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Daniel Humm x Alain Ducasse

Daniel Humm and Alain Ducasse Join For 8 Nights of Culinary Excellence 

Next week in New York at Eleven Madison Park, Chef Daniel Humm and Chef Alain Ducasse will partner on an exclusive eight-course plant-based menu.

Eliza Jordan

15 February 2024

Earlier this month at Le Meurice in Paris, Chef Alain Ducasse partnered with Chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park to create an eight-course plant-based meal. Available for four nights only from January 30–February 2, the table d’hôte included plant-based dishes that blend both visionary’s modern French cooking techniques—unique to each of their Michelin-starred restaurants. Elevated and modern, healthy and sustainable, the plates were complemented by sophisticated wine offerings by sommeliers from both Le Meurice and Eleven Madison Park, with the entire experience harmonized by the restaurants’ front-of-house teams working side-by-side.  Unique in collaboration and pure culinary star power, the exclusive event will travel next to New York, available at Eleven Madison Park from February 20–23, and offer a slightly different menu.

Alain Ducasse and Daniel Humm’s Partnership

Daniel Humm x Alain Ducasse

Alain Ducasse, Amaury Bouhours, and Daniel Humm, courtesy of Le Meurice and Eleven Madison Park.

The partnership emerges after decades of gastronomy brilliance for both creators, which has evolved into a fine appreciation of vegetable-forward dishes. In 1987, Ducasse famously brought a plant-based menu to his restaurant Le Louis XV, inside Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. And Humm, notably known for his stance on plant-based cooking and transparent culinary practices, has kept Eleven Madison Park vegetarian since 2021. Just one year later, it earned the title of the first-ever three-Michelin-starred plant-based restaurant in the world. Since, it has held this distinction.

Inspiring for their dedication to the world of gastronomy, as well as their naturalistic approaches to food, both Ducasse and Humm approached this special collaboration to celebrate the magic of natural ingredients and the magic of culinary traditions. Both, for instance, studied Shojin cuisine under Toshio Tanahashi, nicknamed the “Veg Whisperer,”  in the Gesshin-in Buddhist Temple in Kyoto. Equal parts spiritual and technical, the honored approach synergizes with both Ducasse and Humm, who aim to engrain vegetable-forward haute cuisine into food culture.

Plant-Based Menu Highlights

The special menu will highlight an array of dishes that merge plates from both spaces and even introduce new ingredients, like cauliflower with tonburi, a dish Eleven Madison Park created for its first vegetarian menu in 2021; and fried sweet potato with plantain, complemented by lime and chili, with plantain being an entirely new ingredient for Humm. 

In celebration of the partnership, Ducasse and Humm shared with Whitewall how this partnership highlights the natural wonder of cooking with vegetables, how a chef’s role must evolve around the planet, and what they’re looking forward to in 2024.

Daniel Humm x Alain Ducasse

Courtesy of Le Meurice and Eleven Madison Park.

WHITEWALL: This culinary collaboration is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who get to enjoy it in Paris or New York. What sparked the partnership?

ALAIN DUCASSE: I’ve closely followed Daniel’s career and what he’s been doing with Eleven Madison Park. He’s proven himself as one of the most important chefs of his generation. I observe very carefully his work on plant-based dishes and find it daring and courageous.

DANIEL HUMM: Chef Ducasse has been a mentor and idol of mine since the beginning of my career. At the time I decided to become a chef, Ducasse represented the pinnacle of the industry—with two restaurants each with 2-3 stars and several books under his belt. I was a huge fan and devoured every book and every article written on him. Not only was he essential to the creation of modern French cuisine, but he is also an innovator and has contributed greatly to the world of plant-forward cooking.

I was deeply honored when Chef Ducasse was one of the first real supporters of our decision to serve a plant-based menu. That support and shared passion for plant-based fine dining is what led to this collaborative dinner.

Plant-Based Dishes That Awaken the Senses

Eleven Madison Park, courtesy of Make it Nice.

WW: What‘s on the menu?

AD: With my executive chef at Le Meurice, Amaury Bouhours, we created four dishes. Here are two of them:

Red Beet, Mild Red Pepper and Amaranth soufflé. The beet is prepared in different forms: as pickles, dehydrated and then rehydrated, as a confit, lactic acid fermented… This offers an interesting array of tastes and structures which is completed by the crunchy effect of the amaranth soufflé.

Green Cabbage, Hop and Buddha’s Hand. The cabbage is grilled. The reduction of hop brings a bit of bitterness which contrasts with the juice made with the heart of cabbage which is almost milky. The citrus brings an acid note to the recipe.

DH: The menus for New York and Paris differ slightly, but overall we wanted to show some of the different elements of Eleven Madison Park’s journey as a plant-based restaurant over the last three years. Two courses, in particular, reflect this:

Cauliflower with Tonburi, which is one of the first courses that we developed for our plant-based menu in 2021, and Fried Sweet Potato with Plantain, Lime, and Chili, which shows our growth over recent years and features ingredients and techniques that we haven’t used before (such as plantain).

To make it, we scoop out crescents of sweet potato, tossed with habanada butter, and then fill them with roasted sweet potato. The next layer is a sweet potato and plantain masa, which is topped with shingled plantain crescents. The whole dish is lightly tempura fried, and then finished with a habanada romesco and coffee powder, and garnished with lime leaf and sea fennel.

French Techniques with a Forward-Thinking Twist

Daniel Humm x Alain Ducasse

Daniel Humm and Alain Ducasse, courtesy of Le Meurice and Eleven Madison Park.

WW: You’re both trained in classic French cooking techniques. What might you bring to the table that the other doesn’t? Any specific approaches or perspectives?

AD: Before being a great plant-based chef, Daniel is, first and foremost, a great chef. To make this completely plant-based haute cuisine, you must be a bit rash and, above all, very brave.

DH: I find curiosity one of the most powerful attributes, and Chef Ducasse has been living and showing that as we’ve crafted this menu together. We have a lot of culinary synergies between our work. We both learned from Toshio Tanahashi, in the Gesshin-in Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, whose Shojin cuisine is characterized by a highly technical, spiritual approach with an uncompromising respect for the produce, seasons, and Earth.

WW: What was it like creating these dishes? What has your creative process been like behind the scenes to envision this menu?

AD: When making the menu, we first had to create a snapshot of what the season will offer us in terms of in-season ingredients to focus on and elevate. Cooking with vegetables can be very demanding, but for us the beauty of plant-based cooking is that you must be in tune and honor the seasons.

Then, there are also many other parameters which may drive the creativity. The venue is one: being in Paris or in New York doesn’t lead you to the same approach. In each case, the food-lovers are specific and the ambiance in the restaurant is also specific. The plant-based cuisine is deeply rooted in the nature yet also anchored in the here-and-now of the dining experience.

DH: It’s a beautiful dialogue between us. We have tasted a lot of different dishes while crafting this menu to ensure the meal leaves people with a sense of magic and wonder around eating plant-based dishes. Our team has learned a lot in the last three years of plant-based cooking, and it’s been interesting to see another kitchen think through the same questions we had in the beginning.

Commonalities of a Chef

Eleven Madison Park

Courtesy of Eleven Madison Park.

WW: What outlooks on food or the profession of a chef do you share?

AD: Plant-based cooking is much more than just a fashionable trend. Behind it, there is a fundamental re-thinking of our relation with nature. What is at stake is nothing less than the future of the planet. We must reconsider our food habits and especially the proportion of animal proteins versus vegetable proteins. Neither Daniel nor myself are anti-meat. We just want to emphasize that first, breeding is costly for the environment and second, that eating more vegetable produce is more sustainable and, by the way, healthier. This is the mission of chefs to spread the word.

This leads me to say a word about education since this is where spreading the word starts. In my network of schools, “Ecole Ducasse”, in France and abroad (like in the Philippines, Brazil, India, Thailand, and Abu Dhabi), we put a great emphasis upon this new, more sustainable approach to cooking. We have thus a very significant impact upon our industry since we train thousands of young professionals yearly.

DH: We are both very aware that the food system needs to change how it operates in order to be more sustainable. We each strive to make an impact with our restaurants and careers – and even with this partnership – we want to help the restaurant industry shift towards a more pro-planet approach.

Mentoring up-and-coming talent is another passion Chef Ducasse and I both share – and in fact, early in my career he served as a mentor to me from afar. As part of Eleven Madison Park’s 25th anniversary celebrations last year, we kicked off an Alumni Series, welcoming back talent such as Connie Chung, Hussain Shahzad, James Kent, and Charlie Mitchell. Returning to our kitchen after many years, they share their own techniques and approaches with our team and work hand-in-hand to create one-of-a-kind plant-based dishes that celebrate each chef’s personal style, showcasing their incredible achievements.

Cooking in Collaboration

Daniel Humm x Alain Ducasse

Daniel Humm and Alain Ducasse, courtesy of Le Meurice and Eleven Madison Park.

WW: How does it feel to work in tandem with each other?

AD: It has been very hands-on between the Eleven Madison Park and Le Meurice teams as we build the menus for both the Paris and New York dinners. Amaury Bouhours, my executive chef, is a very talented and experienced professional and Daniel’s Senior Sous Chef, Stefano Casale, used to work with him at Le Meurice before joining EMP, so it was an easy and smooth collaboration between the teams.

DH: As I’ve said before, Chef Ducasse has been a mentor of mine for some time now. He changed the perception of what it means to be a great chef. I almost can’t believe that we’re doing this in Alain’s restaurant in Paris, that I’m cooking with this legend and that we’re co-creating a fully plant-based menu, which has been the basis of my passion and vision for Eleven Madison Park in the last few years. The language of food is powerful, and it is just as important to focus on the taste of our food, as well as to put thought behind the ingredients. Chef Ducasse and I share a strong synergy in our approach to menu creation, and it is incredibly inspiring and humbling to witness our teams working together to craft an unforgettable experience for our guests.

WW: For eight nights only, guests can enjoy your collaborative cuisine—with four nights hosted at Eleven Madison Park in New York and four nights at Le Maurice in Paris. What do you feel these two food capitals say about gastronomy today?

AD: The food scene has become multipolar. This phenomenon is among the most important ones which took place in the recent decades. Paris and New York? Yes, obviously. Yet also London and Italy. Without forgetting Tokyo and Kyoto. The list could be continued on and on. In fact, one has never eaten better in the world. Talents and food-lovers are everywhere.

DH: New York and Paris both hold very special places in my heart, so being able to do this collaboration in both cities is something very special to me. Both are global city hotspots in fine dining, and we have a great opportunity and responsibility to set the standard for the industry’s future through continuous innovation.

From Paris to New York and Beyond

Daniel Humm x Alain Ducasse

Courtesy of Le Meurice and Eleven Madison Park.

WW: Le Meurice is an icon in Paris, as is EMP in NYC, yet they’re quite different. What do you feel your restaurants have in common?

AD: We probably have in common to be in cities which are highly competitive! Needless to say that both New York and Paris offer a large array of very good restaurants. Therefore, the question is how to make a difference? I run ten restaurants in Paris, from bistro to Michelin-starred ones. The key question is to determine what is their particular, unique anima, to stick to it and express it. This issue is key for the success of a restaurant.

DH: Both restaurants are filled with some of the most passionate and creative individuals in the industry who are dedicated to using culinary creativity to craft recipes that are both delicious and thoughtful in regard to the planet.

EMP

Photo by Evan Sung.
Courtesy of Eleven Madison Park.

WW: Ducasse, you don’t typically cook an all-plant-based menu, and French cooking is not necessarily catered to vegans, although your first plant-based menu dates back to 1987 at your restaurant in Monaco, Le Louis XV. Chef Humm has also eaten there, and expressed his enthusiasm for its dishes. What has your evolution in plant-based been since then? Has cooking in this way sparked a new form of respect for a good old classic vegetable dish?

AD: In 2014, in Paris, in the restaurant I was running at that time, I developed a cuisine that I labeled “La Naturalité-Naturalness”. It was based on vegetables, cereals, and some fish coming from sustainable fishing. In 2014, I published a book, Manger est un acte citoyen, which explains the impact of food on the plent and the changes in food habits, which are today urgent. In 2021 in Paris, I opened a refettorio, Sapid, which proposes a food that is 95 percent plant-based at very accessible prices.

WW: Together, you hold nearly 25 stars. Aside from the reasons why you earned these accolades, what do you admire about each other?

AD: Daniel belongs to the generation of chefs who bring a much welcome stimulation to contemporary cuisine. Dan Barber, Alex Atala, Romain Meder and ten others are part of this global re-thinking of today’s cooking. This wave of talent is very promising for the future.

DH: Chef Ducasse and I are dedicated to the education and development of the next generation of chefs and culinary professionals. His development and sharing of knowledge through books and schools to train up-and-coming chefs is something I admire wholeheartedly. It is always such a joy to watch their careers take off and see them find their voice in the culinary world.

The Future of Fine Dining

Eleven Madison Park - Daniel Humm 9

Photo by Ye Fan, courtesy of Eleven Madison Park.

WW: The fine dining culinary space is evolving. How would you describe where we’re heading?

AD: What is at stake is the role cooking can—and must—play for the planet. The objective is quite clear and, I guess, shared by almost everyone in the profession. Then, we have to find the most efficient way to reach it. I believe that fine dining can draw the entire industry. It’s like in the fashion industry: the visible part of the iceberg is haute couture but it leads behind it the ready-to-wear. In other words, fine dining must show the direction, lead the thinking. If fine dining is able to demonstrate that a more durable way of eating is not only possible yet also desirable, the rest of the industry will follow.

DH: In fine dining, sourcing seasonal ingredients is a cornerstone of our sustainability efforts. By prioritizing locally available produce, we are actively supporting local farmers and promoting biodiversity. The focus on seasonal ingredients allows us to adapt our menus to climate variability, further enhancing the flavor and quality of our dishes and also providing an opportunity to educate people about the importance of making mindful and sustainable food choices.

Eleven Madison Park - Daniel Humm 9

Photo by Ye Fan, courtesy of Eleven Madison Park.

WW: What are you looking forward to in 2024?

AD: I will soon open a restaurant in Roma at Romeo Hotel—another challenge since Italian cuisine is among the top ones worldwide and Italian customers are particularly demanding. I will also celebrate the 25th anniversary of my country inn, L’Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle, where I propose an elegant version of the traditional Southern cuisine.

Last but not least, we started the rehabilitation work of La Maison du Peuple near Paris—an iconic work of art where we will showcase the art of our manufacturers along with restaurants and some offices of our group. It is dear to my heart because it dates back to the late 1930s and is considered as a milestone of the 20th-century architecture.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a cook, or an architect, or a traveler. I’m fortunate enough to be the three of them.

DH: I love that people are accepting a more plant-based diet when it comes to fine dining. It’s time to collectively drive awareness in the choices we make in our food to lead us to a more sustainable and purposeful future.

Many people believe that meat has a higher value than vegetables and that it is synonymous with high-end dining. If Eleven Madison Park can change the perception of what a luxury ingredient is by highlighting the care and planning that goes into cultivating our produce and the level of skill and creativity that goes into the preparation of each dish, I suspect more plant-forward restaurants would find their way into the fine dining space.

Eleven Madison Park, courtesy of Make it Nice.

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THE WINTER EXPERIENCE ISSUE
2023

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Susan Chen's first solo show at Rachel Uffner is on view now through April 20 in New York, including works in clay and ne paintings.
Whitewall's Winter 2024 cover story spotlights the artist just as his time with the L’Académie des Beaux-Arts Residency was wrapping up.
Whitewall spoke with Eleven Madison Parks's owner and chef, Daniel Humm, about moving away from meat and his latest book.

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