Daniel Humm, the chef at New York’s Eleven Madison Park restaurant, gained his first three-star Michelin rating in 2011 and was awarded the title of world’s best restaurant six years later. “There weren’t any awards left,” he recalls thinking at the time.
But this week in New York, he achieved another milestone as Eleven Madison Park — now reconfigured as a plant-based kitchen — became the first vegan restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars. “The plant-based menu is a bold vision of luxury dining,” the 2022 New York guide said. It is an achievement that is likely to reverberate across the culinary world.
Humm’s earlier honors at Eleven Madison were thanks to popular menu items such as roast suckling pig, poached lobster and glazed duck. But during a 16-month pandemic shutdown, Humm and his colleagues decided to reorient the restaurant to a plant-based menu as a response to the threat posed by climate change. The dramatic shift by one of the world’s most high-profile restaurants was a shock.
“Post-pandemic I didn’t want to open the same restaurant,” Humm told the FT in an interview. “If we can show the possibilities of eating plant-based food in this setting, it can open a lot of doors” for others to follow.
Some critics seemed baffled by the move, with the New York Times writing in a review last year that Humm’s restaurant “does strange things to vegetables”.
The full 11-item menu for dinner at Eleven Madison costs $365 — $30 more than its first 10-course vegan menu in June 2021. The new October service includes a celtuce steamed dumpling with salad and avocado, tomato broth with tofu and lemon verbena, corn with rice and chanterelle mushrooms and grilled squash with poblano pepper and seitan.
Eleven Madison is not the first vegan restaurant to be recognized by Michelin. Last year, the guide’s judges awarded one star to ONA, led by chef Claire Vallée, making it the first vegan restaurant in France to receive a star. It is temporarily closed.
Gwendal Poulllennec, the International Director of the Michelin guides, told the FT that Eleven Madison’s three star ranking will encourage young chefs to “emphasise the importance of sustainability and inspire important changes within the culinary landscape”.
Humm says that he has pushed hard to win awards throughout his career, noting that they help motivate staff — and attract customers. But he said he didn’t know how Michelin would react to the vegan menu, and discussed the possibility of losing stars with the staff. “We said . . . if we receive the awards then that’s a wonderful thing, and if we don’t we are taking the risk and we’ve got to be OK with that too.”
His move toward plant-based cooking led to an end of his tenure at Davies and Brook, the one Michelin star restaurant at London’s Claridge’s hotel, last year. In a statement at the time, Claridge’s said it had “respect” for the move but it was “not the path we wish to follow at the moment”.
The three-star award for Eleven Madison came on Thursday night as Michelin revealed its winners for the New York area. The other three-star winners were Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, Le Bernardin, Masa and Per Se.
Humm said he hoped the recognition from Michelin will help push the industry to see the possibilities of plant-based cooking. “A whole new world has opened up,” he said. “That’s what I’m most excited about.”