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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Dan Giusti Left as Head Chef at Noma to Feed School Kids

Dan Giusti and the World’s Fanciest Fluffernutter

Welcome to Season 2, Episode 6 of Tinfoil Swans, a new podcast from Food & Wine. New episodes drop every Tuesday. Listen and follow on: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen

Tinfoil Swans Podcast

On this episode

At the end of 2015, Dan Giusti shocked the culinary world by walking away from his position as head chef at Noma. Not for another restaurant job, but to feed school children, senior citizens, incarcerated people, and hospital patients through his new company, Brigaid. Food & Wine named Brigaid as one of its 2024 Game Changers for its goal of not only feeding some of the country’s most vulnerable people — but also giving professional restaurant chefs a chance at a sustainable career. In this episode, Giusti explained why he made the radical move, how he deals with the haters, and why he believes everyone on earth deserves a good meal.

Meet our guest

Dan Giusti is the founder of Brigaid, a company that partners professional chefs with institutional food-service programs, to give schoolchildren, seniors, hospital patients, and incarcerated people regular access to delicious, nourishing food. Previous to that, the Culinary Institute of America graduate worked as executive chef of 1789 in Washington, D.C., and head chef of Noma in Copenhagen.

Meet our host

Kat Kinsman is the executive features editor at Food & Wine, author of Hi, Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves, host of Food & Wine’s podcast, and founder of Chefs With Issues. Previously, she was the senior food & drinks editor at Extra Crispy, editor-in-chief and editor at large at Tasting Table, and the founding editor of CNN Eatocracy. She won a 2020 IACP Award for Personal Essay/Memoir and has had work included in the 2020 and 2016 editions of The Best American Food Writing. She was nominated for a James Beard Broadcast Award in 2013, won a 2011 EPPY Award for Best Food Website with 1 million unique monthly visitors, and was a finalist in 2012 and 2013. She is a sought-after international keynote speaker and moderator on food culture and mental health in the hospitality industry, and is the former vice chair of the James Beard Journalism Committee.

Highlights from the episode

On childhood dreams

“The thing I wanted to be first as a child was a blueberry muffin. I actually wanted to be a muffin. And I think that there was something there communicating that I wanted to be in food.”

On working in the systems

“In 10 minutes, you can learn enough to tell you a few things: You learn that there’s a very small amount of money that goes towards feeding kids. You learn that there [are] nutritional guidelines that need to be followed. I don’t think by doing cursory research, you really understand the complications that go beyond those things. Do chefs have a magic wand to solve all the issues that exist in institutional food? No, of course not. There [are] so many things that go beyond the chef’s ability. But I knew that if more chefs work in the space, that they could be a part of working with folks who already work in the space to make it better.”

On the similarity between Noma and a school cafeteria

“I use the word thoughtful a lot, and it’s the same concept of when I was at Noma where they think of everything. Basically there’s no cap on how much you can do to make something better. There’s always something you can do a little better. And when you apply that same thinking to a very simple setting, it doesn’t matter if you’re making a sandwich — that’s someone’s lunch. Even though that individually wrapped item might not be of the highest quality, there’s still a way to heat it up properly. I always say all food is the same. It’s just like different parameters, different budget, different customers. The amount of thought you put into something is completely determined by you.”

On priorities

“When we first went into New London, Connecticut, people were like, ‘We should just send our kids to schools in limousines.’ Because they thought it was the most extraneous thing to do. In a lot of schools, parents are advocating for their kids. but it’s definitely the bottom of the list in terms of priority when it comes to schools. I think if you asked your average parent what they would prefer money to be spent on, new technology or food, they’d probably say new technology, that would be my guess, and that’s a shame.”

On stress

“I worry constantly. I’m a very anxious person. And when I was at Noma, all I was stressed about was the guests who were coming in and what they would think. That’s all I cared about. That’s all that mattered. Every day, it never stopped. Lunch and dinner, big time guests, every table. Who are they? Why are they here? What are they saying on Instagram? What are they writing about? That’s all I thought about constantly. I could tell you where people sat at different years when I was there. I mean, I was locked in. Was I really worried about the cohesion of the team? Probably not. Now, really what I’m worried about is providing the best service we can to our partners, whether it’s a public school or a senior center. One of the other things is making sure that people on my team are happy.”

On knowing your audience

“When we first started, we definitely overshot what we needed to do to get kids to be happy. We were doing all kinds of wild stuff with the food and they were like, ‘Wait a minute, what is this?’ One thing that I’ll always remember is we served water in dispensers, and we were cutting fruit at the time. Previous to us starting in our first school district, most of the fruit was served whole. We had pineapple cores and a couple slices of lime, and we would put it in the water, and kids were just like, ‘This is great.’ And it was so funny because we simultaneously were making all this scratch cooked food that was what we were like, ‘We’re gonna blow kids away with.’ And they hated it.”

About the podcast

Food & Wine has led the conversation around food, drinks, and hospitality in America and around the world since 1978. Tinfoil Swans continues that legacy with a new series of intimate, informative, surprising, and uplifting interviews with the biggest names in the culinary industry, sharing never-before-heard stories about the successes, struggles, and fork-in-the-road moments that made these personalities who they are today.

This season, you’ll hear from icons and innovators like Daniel Boulud, Rodney Scott, Asma Khan, Emeril and E.J. Lagasse, Claudia Fleming, Dave Beran, Dan Giusti, Priya Krishna, Lee Anne Wong, Cody Rigsby, Kevin Gillespie and other special guests going deep with host Kat Kinsman on their formative experiences; the dishes and meals that made them; their joys, doubts and dreams; and what’s on the menu in the future. Tune in for a feast that’ll feed your brain and soul — and plenty of wisdom and quotable morsels to savor.

New episodes drop every Tuesday. Listen and follow on: Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you listen.

These interview excerpts have been edited for clarity.

Editor’s Note: The transcript for download does not go through our standard editorial process and may contain inaccuracies and grammatical errors.

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