In the heart of New York City, nestled in the historic MetLife building, a culinary revolution has been quietly underway at Eleven Madison Park (EMP). This world-renowned establishment, once famous for extravagant dishes like lavender duck, is now celebrating its 25th anniversary in a way that represents a significant milestone in the world of fine dining. It has become the world’s first Michelin three-star vegan restaurant, showcasing a transformative journey towards sustainability and plant-based cuisine.
The visionary behind this remarkable evolution is Chef Daniel Humm, a culinary maestro who recently released his fifth cookbook, “Eat More Plants: A Chef’s Journal.” As EMP reaches this historic milestone, Chef Humm is marking the occasion with a special all-vegan menu available throughout October.
The EMP journey towards plant-based dining wasn’t an overnight revelation. It’s a story of evolution and adaptation, where the roots of plant-based cooking were always present, waiting to be nurtured and explored. As Steve Jobs once famously said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” The retrospective menu at EMP features innovative dishes that exemplify Chef Humm’s culinary genius. One standout is the carrot tartare, a dish that remarkably captures the essence of traditional steak tartare using plant-based ingredients. Diners are encouraged to mix these mini components at their tables, providing a sensory experience that fuses the past and present of EMP.
The price range for this extraordinary dining experience varies, starting at $195 per person for the bar menu and going up to $365 per person for a lavish 9 to 10-course feast in the main dining room. Throughout the meal, guests can trace the evolution in Chef Humm’s cooking, as he has artfully allowed plant-based ingredients to shine in their own right. The retrospective menu showcases a range of dishes, from humble beginnings like bread and sunflower butter to exquisite creations like white truffle tortellini with chestnut. It’s a testament to Chef Humm’s dedication and innovative spirit in shaping EMP’s culinary journey.
EMP’s roots trace back to 1998 when restaurateur Danny Meyer launched the restaurant. However, it was in 2006 when Chef Humm and Will Guidara took the reins of the restaurant’s kitchen and service operations. By 2011, they had bought the restaurant outright, earning worldwide acclaim as the best restaurant globally, celebrated for its extravagant and luxurious culinary experiences.
In 2019, Chef Humm became the sole owner of EMP. The restaurant was flourishing until the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the hospitality industry. During the lockdown, EMP transitioned into a commissary and collaborated with ReThink Food, an organization founded by an EMP alumnus, where Chef Humm served as a founding board member.
In 2021, EMP was reborn as a plant-based fine dining establishment. Despite a challenging start, the restaurant soared to new heights, earning three Michelin stars in the previous year. Over the years, EMP has counted among its patrons iconic figures like Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Questlove, and Trevor Noah. This transformation represented a significant shift for EMP, transitioning from French Brasserie and contemporary European cuisine to exploring New York City’s culinary traditions.
In the words of Chef Humm, the final plant-based shift “didn’t happen overnight.” It was a continuous journey, with the pandemic serving as a catalyst. During those difficult times, EMP lost its team, but it gave them the courage to embark on something new. This change demonstrated that a plant-based menu could be economically viable and embraced by a diverse audience, signifying a new era in fine dining.
Chef Humm’s commitment to sustainability goes beyond the dining room. Food is repurposed to minimize waste, with produce trim even finding its way into cocktails. The pop-up bakery, Bake It Nice, plays a vital role in promoting this sustainable approach, incorporating ingredients like sunflowers and carrots into pastries. Since 2020, Bake It Nice has worked in collaboration with ReThink Food to provide meals to communities facing food insecurity, further emphasizing EMP’s commitment to its principles.
In Chef Humm’s own words, EMP is “pro-planet” rather than “anti-meat.” He believes that individual choices have a significant impact on the planet, making every meal a chance to contribute positively to the environment. “Everything matters. Every single meal,” he emphasizes, underlining the importance of gradual, sustainable change.
The journey of Eleven Madison Park is not just about a restaurant; it’s a reflection of the broader shift towards sustainable and plant-based dining. Chef Daniel Humm’s fifth cookbook, “Eat More Plants: A Chef’s Journal,” is a remarkable collection of drawings and handwritten thoughts documenting the transition of EMP into a vegan fine-dining establishment. It’s a testament to his commitment to change and innovation, demonstrating that, with passion, creativity, and determination, fine dining can be both luxurious and eco-conscious.
Check out Eleven Madison Park here!
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