Chef Danny Lledo: “Be on time”

Be on time. Not only for the event but also with deliveries for the event so everyone has everything beforehand. This shows your respect for your audience’s time and they will appreciate that. As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had […]

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Be on time. Not only for the event but also with deliveries for the event so everyone has everything beforehand. This shows your respect for your audience’s time and they will appreciate that.

As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danny Lledó.

Currently one of the most awarded paella chefs in America, Lledó has accumulated eleven paella honors including six first place awards: Best Paella at the Paella Wine & Beer Festival in Los Angeles, California in October 2016 and October 2018 and at PaellaFest in Washington, D.C. in May 2019; People’s Choice Paella at the Paella Wine & Beer Festival in Orange County, California in August 2017; the Best Valencian Paella at the Paella Wine & Beer in San Diego, California in May 2018 and in Los Angeles, California in October 2018, and at PaellaFest in Washington, D.C. in May 2019. Lledó’s wins on the West Coast have garnered more invitations for him to compete internationally. He competed as a finalist at the prestigious Paella Valenciana de Sueca International Competition in September 2018, as a finalist of Fideua de Gandia International Competition in May 2019, and again at the Paella Valenciana de Sueca International Competition in September 2019, where he received the Accèsit award.

Lledó’s Portuguese and Spanish heritage combined with his passion for food, wine and hospitality. This service mindset complements his other talent — a strong foundation from his professional background in finance. While Lledó’s cooking resonates with guests and colleagues alike, he is also comfortable presiding over a board meeting, in public speaking and media appearances, and leading a wine tasting.

A graduate of the University of Maryland in College Park, Lledó worked for three years in the financial industry, creating his own consulting company, VLC Advisory. He consulted on business ventures, real estate transactions, and the hospitality industry — specializing in restaurants. This melding of interests eventually drew him back into his first love — creating delicious dishes and sharing them. In 2012, Lledó decided to return to the family vocation. He made the transition to restaurant owner and managing director of Fancy Hospitality, purchasing his first restaurant Crush Kitchen & Winehouse in Annapolis, Maryland. In 2013, Lledó took over management of Slate Wine Bar in the Glover Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C. In July 2019, Lledó closed Slate Wine Bar so it could be reimagined as a fresh new wine bar destination with small plates, creative cocktails, updated décor, and an excellent assortment of fine wines.

In February 2020, Lledó opened Xiquet, which serves as the next chapter of his culinary career. Xiquet is the culmination of years of menu development and perfecting the wood-fire cooking techniques inspired by his Denía heritage. Xiquet is a fine dining experience that transports guests to the coast of Valencia with authentic ingredients, five and eight-course tasting menu options, and a curated selection of fine wines and spirits.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Growing up I spent a part of my life in Denia, Spain. I had the opportunity to witness how food brings people together. My family and friends were all involved in different parts of the food industry. My uncle had a commercial fishing boat, a few of my aunts had farms, and close friends of mine had restaurants that bought fish, meats and vegetables from my family. It was unique to be able to see the whole process come together at such an early age. My father is a Cordon Bleu trained chef back in the 50s in Paris and growing up in that culture is something that shaped me and my vision dramatically.

Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?

My father inspired me to become a chef. He was a great chef that grew up in Denia, Spain, moved to Paris and went to culinary school there, where he specialized in Spanish and French cuisine. He shared that passion for cooking with me and I knew at a young age I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

In terms of pursuing fine dining, my accomplishments in competitions around the world have allowed me to to perfect my craft. From a logistical standpoint it has also tailored me to be able to conduct this style of dining by sharpening my managerial skills and my ability to perform under pressure.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Interestingly enough, once I was asked to come out of the kitchen to talk to a customer, and it turns out that he thought he knew me because he worked with my father at Ridgewells Catering! Once I confirmed to him who I was, he stood up, shook my hand, and said that my father would be proud of me. You really never know who you are going to serve in the restaurant business!

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Pulp Fiction, has really resonated with me during my career. It is the kitchen fundamentals and the basics of a good dish. It makes you realize at the end of the day a good dish isn’t about having 40 different ingredients on one plate, but rather the quality of the product illustrated in its best form. When I think of Pulp Fiction I think of burgers. I think sometimes in cuisine the element get lost by making it too fancy. Getting back to the fundamentals and the essence of the dish and how it comes about in the best light is crucial. I take this into my everyday life when I think about creating a new dish.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Especially during Covid-19 I look back at a sports principle I learned growing up. “It’s really hard to defeat somebody that doesn’t give up.” That is specifically relevant right now during these times where restaurants are constantly struggling. I remind myself of that quote to help myself get through the difficulties we face every day.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?

I have led many large in person events in catering jobs and festivals in the past, but never virtual events. Because of Covid-19, I felt I needed to take my cooking skills and experience in in-person events online so that I could continue to share my passion of cooking with others. We started with public zoom paella cooking classes which was a strategy to push out ingredients in my kitchen that we would normally be cooking for dine in guests. We used the ingredients to pack individualized portions for the participants of the class so when our dining room was closed so we could keep our business open and ingredients from going to waste. These classes became a hit and we were able to continue to have classes every month. We even had the opportunity to open these classes up nationally so that people all across the country could join in and learn the art of paella.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?

I learn more about conducting virtual events each time we teach a class. The more practice with interacting through Zoom the better. Different classes and audiences will propose different challenges. For example, when I did a class for 35 high school students, I experienced challenges I never had before. This pushed me to grow and think differently in terms of who my audience is and what their level of communication will be like in the class. Our zoom classes are interactive and our guests can actually ask questions while we are all cooking. This is a great feature but also changes depending on the dynamic of the group. You can have a group that isn’t interacting which gives more responsibility to myself. Or you can have a very interactive group that doesn’t need for me to be filling the room as much. This led me to slow down and start implementing recaps throughout the class

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Although they are not considered “live” in the sense others can interact like how our virtual classes are set up, but I think Food Network TV does a great job of encouraging others to participate and create a sense of engagement and community.

What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Some mistakes I have seen in general are due to interference of equipment. Sometimes technology can be challenging so to prepare better we make sure everything is ready to go 15–30 minutes beforehand and make sure everything is plugged in correctly and working properly so there are no hiccups during the live virtual event.

Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?


Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?

Make sure people have instructions and know the time of the class beforehand. Sending reminders for any virtual event is extremely helpful for those with a busy schedule. I also recommend if you are doing any sort of zoom class having a pre or post activity that is meaningful and important to tie in where you can.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Be on time. Not only for the event but also with deliveries for the event so everyone has everything beforehand. This shows your respect for your audience’s time and they will appreciate that.

Make sure your participants have everything they need for preparation. Never go straight into your class without making sure everyone has what they need to succeed. I make sure once we have all joined to identify the ingredients they will need for the class and the equipment they will be using. We then go into an intro so they get a sense of balance and everything is clear.

Speak clearly and understand that you might need to repeat yourself. Expect to repeat yourself and build in time for any clarifications that may need to be made throughout the virtual event.

Have different points of the class where you do recaps — This is extremely helpful to make sure everyone is on the same page and no one is lost. Everyone is taking the class at their own speed and recaps are a great way to check in and make sure everyone is having the best experience possible.

Make sure you are appreciative and share personal stories to connect with your audience. Share things like how their participation in the class affects your business, share stories about what you are doing, how you learned, the history of the dish, etc. This will make it feel more like a personalized experience than just a general class.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Make sure you know who your audience is

Make sure they have everything they need and that you can deliver it to them in a timely manner

Have a PLS system to make it easy to understand and order.

Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If I could inspire a movement, it would be one surrounding sustainability practices for every restaurant. We recycle and reuse so many things in-house, even down to the cardboard from wine shipments and miscellaneous paper to start wood for our wood-fire kitchen. Every restaurant should determine and utilize environmental best practices that make it a more efficient and sustainable business overall.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Mark Cuban

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