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Eleven Madison Park isn’t just serving fine fare. “We are telling our story,” said Co–Owner and Chef Daniel Humm. “A story of fine dining and how it can be fun, that hospitality can be genuine, and food delicious, yet still simple. We want guests to be at home, to relax, and to enjoy an experience with us. We’re not there to impose rules on them.”
For this edition of Whitewaller New York, we spoke with Humm about that story and more.
WHITEWALLER: Can you tell us a bit about the restaurant’s two new menus since its reopening? What is your favorite dish?
DANIEL HUMM: The menu always evolves at Eleven Madison Park–that’s part of our DNA–so the changes after we reopened might not be glaring, at least as far as the food. But some of the changes are more in the philosophy behind the dishes, a notion of simplicity and minimalist plating that we’ve only furthered over time. What’s constant is that all of our food is based on four fundamentals, on the idea that every dish must be: delicious, creative, intentional, and beautiful. We’ve had two menus served since we reopened, the fall and now the winter. I’m so proud of the food we’ve been serving and feel it is incredibly reflective of our restaurant today and my perspective as a chef.
Right now, a dish I truly love is the cold foie gras layered with squash and pumpkin seeds. It’s stunning, simple, but also complex. Another is the tableside mushroom course—a dish that brings a fun element of service into the dining room.
WW: There’s also a bit of art in the new space, such as Rita Ackermann’s. How did you go about choosing the pieces? Why did you choose them?
DH: I’ve always been drawn to the art world and have found a lot of inspiration in art over the years. And as part of our renovation, we wanted to bring that inspiration into the space to have the art evolve from what it used to be and have more meaning to the restaurant. Rita is so talented, one of the best artists I know, and what she did with her piece in the main dining room is very emotional, very reflective—she essentially drew the previous art that hung in the dining room and erased it time after time. A chalkboard painting. Daniel Turner took most of the old kitchen and melted it into a 1,000-pound, 16-foot-long step that greets guests as they enter the dining room. Olympia Scarry created the stained glass artwork that hangs above the doorway. Then there is the original Sol LeWitt that surrounds one of the private dining rooms. I try and incorporate art in the surroundings, as well as on the plate.
WW: Tell us a bit about your relationship with contemporary art. What about it inspires you?
DH: Art moves me, inspires me, makes me think outside my world in the restaurants. And it has become a passion of mine, something I look to when I want to reflect, take myself out of a moment, or find ways to evolve and grow. There are so many paths artists can go, yet never end up on the same exact one. That to me is beautiful.
WW: You’ve mentioned that an EMP dish must have these qualities: deliciousness, beauty, creativity, and intent. What’s the most important of the four? Why?
DH: Delicious. Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.
WW: Tell us a bit about the art of presentation at EMP.
DH: Back to those four fundamentals, our dishes must be beautiful and creative, but there also needs to be simplicity. I believe it is more difficult but rewarding if we can plate a dish with only a few ingredients than if we have to add a dozen to a plate. When we can achieve that, we are confident, focused, and it makes a better experience for the guests.
WW: Your Summer House pop-up over the summer in the Hamptons was successful, and you’re planning to do a reiteration in Aspen. What can we expect?
DH: The summer will begin Memorial Day weekend and you can expect a similar vibe to last year. The food you want to eat after a day at the beach, plenty of cocktails, great wine, games, and a relaxed environment. We had so much fun out there that we knew we had to return. And for Aspen… Well, to make the Hamptons location work, we had to employ a staff, and making it more than a few months commitment was important to us. With Aspen, we can bring that same summer team out West to the mountains. I’m excited to bring the flavors of my Swiss youth to the menu, to create a new menu that reflects my heritage.
WW: When you’re not in the restaurant, where do you personally like to eat, drink, and see art?
DH: I Sodi, Russ and Daughters, Pasquale Jones, Kajitsu, Hauser & Wirth, and Dia: Beacon. Just to name a few!