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Daniel Humm: Story of a Swissman in New York

Despite a long list of international accolades our guest has received during his truly admiring career, it didn’t take much for this interview to get a twist and at its very beginning touch base the essence of chef Daniel Humm. As an answer to one of our questions on inspiration, chef Humm got us by a surprise with his simplicity, naming ingredients, seasons and food memories as his main sources of inspiration. Yet, don’t make assumptions in advance! This 3 Michelin-stared chef manages to amaze and giggle palates of anyone who sits down by one of his tables, while being constantly on a new quest to create and express his culinary vision and passion, with an ever-present homage to his motherland.

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Daniel Humm is the chef and co-owner of Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad and NoMad Bar at The NoMad Hotel, all located in the heart of New York City. Chef Humm’s cuisine is focused on locally sourced ingredients of New York, with an emphasis on simplicity, purity and seasonal flavors.

Over the course of Daniel's tenure, he and Eleven Madison Park have received numerous recognitions, including four stars from The New York Times, six James Beard Foundation Awards, 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. On top, strongly believing that presence of a unity is crucial to create positive changes on global scale while holding a global voice himself, since 2015 Daniel Humm has been part of an influential group of chefs, whose mission is to address hunger related issues as part of contributing to global sustainability.

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Footsteps to success

A native of Switzerland, Chef Humm was exposed to food at a very young age, and began working in kitchens at the age of 14. From there Daniel Humm spent time in some of the finest Swiss hotels and restaurants before earning his first Michelin star at the age of 24. In 2003, Daniel moved to the United States to become the executive chef at Campton Place in San Francisco, where he received four stars from the San Francisco Chronicle. Three years later, he moved to New York to become the executive chef at Eleven Madison Park.

How much does an origin of a chef determine his success?

Success as a chef has little to do with someone’s origin. It is the drive, passion and skills that create a success as a result. A lot of people like to cook, but being a chef and working in a restaurant is a very different thing. You need to have patience, learn the art of repetition and have passion and determination to truly make your mark. Passion is probably the most important characteristic and it’s not something that can be taught or inherited from an origin.

Some of the finest Swiss hotels and restaurants have left a significant mark in your career. How challenging it has been to create your own signature?

I remember when I moved to America one of the biggest challenges was to develop my own sense of style, my own voice on the plate. Back then I had been following someone else’s directions and as much as I was eager to step out and differentiate, the challenge of doing so was quite big. Only recently have I truly felt like I found my voice as a chef, realizing what matters most to me on the plate and in a dish is that it is delicious, that it tells a story, serves a purpose and that is beautiful, while at the same time it isn’t something overcomplicated, neither too ingredient demanding.

Being a Swissman in New York, while owning two restaurants in the US, one dedicated to NYC ingredients, the other to Mediterranean flavors, how much of Switzerland influence did you pack in your culinary suitcase and brought to the States?

The flavors and ingredients I grew up with in Switzerland will always influence my cooking, even in subtle ways as a light motive, an echo. Take the Milk and Honey dessert we serve at NoMad, it was inspired by warm milk and honey my mother served me as a child. But more importantly, the appreciation I learned for ingredients growing up has had a profound impact on my style and values as a chef.

Looking at your menus, wine and cocktail lists it seems you are highly dedicated to creating an integral concept of a restaurant, while paying attention to the smallest details. What does it take to set up a successful restaurant?

A crucial step is to have a reliable partner in business. In my case having Will Guidara, my business partner and my best friend, to collaborate with on even the smallest decisions has enabled us to develop our restaurants into what they are today. And it’s our collaboration and the values we hold that are passed along to everyone else in our company, raising standards and giving everyone a sense of ownership in what we do.

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A pinch of the world on a plate

To your opinion is there a definition of American cuisine?

The great thing about food in America is that there are so many regions and various sub regions, which leads to all sorts of cuisines and dishes. It truly is a melting pot of cuisines. And in New York we’re blessed to have everything here, which makes it easy to remain exposed to global cuisines all within our city limits.

Have you had some experience and collaboration with chefs or ingredients from the Middle East?

I haven’t had the opportunity to really focus on the cuisines of the Middle East, but I have loved seeing the ways in which those cuisines have become more prominent and readily available throughout NYC and America.

Passion remains and continues

Together with your partner Will, you wrote several Cookbooks such as “Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook”, “I Love New York: Ingredients and Recipes”, and “The NoMad Cookbook”. What do they mean to you?

For us a cookbook is a historical mark on time, a story of our restaurants at a specific moment that’s been documented forever. They are very different than a meal we may serve to a guest, and we always gain so much perspective in the process of working on one. I consider them ways to chronicle where we were and hopefully they remain relevant for young generations of chefs for years to come.

What is Chef Daniel Humm up to in the foreseeable future?

Well, we’re opening our first fast casual, counter-service restaurant called Made Nice later this year. I’m so excited for us to open our doors and serve the type of food that we hope people will want to eat every day. We’re using many of the recipes and techniques that we’ve mastered and Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad, but just in a format that’s easy to grab and go, or eat quickly for casual meal.

With so much achieved and with nothing less to still crosscheck, chef Daniel Humm is definitely a chef we will be keeping an eye on, as we no matter what he is puts his mind onto, a palatable experience is guaranteed. On top, having a 3 Michelin-stared chef opening his very first grab&go eating concept could be a new trend within high-end chefs spread worldwide?! We will let future to have the last world on it.

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