Chef Daniel Humm on Creating a New Language for Eleven Madison Park

Fine dining aficionados may still be recovering from the latest news to make headlines in the food world last week. Three-star Michelin restaurant Eleven Madison Park announced it will go plant-based as of June 10. After reflecting on the past year, its award-winning chef Daniel Humm decided that he wanted his restaurant to move from being part of the problem to being part of a solution, and “apply his voice to something he really believed in.” EMP will not only be the latest restaurant to make commitments to sustainable gastronomy, but will also be the next three-Michelin starred plant-based restaurants second only to King’s Joy in Beijing.

By now, most of us may be familiar with the benefits of eating a plant-based diet: from reducing our environmental footprint to improving our health – but will Chef Humm be able to recreate the kinds of luxury dining experiences that his restaurant has traditionally been known and continue to be a source of innovation, disruption and inspiration for chefs worldwide?

Eleven Madison Park was my last fine dining experiences before leaving NYC for Miami five years ago. Stepping into this restaurant was like stepping into a parallel universe, were everything from the flowers, to the service, to the art was elevated to the level of sublime. Servers floated around the vaulted space as if on ice skates, while expressive pieces of abstract art hung on the walls, complementing the sensory experience of each course. Among some of the dishes that secured a spot in my memory bank was the beloved duck with daikon and plum,  peektoe crab folded into slivers of radishes, a dramatic baked Alaska flambéed tableside.

Following a conversation with Chef Humm on his podcast, Guy Raz moderated a panel on Clubhouse welcoming Chef Humm to the platform and opening up the stage for questions. It was exciting to learn about Chef Humm’s vision for the restaurant and some of his plans to redefine its menu, but taking the opportunity to “create a new language, a new cuisine.”

Chef Humm shared that he has been hard at work trying to identify some of the traits that make a meal unforgettable. “What is it that people love about meat?” he asked. Is it umami, that complex fifth savory “flavor” that abounds in soy sauce, tomatoes, anchovies, and mushrooms? Is it the texture in something fried? In studying umami, he has found that it is present in many types of fermented foods, including an array of fruits, vegetables and legumes, and continues trying to decipher how the different umami-rich foods can elevate each other.

If this sounds like geeky kitchen talk to you, it’s because it is. He will be experimenting with exciting new techniques to create entirely new ideas. An example is a “fried” course using a specific type of pepper that he is growing and filling with piperade, a Basque stew of cooked down tomatoes, peppers and onions flavored with the heat from espelette peppers. Deep frying it in tempura, he plans to serve it alongside lettuce, daikon radishes, swiss chard, topped with condiments and served like a taco. For desserts, he will make oils and butters from nuts and seeds, making different kinds of nut milks and yogurts, and thickening things with different starches.

To Humm, abstract art and the jazz legend Miles Davis are huge sources of inspiration. He drew parallels of what he is doing with Eleven Madison Park with Bitches Brew, the 1970 jazz album that disrupted the world of jazz music, incorporating electronic elements that at first were hard to understand, but ended up creating an entirely new genre of music

“This is sort of our Bitches Brew moment,” he said.

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