FOURty Seconds with Daniel Humm

24 Nov 2015
5 min read
FOUR catches up with Manhattan’s culinary wonder, Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park and NoMad, to find out what he’s been up to and how he felt about retaining three stars in this year’s Michelin Guide…

What are your earliest memories of being interested in food?

Food was always a part of my childhood, whether it was the visits to the market with my mother, helping prep ingredients in our kitchen at home, or remembering dishes my family would feast on. Food memories stick with you for a lifetime and they’ve always fascinated me because of the way they can bring people together even if they’ve had very different upbringings.

What would you say has inspired your cooking the most?

Cooking style is something that can always evolve and mine certainly has gone in a different direction since I first began my culinary career. But the greatest inspiration was definitely my mother, because without her I would not have been exposed to food, to seasonal ingredients, and to the joy and pleasure of cooking a meal. Those values have remained and provide a foundation for what will always be important to me in cooking.

Describe your culinary style…

My style used to be one that was more about technique, the number of ingredients I could put on the plate, and trying to wow a guest. But over the years I’ve become more and more focused with my cooking philosophy and simplicity is more important to me. If I can create a dish with 2-3 main ingredients highlighted on the plate and let those shine, then that’s more successful in my eyes because I’m honoring those ingredients in a greater way. A dish must also always be delicious, beautiful, creative, and tell a story. Those are the criteria I view a dish through.

How did you feelwhenyou heard the news that Eleven Madison Park maintained its three-star status and NOMAD recieved one star in the recent release of the Michelin 2016 Guide?

Very happy for the teams at both restaurants. It’s hard to maintain honors like those year-after-year, and it’s a testament to the hard work of everyone involved that we received the stars again. But one thing we always say after making the announcement is that those stars are for the year before, not the year ahead, and we can’t become complacent, or consider our work done. We basically approach the new year with a clean slate. Now we need to earn them again.

What kind of experience do you aim to give guests when you cook for them?

The food must be delicious, the service gracious, and overall the experience has to be one that is fun and memorable. At the end of the day we are serving people food and drinks, so we want to provide them with the most incredible meal they can have, but not lose sight of the fact that people choose to spend their day, or evening with us, and we want them to be comfortable and just have fun.

What are your most indispensable ingredients?

Acid, whether it’s from citrus, vinegars, or lactic acids. Acid in food is just as important, if not more important than salt in food. A squeeze of lime, or a touch of white balsamic vinaigrette can transform a dish and take it from good to great.

What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?

There have been many and I will never take any of them for granted, but one that stands out is our 2009 New York Times review. We received four stars for the first time and it changed our lives forever. We were so nervous leading up to the review and to have Frank Bruni provide that type of support and validation meant the world.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self, starting out a career in the world of food?

There have been a few recipes along the way that I struggled with in my earlier years and I definitely heard about it from my chef at the time. It would be pretty special to go back and be able to perfect those dishes out of the blue. But seriously, I’ve been very blessed that the way my career has unfolded has been for the better at every turn. If anything, I would probably urge my younger self to practice English before actually moving to America.

Your recently did a chef takeover at the Baur au Lac, what was that experience like?

Words can’t fully describe the feelings I had during that weeklong experience. It was emotional on so many levels. To be home, see friends, family, and mentors, but also be able to showcase what we do here at EMP in a place that impacted my life so much – that was special.

What other plansdo you have lined up?

Right now we’re focused on The NoMad Cookbook which came out recently. It’s amazing to finally have it here and be able to share it with everyone because you work on a book for so long and then hand it in and it sort of slips into the back of your mind. To be able to flip through the pages now, see people commenting about it, and hear the feedback of our peers and guests, it’s a great reminder about why we do books in the first place and what makes NoMad special. At EMP we just changed over to our fall menu so that has the entire restaurant occupied. I love the new menu and it’s been great so far to see the reactions of our guests.

I will also be joining for this year’sTwelve Days of Christmas charity event at The Restaurant at Meadowood on November 4th, which I’m really excited about.I have so much admiration for Chris and everything he does at Meadowood. His love for his ingredients and his attention to details has made it one of the best restaurants in the world. To be able to join him in the kitchen for a special event like this is very exciting. It’s been years since we last cooked together and I’m really looking forward to it.

What are you most looking forward to about the Twelve Days of Christmas event at The Restaurant at Meadowood?

It will be wonderful to spend time in the kitchen with Chris, cooking and collaborating. We are great friends and have known each other for quite some time, since he was a cook for me at Campton Place. He’s gone on to do great things and it’s very inspiring to watch from across the country. Being with him and his team will be a lot of fun and I know we will create a memorable experience for all the guests joining that evening.

Can you tell us a bit about what you will be doing on your evening- any hints at what might be served to guests?

We’re going to bring as much of the Eleven Madison Park experience to Napa as we can, by preparing some of our favorite dishes, like Scallop with Green Apple and Caviar, Foie Gras with Cabbage, Celery Root with Black Truffle that’s cooked in a pig’s bladder, Milk and Honey. We will also be preparing some new dishes we’ve not served anywhere, yet.

What is your guilty pleasure?

When I was back in Zurich I had a chance to enjoy one of my childhood favorites, Ovomaltine. I really wish I could get it in New York!

What restaurant is currently at the top of your list to dine at?

This is always a hard question because there are so many great restaurants out there that I haven’t been to still. What I can say is that I had an amazing meal at Restaurant Focus when I was out in Switzerland, perfect technique, delicious food, and lots of fun. Here in New York, I got to try Upland recently and I love it. Really happy it’s right around the corner from EMP.

Find out more about the culinary career of Daniel