we're looking at our recipe admin software and reading reviews. Everyone's having trouble with breading. Let's look at all the recipes where we have standard breading procedure in and start to figure out what's going on. Is it not enough flour? Should we be telling people to add two tablespoons of water to the eggs and not one? And it's not necessarily that we're not going to change that recipe once it's live. Unless, on the rare occasion we have to swap an ingredient, we will immediately take that forward and start to look at anywhere else where that risk or that that issue might be recreated and immediately address it. And the other thing I will add is the culinary team is pretty dynamic in terms of its structure, or I should say the physical product team. But we have an editorial team who is beyond meticulous and obsessed with creating the right language so that the person who has no idea what you're thinking can find success. And the editorial team and the chefs on the team are constantly in discussion. Should we say it this way? Should we say it that way? Should we say pale golden, light brown? It's one thing if you're in a restaurant kitchen and you can show someone and you can maybe send the sous chef over to check if the onions are actually properly sweat for the risotto. It's another thing if I'm sending this to someone in Iowa and I'm just fingers crossed we got it right. that while their kids are running around, they can figure out exactly how the onion should sweat. It's a pretty different experience that we're trying to create.
Josh Sharkey [00:23:18]:
Yeah, I have to imagine there's gotta have been some big unlocks there for how to explain things like that. Because yeah, like explaining to somebody how to sweat an onion is not as straightforward as you would think. And there's so many errors that happen. That's just one small example. I'm sure there's millions of examples of that. You know, how much pasta water, what size pot, because it's going to stop boiling. All those things. Are there sort of big sort of unlocks where you saw like, oh, wow, I never thought to explain it that way. I've cooked this a thousand times in my career. And now that I explain it this way in a recipe, it makes so much more sense?
John Adler [00:24:00]
Yeah, that's, that's an interesting question. It makes me think of the, well, first of all, and I think you'll appreciate this because you know Andrew, but I got to Franny's and Andrew shoved me some of his recipes and one of his recipes just said, cook until nice.
Josh Sharkey [00:24:07]:
Yeah, yeah, I mean we often have those kinds of recipes.
John Adler [00:24:28:]:
Right, and that's like, that's a, cook until nice is an interesting thing. One of the points of our style guide that I just had to adapt to is everything is explained in two ways. So cook X minutes to X minutes, or until X. So as a cook in a restaurant, you're never told X minutes to X minutes, right? Like you reduce it by half, reduce to demi sec, whatever it is. Okay, fine, I understand what that is. And you probably get it wrong a few times because by half in a certain size rondeau is different than a pasta pot or anything else. So I think that that's something that it took me a while to get used to. As far as things that I didn't really realize, really some of the most basic, it's the basic stuff. It's heat, oil until it shimmers. If I don't have to tell you as a cook, if you're pan frying something, I don't have to tell you to, like in a restaurant. I don't, you should know, you know, or even things such as cook cut side down versus cut side up. Those and in a restaurant, you would probably be specific about that. But you would also assume that it's intuitive.
It's the one thing that our CEO talks about all the time when people ask her. Our CEO is a very good cook and her father was a very good cook and she grew up cooking. Never worked as a professional chef, but the first time I met her we cooked together and she knows her way around a kitchen. But we tell people to pat their protein dry before searing it, right? Or as a cook you're taking your steaks out you're tempering them before service and she says she was like that was the one that I'd read in recipes and I never really paid attention to and then I did edit a Blue Apron recipe and I was like, oh. And I think that that's probably the recipe step because so many of our recipes are protein-based. That's the thing. And then teaching people how to use fond, like that's one of those things that when you call it out in a recipe and you make the time, you give, we only have six steps and only so many characters that can fit. When you take the time to tell people to do that and then you tell them to build a pan sauce. And because they had a nice dry piece of chicken, they got it and they're searing it, they got a good amount of fond and then they're adding in aromatics and they're deglazing and they're mounting with butter. Like that, you know, as a cook, that stuff is the basics. It's 101 once you're through knife work. And now we can teach people how to do that and we can explain to people why they're doing that. And it's incredibly exciting. that it's not like, hey, I cook your chicken breast in a pan. Sorry, it's a little dirty. You go clean that, go dump some barbecue sauce on top like that. I feel like you think of it as automatic, but you don't realize the effect that it has for people.
Josh Sharkey [00:26:50]:
I would probably assume a lot of home cooks might not know what fond is. That makes a ton of sense. I'm curious actually, I've always actually been curious about this as it relates to this model. Like the metric of success for a customer, right? Like is the idea that eventually they just learn how to cook and then they're just cooking or that's not great for Blue Apron, you know, what's the goal here for the lifespan of a customer? They start using Blue Apron.
John Adler [00:27:27]:
I think the goal is that yes, they learn how to cook and that they become curious about cooking. I think that one of the things that drives cooks, I think Wiley said this when you guys were chatting, which was, man, what a great conversation to be able to listen to. There's a certain element of cooking that's just constant learning and curiosity, and one of our core values is lifelong learning. It's why the company is called Blue Apron, right?
Like all cooks, even the chefs during prep are wearing blue aprons as students in the kitchen. So the company is called Blue Apron because it's a symbol of learning in a kitchen. And the goal is actually that customers do learn how to cook and they continue to find new and exciting ideas from us.
So it creates a lot of pressure for the culinary team. We have to constantly be delivering new recipes, finding new ingredients, thinking about new flavor combinations, and then through our product innovation, thinking about other new experiences that we can offer to people. They might say like, yeah, look, I only get two weeknight meals from you guys because you've taught me so much.
But wow. You know, like recently we did a cassoulet box. Like getting home cooks to embark on making cassoulet is pretty daunting. And it was nice, like some folks noticed and they were like, wow, you figured out a way to make cassoulet in an hour, as opposed to three days. Which of course, you know, we took some shortcuts because we sent you the duck confit and we sent you precooked pork belly and precooked beans. But. people were making cassoulet at home. And so there are people who feel like they've graduated Blue Apron, who stay with us because then they see that and they're like, well, okay. I guess you gotta do that. I'll take a castle away kid if you've got some duck confit from me. You know? And truthfully, I never stop learning what's going to be meaningful to people and what's gonna be exciting to people.
We, as a culinary team, never stop thinking about what we might do? You know, could we take our pizza dough and make khachapuri and send that to people as a brunch dish? Do we actually think that pork belly is something that people would want to cook at home outside of being able to get it in Bao buns or at a new American restaurant with pickled mustard seeds or something. And it's like, actually, yes, you know, but then it's learning like, yeah, they're not that into the, maybe they're not so excited about pork belly tortas, but pork belly ramen, like all day long.
And so, one of the amazing parts about the team that I get to work with is most of the people on my team in some way, shape or form, grew up around food or worked in restaurants.You know, we jokingly call the culinary team a retirement home for fine dining cooks. You got people who are, you know, Le Cirque and a lot of Madison Park and Stone Barns. And then you also have people who came out of recipe editorial. But the common love is just like this endless sort of desire to see what's out there and see new ideas and fail. I mean, just fail.
Like I was joking with one of the cooks the other day, one of the chefs on the team, I remember a few years ago, she walked, I was in the middle of a meeting and she walked into the, to the meeting and she was like, You're seeing this dish, you're definitely not tasting it. It's not, I just want you to know that we like completing the test, but like we're not doing it. The sum total of all of that is a lot of ideas and for a customer, the relationship that they've come to expect with blue aprons, that those ideas are in some way, shape, or form always going to become available to them. So once customers get past, understanding what the product is and managing their subscription, all of which we can improve on, admittedly. As soon as they get through that, even if I feel comfortable cooking, maybe I've been with Blue Apron for two years, I still know that there's probably a new thing coming around the corner, and it's worth staying around to see what that is.
Josh Sharkey [00:31:12]
Yeah, it's funny, it's like you, you guys are almost the CDC for America's home cooks in some ways.
John Adler [00:31:17]:
Yeah, in some ways, yes, very much so. And what I want is for home cooks, you know, in the same way that in a restaurant, people feel like you're taking care of them, I want home cooks to feel like we’re there with our hand on their shoulder. Like, we got you. You got this. It's gonna be okay. I know it seems a little new, but like, it's gonna be fine. You're gonna be able to boil and smash the potatoes and make like crispy parmesan fingerlings in your pan. I know that's something you only saw at a restaurant before, but like you can do it.
Josh Sharkey [00:31:51]:
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Maybe you can also offer the old school passive aggressive or aggressive kitchen style as well. Like what are you doing? Hurry up, get that in the pan.
John Adler [00:32:41]:
The the the it's something I tell people all the time and I'm not going to say who said it to me but we're in the kitchen and a cook brings something up to the pass and the chef just looks at him and he goes this is ultimate passive aggressive he goes well now we know and the cook goes now we know what everything we needed to the chef and I mean you talk about a mind game like I think we spend a week talking about that after service. Like, what did he mean? So, yeah, no, we don't want people to feel that way. And it's something that, you know, you asked about the transition from restaurants to Blue Apron, and I think that Franny’s has helped. Franny’s and truthfully meeting my wife, helped me become a much more reasonable chef in terms of how I was able to provide people feedback. But restaurant kitchens are intense and they're obviously going to lend themselves to those intense moments. And one of the things that you do have to think about when you move from a restaurant environment to a corporate environment is that doesn't fly. And you've got to be careful. And the most important thing is that you're someone who can work across teams and across disciplines and respect expertise. And that's not always so natural for chefs.
Josh Sharkey [00:34:00]:
Well, and if we're being honest, like it doesn't fly. It also doesn't work and it doesn't work in kitchens. It's just, that's what we were used to. But all that really meant was just poor management. Leaders that didn't know how to lead and were leading out of fear or insecurities. But you were talking about the transition, right? You talked about some of the skillsets. I think you and I have talked about this in the past. I think we talked about it a couple of weeks ago . Obviously there's a lot of chefs now that have opportunities to do more things than just the four walls of a restaurant. You've now sort of moved on to Blue Apron. What do you see as some of the skill sets that translate the best from being a chef or being a cook or being in hospitality to moving on to say a technology company or an e-commerce company or something that still like handles food or maybe doesn't even handle food but the skill sets that carried over the best for you?
John Adler [00:34:48]:
Yeah, it's something I spend a lot of time thinking about. And I'll tell you, I don't know how many headlines this made, but one of our former heads of business development was attending a conference where the CEO of Lyft was speaking. And both Lyft and Uber had gone sort of public around the same time. And someone asked him the question, you know, the CEO of Lyft, they said, like if you were to name your strategy, what would it be? And he said, hospitality. It's what it boils down to. I think as a chef coming out of a restaurant, it's customer obsession, right? Like, if you own a restaurant, or if you're in a management role in some way, you're thinking about, from when the customer's standing outside the door, What are they seeing? Is the door clean enough? Can they see inside?
When we were designing, when we expanded Franny's, one of the biggest things that we never wanted to lose when we were designing the kitchen was that you could stand outside and see the fire. See the fire in the ovens. That was one of the key aspects of the design, keeping it warm and keeping that immediate connection to the hearth, which is what you had at the original Franny's. And we were very afraid of losing it. There were multiple designs being considered about where to put the kitchen. And Franny, Andrew and I were all very firm. Like you gotta be able to see the fire from the front door. You've got to have that immediate connection because that's so much of what defines it. And so that attention to detail, and I know I've mentioned this to you in the past, you know, you talk about like, what do you learn working in kitchens? It's the details matter and also the details can determine the success of any one dish or any one experience and like.
I remember I liked bringing this canapé I was working on to Jonathan Benno. And I had it all plated. And he went and he grabbed a fork and a knife and he went to cut it and it just made a whole mess of the plate. And he was like, you know, he takes a bite. He was like, the flavor is great. Pick a new dish. Like picking a new plate. Think about this from the end to end experience for the guest. And I think that if you think about the end to end experience in every restaurant in that setting. Every interaction you have with a guest, you are making them feel a certain way or you're asking them to do something. That is very true in a digital environment. You know, where you put a button on, how many clicks does it take to check out? How easy is it to find out if there's an allergen in something? How hard is it in an app to say, now show me this if I were to do a 250 times batch or show me it in a five times batch? The speed at which a page loads. The speed at which a page loads is the same thing as the speed at which a server, you know, you say to your server, oh, you know what, can I actually see the wine list? You know, we're done with our cocktails, and maybe we're ready to move on to wine.
If that server takes a while to come back with the wine list, that's a negative experience. If you're in a checkout experience and you're like, oh, let me see what add-ons are available this week. Maybe there's a dessert I want to throw in there. And it takes you a while to find that. Every second that ticks by is a diminishing chance for someone to make that sale or for you to discover a new product. And maybe you're like, this is getting a little tiring. I've been around for a couple of years. I'm not seeing the new stuff. I got to go. So it's a way of thinking that I think when you work in fine dining, but really when you work in any restaurant, if you work in a deli, right? Like where does the line go? I remember that to dump your trash was large enough that I didn't have to maneuver the tray in a way where it would make a mess. That makes it easier for you guys because you don't have to come clean up. And for me, my hands aren't dirty, I don't need to go to the bathroom. All of those little details, all of those knock-on effects from one decision or another, which you make 1,000 of those decisions a day in a restaurant.
And all of that translates into a business setting. It translates into how you arrange your office. It translates into how often you run your meetings. I remember someone saying that they just learned, this is recently, they just learned that they should start meetings by asking people how they are. That's so, you know, in a restaurant, you walk in, hey, chef, how are you doing today? You walk over to a table as a server. Hi, how are you? Those are like foundational things that again, you kind of take for granted, but also when you translate that over to a business environment, those make someone who starts a meeting by saying, how's everyone doing today? Versus walking in and being like, okay, what we're reviewing is X. The effect that that's gonna have on the people in that room are wildly different. And I think that those are on the one hand, soft skills. On the other hand, keys to being a good chef, keys to being a good manager that are incredibly relatable across industries.
And I've talked to dozens of people who are thinking about making moves out of restaurants and they go, I don't know, I'm just a cook. You know, at the end of the day, I'm just a cook. There are things you can learn, right? Like maybe brush up on Microsoft Excel or how to make some slide presentations, sure. But grammar for emails, but that's all like, that's all teachable. But the thinking through internal, customer, like your colleague, internal customer interaction and external customer interaction, from a hospitality standpoint, I think is one of the most invaluable skill sets and truthfully, is actually foreign to a lot of people who have spent a lot of time in corporate environments.
Josh Sharkey [00:40:10]
Yeah, I couldn't agree more, man. Yeah, I think it's funny. I get asked the question often a lot about what, you know, what can I do now that I've been in kitchens and now I'm now I want to go into tech or into an entrepreneurship role or something. And I agree. I think that, you know, for me, a sense of urgency and the ability to prioritize and composure under fire and just discipline are things that are pretty innate to being a great cook. It's funny now that, you know, that it's been several years now of running a company that's not a restaurant. I find that there's this parallel that is the same thing that makes a great cook is what makes a great entrepreneur or a great business person is empathy. It's funny cause we have these first principles at meez is that the bedrock of what we do is a dedication to operational empathy in everything that we do. Everything. And when we think about that, it's understanding the plight of the people that you're serving, right? Not just the product that you want to give them or like, what's the reaction that you want from them, but like, how are they feeling? What state are they in? What are they doing before then? What are they doing afterwards? What's happening? All those things are so important. You, you talk about page loading and the buttons and things, those are all important and it is just as important as where are they in the kitchen when that happens?
Are there deliveries coming in? Is there a cup that just called out? Is there a fire burning? Their mom gets sick and is in the hospital and so they had to come in late. All those things matter for the thing that you're giving them. That might have nothing to do with that. And I think that's also what makes a great chef and a great entrepreneur is the ability to be empathetic to the person that you're serving and to know how they're feeling.
John Adler [00:42:06]:
I'll add one thing to that, which I think is integrity. At Per Se, inside of Jonathan Benno's cabinet in his office, there was the sign, treat it like it is yours and someday it will be. That level of humility and integrity and willingly and excitedly committing yourself to improvement and to the idea that when you bring up.. When you're cooking fish at a restaurant, every piece of fish you bring to the past says something about you. It says something about your organization, your prioritization. It’s a reflection of who you are. That's, as a cook, great cooks, the best cooks I've ever worked with, treated that, took that to the nth degree from the way they walked in the restaurant, the way they made eye contact, how sharp their knives were, where their towel was folded, that level of integrity applied to anything else is invaluable.
Josh Sharkey [00:42:51]:
Oh my gosh. In terms of performance. I think that might be the number one thing. And I think that's the thing that translates the most from being a great cook to being, you know, a great anything. You walk in and you're like, this is my station. This is my company. Right? My spoons are here, my c folds are here. If I have any more, I know where they are. I know where my salt is, I know where all these are, and I've set it up and it's organized the way that I want it. And they don't, little do they know that what they're doing is they're building their own little micro company, their own micro business within the restaurant and they own it and they have the sense of ownership. And it's not, I don't know many industries where that is the case, right?
Where you have your station and you, you own the entirety of it. And very often, sometimes you even own the supply chain of what you're purchasing in that station and keep it clean and maintain it, covering it when you're not there. That is something that I don't see. I can't think of another example of another industry where that is so prevalent. But yeah, if you're a cook, if you're a chef or a cook and you've done that, you could do a lot.
John Adler [00:44:24]:
And you know, it's interesting, I think there's like three that actually have similarity, right through this athletics. You hear Bill Belichick, like they have the standard Bill Belichick press conference and it's like, coach, what was the key to success today? It's like, well, everybody knew their job and did their job. And they're like, what else? He was like, everybody knew their job and did their job, but underneath that is everything you just talked about.
Military is another one. Then the other one, and I've only learned this since meeting my wife, I think is teaching, you know, teachers who are play out, like my wife spends so much time setting up her classroom every year and how she introduces materials and where they're stored and the, whether the containers are transparent or not. Like that is very much her own company and the success of her students and the relationships, the positive relationships and trust she builds with the, the parents of those students as a result can so much be like boiled down, not to be reductive about it, but can really be attributed to how deliberate she is in that setup and the level of integrity she applies to all of it. And I think that those are like the three areas that probably have the closest transference to restaurants and or to other environments
Josh Sharkey [00:45:00]:
Yeah. That's great insight, man. I agree. Okay, so we're gonna move into something a little bit. Well, you can take this the way that you like, but I think about it a lot. You know, I love cooking. I think we both do during the industry, of course, I think oftentimes, why do I love cooking? Because now I don't have a restaurant and I'm not serving guests. And, you know, I think about it like, if I make the most incredible thing in the world, no one tastes except me.
Is it the same? And I think about the things that I love most about cooking, which is really the prep and setting up and the braise that's going when I go to bed. And knowing that something's like, or something's been marinating overnight. And I love that feeling. And I think about why I started cooking. Why do I still love cooking? And I'm curious for you, you changed a career very early on and you know, became a cook. Do you still love cooking? Why do you cook? Why? Why do you think that you cook for a living?
John Adler [00:46:10]:
Yeah, I mean, so that's a great question. I love the effect of being able to cook for people. So whether that's cooking from my kids or my family, or you know, when I say my family, my extended family, my wife, there's something that is. I can't really describe it. It's an indescribable feeling of being able to care for someone. But what I love about the process of cooking and what I've always loved about the process of cooking, it's a word that I think my sister and I sort of both shared with each other as we were early in our culinary careers is alchemy.
It's the process, it's the transformation. I mean, a braise, a braise is a romantic relationship, you know, like you've got this tough piece of meat, maybe like, even if it's just chicken thighs, right. And like, you just coaxed it. And it's telling you what it needs. Oh, it needs a little bit more liquid. It needs maybe like you're tasting it along the way and you're like, ah, this is probably gonna need some more acidity than I anticipated. Like a braise is like a courtship almost. And so like there's a real alchemy and a real process to cooking that I find absolutely fascinating and engaging and exciting. And it's a way like I learned so much from it. I learned. whether it's I'm finding new ingredients or I'm shopping for my new farmer. I'm sitting in my kitchen right now and I'm looking at my sourdough starter that I fed this morning because I'm gonna see some friends this weekend and I'm making focaccia and like, I'm excited about what that process is going to be of taking a few ingredients, mixing them in a bowl and watching that slow transformation.
And at the end of the day, it's incredibly important. Like I hope that it's gonna make them smile. I hope they're gonna be excited about it. But honestly, I remember getting to, like putting a dish out for the staff at Franny's and everyone was very excited about it and they're very complimentary of it. And the gratification I had was not there, it had actually happened before. When I had an idea and I was able to transform it and take this ingredient and transform it and create, and I tasted it, I was like, oh, this tastes great. I'm really happy with this. A lot of it was internal gratification. Yes, of course I want them to enjoy it, but there is a real satisfaction in being able to manipulate and combine and coax ingredients into something. And also be humble about the fact that really great ingredients, the story is a lot in what you didn't do to it. So there's a part of cooking that teaches me restraint and humility that I can't. I hope I never stop learning.
Josh Sharkey [00:48:42]:
I agree. It does sometimes seem like a struggle. The process, of course, we love that, of the cooking and the alchemy, and I think that there's this feeling there that you can't really replicate. But I can't, at least for me, I struggle because I'm like, yeah, I love it when I make food, and the people that are there are like, oh my god, this is amazing. This is incredible. There's a feeling that you just, there's not a lot of times when you can, when you can do that, and we can do it all the time. And, you know, sometimes I worry like, how much of what, why cook is that versus, because I just love the process. So I'm always curious about chefs, how you think about the difference between the process of cooking that you enjoy and the result from the people . Let's be honest, sometimes we can be narcissistic because we're, we're doing something that gives other people pleasure and it makes us feel good.
John Adler [00:49:39]:
Even making career changes in restaurants. I remember being at Per Se and like I'd been there two years and I felt like I was on a good path. I'd been working at the Canopy station for nine months, which is a pretty unique station in that environment where you're given a lot of autonomy and a lot of pressure. And then Danny was trying to have me come join him at Franny's. And I remember sitting there. And I wrote Andrew an email after my trial that basically said, I'll be entirely honest with you. The only thing that is getting in my way of jumping at this opportunity is my ego. And I know that I'll be able to get over that. And Richard Corrane, he's like the development officer, I think, or at least he was when I was leaving at Union Square hospitality. He and I were having a conversation and I had kind of gone to him for some career advice and also thinking like, maybe I won't go to Blue Apron. Maybe, you know, USHG is doing something cool that I'll be able to be a part of, which is also egotistical to even think that I would be considered for it. But, you know, I was willing to take that shot and he said, you know, I'm wondering how much of your hesitation and going to Blue Apron is the lack of egotistical satisfaction you will experience from going from serving hundreds of people every night where you can see them like, physically responding to your food, to writing recipes and sending them out to people who you'll likely never meet, and fingers crossed that they like what you're doing.
And that was a good question. We had three meetings and we concluded the first meeting with that. I think the thing is that, you have to decide, it's not just like, for me it's not, just my why with cooking, it's my why and all the decisions I've made and cooking is a part of that. You were talking about your station and we're talking about everything that says about you and really like when you become a parent, so much of what you do is a reflection of yourself and your kids change everything. And I lost my dad when I was young. Like I lost my dad when I was, just before I turned 12. And I remember one of the things that always stuck out to me was how people regarded him, how they spoke about him afterwards. And I'm lucky and happy to say it was, you know, largely very positive. And I think when you think about it, cooking is an act of love for friends and family and not necessarily in a restaurant environment. It’s a way to somewhat create a legacy. Like if you, god forbid, you know, like you weren't there tomorrow, your kids would remember your food. Your wife would remember your food, your friends would remember your food. They'd also remember your sense of humor and your intelligence and your ingenuity. But one of the most common things they would talk about was your food.
And so for cooks, our foods are legacy. So whether I'm scrambling eggs for my wife in the morning, I want her to, it's a way of showing love and transmitting love, but it's also a way of being able to say, this is someone who cares for others. And yes, I'm actually fascinated by the process of cooking eggs. But I also think that cooking for cooks is a way to tell your story.
Josh Sharkey [00:52:38]:
I didn't realize how young you were. I was a similar age when I was 16, my father passed away, but I think that ultimately to be able to be a cook or a chef, we’re really lucky, right? Because yes, it is really gratifying to be able to make food and have people love it and have that feedback in that regard, there's the artistic feeling of like, you gave something, you know, to people and they told you how you felt.
That is part of it no matter what. And we just, we just get that, you know, it comes with a lot of hard work if not everybody's a great cook. But you also, if you love the process, you get that piece of it. And I think what it means, at least for me, is that because we get that, because we get that like glory, right?
And we get to do this thing that we loved. If we do, I think now we're seeing more and more that maybe we have more responsibility because we have the skill to do other things than just cook delicious food. And it's cool to see that that's starting to happen. With someone like you who's helping America eat delicious food, that, let's be honest, 20 years ago no one was be able to eat like that or a Dan Giusti who's helping actually have good food in schools or, I mean, there's countless examples of this where I think where, where we're growing as an industry is we, first of all, we were this sort of like the, the dungeon for a long time, and then the last 10 or so years it's been kind of a bit of a revolution for the industry. And I think, you know, maybe there's been an over exemplification of that, right? But now it's like, okay, yes, there's some stardom and things like that some, but for the most part, it's just a really cool job to be able to have, even if it's not all of what you do in a kitchen. And I think that we have this responsibility now to take that and do things like what you're doing and what you know others are doing too. To make things better. And so I'm glad that talented people like you are doing more than just being in restaurants, even though restaurants are incredible. So thank you for that.
Jon Adler [00:54:27]:
I was saying this to an old friend of mine. I hadn't seen a buddy of mine for like seven years. We had dinner the other night at Insa in Brooklyn, which is like insa age. Insa age is like Bordeaux. It's like, it somehow just keeps getting better. You know, we were chatting, I was like, look, man, you know, three kids is a lot. There's plenty of things that you could, I could find to complain about. Sure. But at the end of the day, I somehow found a way to have an impact, make money and love what I do, and do the thing that like, makes me professionally absolutely happiest.
Like I am the luckiest. I'm as lucky as you could be, is sort of how I feel about it. Because also to your point, when you and I started cooking 20 years ago, 25 years ago, you basically had two options, right? Or three options. You either work in hotels and cruises, you work in standalone restaurants, or maybe you're a private chef. That was it. The opportunities now are huge. All right, well, isn't that a good place for us.
Josh Sharkey [00:55:34]:
Alright, well, I think that's a good place for us to stop here and cheers to us as chefs and chefs as a whole being lucky.
John Adler [00:55:53]:
Yeah. Thank you. No, this was great.
Josh Sharkey [00:55:58]:
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 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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