Daniel Humm’s Giant, Thought-Provoking, Plant-Based Pivot
In the summer of 2021, just over a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, chef Daniel Humm took a giant, thought-provoking (and, as he would in time convincingly argue, absolutely vital) leap at his three-starred Michelin restaurant, Eleven Madison Park. Long known for its meat and fish staples—sliced sturgeon; a tabletop clambake; beef tartare with caviar and smoked bone marrow; and its former signature dish, duck with daikon and plum—the restaurant pivoted to an entirely vegan menu, both as a response to an increasingly dire climate reality and also as a way of redefining fine dining for our precarious present. (That fall, Humm spoke about this radical transformation on our Time Sensitive podcast.) Within months, food and restaurant critics came with their meat knives out, most notably The New York Times’s Pete Wells, who, in a particularly cranky review, wrote of a beet dish that it “tastes like Lemon Pledge and smells like a burning joint.” While there were certainly menu kinks to work out early on, Eleven Madison Park’s shift was undoubtedly an impressive feat. Within a year or so, Humm and his team proved their plant-based prowess in the kitchen. Last fall, Eleven Madison Park was named the first vegan three-starred Michelin restaurant in the world—a catalytic moment for Humm, for fine dining, and for what he hopes will be our plant-based future. Over the past two years, the menu has evolved into a rich, fully formed, rigorously executed cuisine that shows that plants can be just as, if not more, versatile, interesting, and delicious as meat and fish.