Eleven Madison Park: Famous New York restaurant to reopen with meat-free menu

The Michelin-starred restaurant's chef, Daniel Humm, says climate change played a part in the decision

epa05891182 A view of the entrance of the restaurant Eleven Madison Park in New York, New York, USA, 05 April 2017. The World's 50 Best Restaurants organization announced at a ceremony in Melbourne that Eleven Madison Park ranks as the top restaurant in the world on its 2017 list.  EPA/JUSTIN LANE
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A year ago, Daniel Humm was unsure if his restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, would ever reopen.

Now, the chef and owner of one of the World’s Best Restaurants has announced a bold new direction for his dining room. On June 10, EMP will reopen its doors as a plant-based restaurant. Gone will be dishes such as his famous honey lavender-roasted duck.

Instead, he’ll offer a beet that’s been roasted for 16 hours, then presented in a clay vase that gets cracked open at the table. Also on the menu: peas with almond cream and pea-miso puree.

The menu won’t be completely vegan, as Humm has said he will offer honey and milk for coffee and tea service.

And its tasting menu will still cost $335. Each meal at the Manhattan restaurant will fund five more served by the non-profit Rethink.

Since the start of the pandemic, Humm has been grappling with the focus of his restaurant and what fine dining might look like in the future. He’d been working with Rethink and recently set up a food truck that he could deploy to neighbourhoods where people were hungry or didn’t have access to fresh food.

The chef at one of the world’s most elevated restaurants even reconsidered the place of high-end ingredients in our diets. “All the caviar that you find now, it’s farm-raised, they sell it at the airport. Is that truly luxury?” Humm says. “Kobe beef flown in from Japan? That’s not luxury. It’s gluttony.”

The shift away from meat is part of a broader transformation in diets, at a time when people are increasingly considering meat’s impact on the environment and their own health.

Humm has used vegetables as a meat replacement at Eleven Madison Park before. In 2012, his menu featured a carrot tartare as a steak alternative, made tableside by grinding carrots from the Union Square farmers' market with little bowls of condiments.

Still, Humm says it was challenging to convince his team to go in this direction. “I’m working with 40 people, sometimes five people at a time would come up to me and say, ‘let’s just be more thoughtful'.” Now he says, the concept has gone from limiting to “freeing".

“A piece of fish, meat, there aren’t that many different ways to prepare them,” he says. “If you have a beet, an eggplant, the opportunities feel endless.”

Concerns about climate change played some part in his decision, Humm says.

“I’m seeing things change in front of my eyes, in my career of 30 years,” he says. “Wild turbot, wild caviar, they don’t exist anymore. You can’t get them.”

But there’s only so far Humm says he can go. His London restaurant, Davies and Brook, will continue to serve meat. “This is my livelihood and my team’s,” he says. “We can only push it as far as the guests are welling to go. One day the world might pay $35 for a carrot? But not today.”