The New Eleven Madison Park Is Completely Vegan and a Really Big Deal

How Daniel Humm transformed his acclaimed restaurant to fight food insecurity and reduce its environmental impact while being as artistic and performative as ever

Sweet peppers with swiss chard - just one of Eleven Madison Park's fully plant-based summer menu items
Sweet peppers with swiss chard - just one of Eleven Madison Park's summer menu items

By Janet Mercel on 7.13.21

June 10th’s reopening of one of the “World’s Best Restaurant” after more than fifteen months of closure would have been enough on its own to cause a stir. But famed chef and restaurateur Daniel Humm was not content merely throwing Eleven Madison Park‘s doors open again. He went a step further — restructuring the mindset of the entire restaurant industry by offering a fully plant-based menu and feeding hungry New Yorkers in the process. 

On reopening day, Daniel told his nearly 600K Instagram followers about those first weeks of shutdown, when the restaurant industry was unemployed, farmers were sitting on tons of unused food, the number of hungry New Yorkers doubled, and he and his former cook, Matt Jozwiak, turned EMP’s kitchen into a commissary. 

Daniel Humm in front of his Eleven Madison Park. Photo credit Francesco Tonelli
Daniel Humm in front of his Eleven Madison Park. Photo credit Francesco Tonelli

Daniel’s two-pronged mission centers on food insecurity and sustainable food supply chains, both of which came under the spotlight during the pandemic. “We’ve created a circular ecosystem where our guests, our team, and our suppliers all participate,” Daniel explains in Eleven Madison Park’s mission statement. To do this, they partnered with Rethink Food, a nonprofit he and Matt co-founded. 

They believe the restaurant industry is the key to solving the nation’s food crisis and have created a network of restaurants, chefs, producers and distributors through Rethink Food, which is constantly growing. Together, they’ve provided almost one million meals to the community since March 2020, and made strides towards restructuring a supply chain that operates with massive food waste. In fact, this way of working is on its way to becoming — as they describe — a way of life, not just in times of crisis. 

Eleven Madison Park's Vegan Caviar
Eleven Madison Park's Vegan Caviar

As for EMP’s pre-pandemic price of $335 a head? It stays, partially to fund the meal program, (providing five meals per dinner, and as a direct conduit for the 1% to serve — as Matt tells Zagat — “the other 1%”). It also stays because Daniel wants to ensure it continues to be a fine dining experience worthy of the tag. Which brings us to the second half of EMP’s impact punch: the much buzzed about 100% plant-based menu. 

While preparing large quantities of food with his own hands for people who desperately needed it, the three-time-Michelin starred chef found his connection to food again. “I can’t ignore all the things that are happening in the food industry,” he explained on his Instagram. “It’s a fact that it’s not sustainable to continue in the way that it is…If there is one time to break free from this and show a different way, it would be now.”

This is a chef who cites Miles Davis and Lucio Fontana as the creative impetus behind his restaurant, and who lovingly likens his plates to Mark Rothko paintings. Creativity in dining is his art form. “People don’t come to EMP to just eat a piece of steak or lobster,” he’s said before. “They come for the journey, the performance and art.”

Eleven Madison Park's perfectly elegant dining room
Eleven Madison Park's perfectly elegant dining room

Daniel sees no reason why that journey can’t expand being more environmentally conscious, without meat, or fish, or dairy, inciting a reevaluation of the impact what we eat has on our surroundings. Quite the opposite, he says that by removing the traditional center pieces that animal produce is, every vegetable can be prepared with the highest artistry and the possibilities are endless. He will now imbue as much romance into golden oyster mushrooms and dehydrated pine needles as he once did into his infamous celery root braised in a pig’s bladder or whole roasted duck. If it’s delicious, he explains, people won’t care about what’s not there, only what is. “The idea of luxury and the products that we think are luxurious, I think, has to be rethought.”

SUMMER MENU

Tomato
tea with lemon verbena
yellow tomato dosa
salad with strawberry and shiso

Celtuce
in variation with rice

Tonburi
with peas and baby lettuce

Cucumber
with melon and smoked daikon

Summer Squash
with lemongrass and marinated tofu

Sweet Pepper
with swiss chard

Beet
with horseradish and herbs

Eggplant
with tomato and coriander
Summer Beans with Green Onion
Corn with Juniper

Strawberry
marinated in thyme

Blueberry
with elderflower

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