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From West to East coast, hes the Swiss chef who has conquered the US. Daniel Humm
reveals how a review in the New York Observer changed it all, writes Kerry Spencer.
t all started about six years ago when we
received a review in the New York Observer. Daniel
Humm, chef-patron of three-Michelin-starred Eleven
Madison Park explains: The review was wonderful,
but the reviewer said that the restaurant needed a
little more Miles Davis.
We didnt quite know what that meant, and so we
started researching Miles Davis. We came to realize that Miles knew the
rules of music, but wasnt afraid to break them. He wasnt scared to
reinvent his music, even when it was being well-received. That resonated
with me. We came up with a list of the 11 words most often used to
describe him, and hung those words in our kitchen as a source of
inspirationcool, collaborative, spontaneous, adventurous, etc. Since
then, Miles Davis has been a huge part of our identity and a huge part of
why and how I do what I do.
Daniel is a native of Switzerland, but for the past seven years hes been
the darling of Manhattan. He earned his rst Michelin star at the age of
24, in 2000, at Gasthaus zum Gupf in the Swiss Alps. He is ranked
at number four in The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants Guide 2014one
position up from last year; he has earned three Michelin stars at Eleven
Madison Park and in 2010 he received the James Beard Award for Best
Chef: NYC. Thats some feat for any chef, never mind one under forty.
The awards we receivethe Michelin stars, the James Beard Awards,
the S.Pellegrino rankingare all for things weve done in the past. And
so whenever we receive an award, we reect on it and enjoy it, but then
we go back to working as hard as we can in order to achieve the next
milestone. Complacency has never been an option. We are constantly
setting goals and doing everything we can to achieve themcooking
towards the future with an appreciation for the past.
What stands Daniel and Eleven Madison Parkthe restaurant he
has co-owned with Will Guidara since 2011apart, is in part down
to the unique menu, which is a combination of composed dishes and
communal courses, that encourage diners to interact over food and

drinks. We ask that guests tell us if theres anything they dont eat, [are]
allergic to [or] anything they simply dont like, and we cook for them. Its
as simple as that, Daniel explains.
Growing up in Switzerland, Daniel had instant access to fresh,
seasonal produce. In the middle of Manhattan, he has to reach a little
further for local ingredients.
Daniels most recent book, I Love NY: Ingredients and Recipes, which
he co-wrote with Will, shares in their favorite New York producers
exploring more than 50 farms in the state and showcasing that New
York City restaurants dont have to stretch all that far for top produce.
The book also explores local farming traditions, taking readers on a
journey from eld to fork; a simple food philosophy, which has resonated
with Daniel from a young age. I spent my childhood going to the
market with my mother. We ate very seasonally and very locallyfrom
Alpine cheeses to suckling pig, to the freshest spring peas, he says.
Therefore, the idea of cooking and eating both locally and seasonally
was something that was ingrained in me from childhood, something that
I carried with me from Switzerland to New York.
Daniels most vivid childhood memories center on food, attending the
local market with his mother and handpicking fresh ingredients. Whenever
she bought lettuce, it was my job to wash it, he remembers. The days
when it had rained were the worst because the leaves were covered in
dirt. I would wash them ve or six times making sure they were perfectly
clean before taking them back to my mom. At that point in my life, I didnt
know I would become a chef, but I appreciated that constant pursuit of
perfection in even the simplest of tasks. In my life as a chef, it is a principle
that she instilled in me that I still carry with me today.
I Love NY: Ingredients and Recipes explores some of the unique
producers in the region that Daniel taps into for his menu at Eleven
Madison Park, such as Alex Paffenroths carrot farm. Alex had spent the
last 20 years farming in what is known as black muck soil. His land had
once been the bottom of a lake, and, as a result, his soil was intensely
black and rich in nutrients. It was unlike anything Id ever seen. Daniel
As Ive matured, Ive realized that it actually takes more skill to make dishes
that highlight an ingredient or two, that really focus on perfecting one
technique, that allows diners to actually enjoy the food, bite by bite.
explains: Five years ago, Alex decided that he wanted to focus more on
growing carrots, because it was the vegetable that best grew in his soil.
We feature Alexs carrots in our carrot tartare.
Before Daniel joined Eleven Madison Park in 2007, he spent time in
San Francisco, working at Campton Place, where he was the recipient of
the 2005 Best New Chef Award from Food & Wine magazine.
The San Francisco Bay Area is known for its brilliant produce, blessed
with the unique climate and landscape of northern California. The climate
and landscape lends itself [to the West Coast]. Daniel explains: You have
beautiful fruit, vegetables and herbs year-round, at your ngertips.
Daniel describes the move to the east coast as a challenge; no longer
having access to year-round fresh ingredients that California is so well-
known and loved for. Moving to New York, with its harsh winters, was
initially challenging. I sought ingredients from other places in the States
and overseas. But over the years I came to appreciate the beauty of the
seasons and of each ones unique offerings. I came to realize that some
of the best produce, such as the tastiest shellsh and the most unique
game, was right in our backyard. I have come to love New York, not only
for its cultural vibrancy, but also for its great agricultural bounty.
Daniels relationship with New York is reected in his book, which
features almost 150 recipes inspired by the state. Like many of the worlds
best chefs of today, Alex Atala for example, Daniel also takes inuences
from other local cultural sources. I constantly turn to unexpected
sources for inspiration. Instead of taking inspiration from restaurants or
other food-related venues, I turn to music and art, successful companies
that I admire and leaders in a variety of industries, allowing them to
inuence me in the creative process.
A few years back, Daniel was increasingly concerned with creating
complex disheslayering avors and using multiple techniques. These
days, Daniels style has mellowed and instead he focuses on the most
important aspect of a dish: the ingredients. As Ive matured, Ive realized
that it actually takes more skill to make dishes that highlight an ingredient
or two, that really focus on perfecting one technique, that allows diners
to actually enjoy the food, bite by bite, he says.
I met a guy called Robert Rosenthal, who believed that ducks
shouldnt be raised in a fenced-in area. He believed that if he created the
right environment for them to live, they would never leave. And so far hes
been right. Ive never tasted duck as good as his. We roast them whole,
glazed in lavender and honey [page 62]. Delicious!
Multi-award winner, chef, restaurateur, and author, but, Daniel says,
there is always room for growth. I hope to continue taking risks, both
big and small, that push the boundaries that we currently know in the
food industry.