New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park has achieved the ultimate level of fame in the dining world, having been awarded the title of “best restaurant in the city.” Daniel Humm, the head chef at this esteemed dining spot, is the mastermind behind the whole operation.
Humm, having arrived at Eleven Madison Park seven years ago, sought to overturn the conventional notion of fine dining and create a completely new experience for the customer, enchanting and entrancing the diner with each course, and ultimately cultivating a completely unforgettable experience.
Entering the restaurant, one obtains a sense of scale and grandiosity that is undoubtedly a precursor for the ensuing meal.
The building dates back to the 1920s, and is a true example of Art Deco architecture at its finest, with a cavernous hall, terrazzo floors and nickeled walls. In fact, the building was originally part of the MetLife corporate headquarters, tuned into a restaurant in 1998 by notable foodie and restaurant mogul Danny Meyer.
The setting could be any European hall of a fine dining room, with an air of excellence palpable as soon as you walk through the doors. However, Eleven Madison Park goes beyond French haute cuisine cooking, and embellishes each meal with a little twist, thereby achieving its many illustrious titles and Michelin stars.
Humm, the youngest chef in Switzerland to ever achieve a Michelin star, is at the forefront of this cooking evolution, wanting to change the way people eat and interact with food.
His level of precision and attention to detail certainly do not go unnoticed, and his bright ideas continue to make a splash. One of Humm’s most interesting experiments at Eleven Madison Park began with the traditional menu layout.
Humm, seeking to replenish vibrancy within the old-world environment, created a ‘grid’ concept, essentially allowing and encouraging customers to build their meal around specific ingredients instead of predetermined recipes. Ultimately, these sixteen items available give the diner an unparalleled level of power, and provide the most personal and intuitive dining experience possible.
With restaurants keen to accommodate as many seats as quickly as possible, it is rare to find such careful and attentive behavior. In a similar vein, Humm bestows the diners with a gift of homemade granola at the end of dinner, to be eaten at breakfast the following morning. This serves as a token, to remind the customers of the incredible dining experience they had the night before.
Humm hails from Switzerland, in a remote village called Strengelbach, located near Zurich. Humm, who moved to The States in 2003, had no previous connection to America beforehand, with no family or friends living in the country.
Humm was world’s away from America growing up, so much so that he “didn’t even speak the language!” upon arrival. Some of Humm’s earliest childhood memories relate to cooking, when he was “cleaning and shucking peas” with his mother, and going to the market with her “to pick out fresh and local ingredients.”
When asked about the origins of his career in cooking, Humm told us about his beginnings at age fourteen, when he “dropped out of school to pursue what I was really passionate about.”
Humm stands alone in his family as the only professional chef, yet cites his mother as one of the key mentors in his life: “for raising me, teaching me, and impacting my life as much as she did.”
And as for a secondary mentor? “Gérard Rabaey—a chef I worked under for many years, and the one who I credit with truly helping me learn what it meant to be a chef and a leader in the kitchen.”
When reminiscing about his career as a head chef, it is hard for Humm to pinpoint one moment.
I have been blessed to have many, all of which were impactful and special for me. Though, one that I remember vividly was when we found out that Frank Bruni and the New York Times had awarded us four stars. We were constantly refreshing the dining section website, anxiously awaiting the review, and then when it was finally up we all cheered. It was very special.
Humm looks to many sources for inspiration when coming up with a recipe, including varying industries and brands based in New York, and the inherent culinary roots that the city possesses.
Our process allows us to really create a narrative and build an experience for our guests that is wholly unique, but also familiar at the same time – HUMM
With each dish we go through a similar process, always looking at the amazing ingredients we have and finding ways to showcase them.
Eleven Madison Park’s most popular dish also happens to be Humm’s favorite— the roasted duck with honey and lavender;
After all, it is the one dish that remains on our menu season after season.
Humm is certainly busy in the upcoming months, with a packed holiday season in the restaurant as well as working on a third cookbook to come out this year. However, he no doubt will continue to surprise and delight us, just like receiving a bounty of beautiful granola at the end of a meal.