Rahim Kanani

Three-Star Michelin Chef Daniel Humm on Inspiration, Creativity and Excellence

Rahim Kanani
Three-Star Michelin Chef Daniel Humm on Inspiration, Creativity and Excellence

I have more recently developed language for the foundation that all our dishes must have. They have to be delicious, beautiful, creative, and intentional,” explained Daniel Humm, chef/co-owner of Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad and NoMad Bar at The NoMad Hotel in New York City. Eleven Madison Mark was ranked the World's Best Restaurant in 2017. In an interview, we discussed his approach to cuisine, sources of inspiration, the process of creating a dish, and more.

Over the course of Daniel's tenure, he and Eleven Madison Park have received numerous accolades, including four stars from The New York Times, six James Beard Foundation Awards (including Outstanding Chef and Outstanding Restaurant in America), three Michelin Stars, and a top spot on the San Pellegrino list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants. In 2011, Daniel and partner Will Guidara purchased Eleven Madison Park from Union Square Hospitality Group, and the following year also opened the critically acclaimed NoMad. Since its opening, The NoMad has garnered three stars from The New York Times, one Michelin Star, and a James Beard Foundation Award.

Was there a moment of inspiration or a particular experience that set you on a path towards a culinary career, and ultimately culinary greatness?

I wish I could say that there was a singular moment, but it was more a collection of experiences that pointed me towards a culinary career. I had always been exposed to food growing up -- whether it was cooking meals with family, visiting local farms and markets with my mother, or helping in the kitchen – and it just became something I enjoyed. That turned into a passion as I got older and ultimately found this to be a career. But what drew me to it has always been the opportunity to create something and to use my hands, to craft dishes and be creative.

How would you describe the approach and philosophy underpinning Eleven Madison Park?

Simply put our goal is to serve the most delicious food and offer the most gracious hospitality we can. When you distill it down that’s what we aim to do every single night for every single guest. Our approach, of course, and all the work we put into making this place run is much more elaborate and time consuming, but we can never forget the basic goal.

Where do you draw your inspiration from, and how do you maintain the level of creativity and inspiration necessary to sustain such a high bar of excellence?

We look to our region, to our city’s past and present, and to the ingredients that are available around us season-to-season. I also have more recently developed language for the foundation that all our dishes must have. They have to be delicious, beautiful, creative, and intentional. Each of those characteristics are important in their own way and it’s helped us to truly hone in on our cuisine and approach to the menu.

Walk me through the process of how a new dish is created, from your mind to the plate. And how much of this process is trial and error? 

There’s a development process that can begin in so many ways, whether through a sketch I created one evening when thinking about a new menu, or a conversation with our team about flavors, textures, and ingredients we want to showcase. It’s a collaborative process and a beautiful process to witness – it can be instant, or take many months to finally land on the dish we want to serve. And as I mentioned before, now that we have that language to measure our dishes against, the process has evolved even further.

Is there such thing as a perfect dish?

I don’t know if there is a perfect dish because everyone has different tastes and thoughts around ingredients and flavors. But for me, if I had to identify a dish or two that I believe we’ve perfected, then I’d say it is our Roasted Duck with Honey and Lavender, a dish that’s been on our menu since ’06, and our Celery Root “En Vessie” a pivotal dish for us as it led to the development of those four fundamental characteristics we now use. Those are “perfect’ to me in different ways and while I hope others agree, I know perfection is often non-existent, but we can certainly try to get as close to it as we can.