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Daniel Humm: How The World’s Greatest Chef Found Purpose (In Plants)

By July 19, 2021No Comments
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Episode #615



What happens when one of—if not the—greatest restaurants in the world suddenly goes 100% plant-based?

For perspective, out of the 132 three-star Michelin star restaurants around the world, not a single one is vegan. Suffice it to say, most would say such a move is tantamount to financial suicide.

But Chef Daniel Humm—the world-renown chef and owner of Eleven Madison Park—sees it as the greatest purpose-driven, creative challenge of his lifetime.

A former pro cyclist and 2:51 marathoner, this Swiss native began cooking at 14, preparing exquisite meals in some of the finest Swiss hotels and restaurants before earning his first Michelin star at the age of 24. In 2003, he moved to the U.S. 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, revitalizing the restaurant so completely that in 2017 it was named #1 on the coveted list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Like most restaurants, when the pandemic hit Eleven Madison Park closed its doors and grappled with bankruptcy. But it was during this time that Daniel started thinking more deeply about purpose. What he stands for. How he could leverage his talent and resources to meaningfully participate in solutions to food insecurity and the inherently unsustainable nature of food systems more broadly.

Bold leaps followed. He converted the EMP kitchen into a commissary to provide free meals to food-insecure New Yorkers. He kitted out a food truck to distribute those meals. He partnered with Rethink Food, a non-profit committed to creating sustainable and equitable food systems, to work on solving food inequality at scale. But his coup de grace involved re-opening the most revered restaurant in the world with a completely plant-based menu—and ensuring that every EMP meal enjoyed pays for five meals freely distributed to those in need.

It’s a move that sent shockwaves throughout the food world. But Daniel’s bet is more than paying off, denoted by a waitlist that currently exceeds 15,000 people.

“It’s liberating to know that everything you need is inside of you.”


On the very day Eleven Madison Park announced its new menu, I committed to making this podcast happen. My friend, past podcast guest, and former Esquire magazine Food & Drinks editor Jeff Gordinier connected the dots. In turn, Daniel agreed to do the show. But there was a condition: first I must dine at EMP. Deal. I immediately booked a flight to NYC. I joined Jeff for said dinner—an exquisite experience like no other—and the day following convened with Daniel for this exchange.

This conversation is about why cuisine at the highest level—food as art—plays a vital role in moving culture forward. It’s about what makes a great chef. What pursuing a passion truly entails. And the magic of embracing constant reinvention.

It’s also about the role that art, minimalism and essentialism have played in the evolution of Daniel’s craft and life philosophy.

But more than anything, this is a deeply personal tale of evolution. It’s about the search for purpose beyond accolades—and what it means to devote your talents in service of a better world.

As always, the podcast streams wild and free on YouTube (audio only—we didn’t film this one), Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Special Thanks to Daniel’s team for arranging this dining & podcasting experience and to Joseph Hazan at Newsstand Studio in Rockefeller Center for allowing us to record in his facility. Also, gratitude to photographers Sebastian Nevols (kitchen portrait) and Craig McDean (black & white portraits) for permitting use of their images.

Now one of the most important and influential figures in the plant-based movement, it was a privilege to experience Daniel’s talents and company. And it’s an honor to share this fascinating exchange with you today.

My hope is that his words inspire you to deeply rethink your personal capabilities—and to see that the answers you seek lie within.

Peace + Plants,

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