If our food came with a quality assurance sticker, it would read “Inspected by Dan.” As the head chef at Panera Bread®, Dan Kish is responsible for the development, quality, nutritional balance, and presentation of all the soups, sandwiches, salads, and specialty drinks we serve. That’s a big job when you consider there are over 1,400 Panera Bread bakery-cafes across North America.2010-10-01
Kish is not only in charge of making sure the meal you order today is fresh and deliciously satisfying, he’s also responsible for developing new menu items that will delight you years from now. He and his team research and test-market products as far as three years in advance.
Kish joined Panera Bread in 2005 from his alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America, where he was an associate dean. He credits two life experiences for instilling his passion for fresh, real food. The first was visiting his grandparents’ farm in western Pennsylvania for Sunday supper when he was a boy. “Typically all the food on their table came from the farm and was cooked by my grandpa,” Kish says. “In fact, the way he just celebrated his 86th birthday was he made dinner for my whole family.”
The second big influence came during a six-month sabbatical with chef Jean-Michel Bouvier at his Restaurant L’Essential in Chambery, France. Says Kish: “He and I would go to the local cheese makers and farmers, and hunters would show up at the back door of the restaurant with game they’d shot that morning…. The menu was whatever was fresh that day.”
Kish returned from that trip with an even greater appreciation and respect for everything his grandparents had taught him about cooking. “I pay a lot of attention to my ingredients and apply simple techniques to bring out their flavor,” he says. He considered starting his own restaurant, but with three children approaching college age, Kish eventually opted for the opportunity at Panera Bread - a move that he admits surprised him.
“If you would have told me I’d end up working for a 1,400-unit restaurant, I would have said you were crazy,” he says. “But I have a platform here to do things and touch millions of people in a way I would never have had in my own restaurant. Panera Bread is an extension of my values and food sense.”