Michelin-starred New York City restaurant launches free food truck service

Eleven Madison Park's truck will serve 400 free meals a day in Brooklyn and the Bronx

As Eleven Madison Park moves to reopen, the restaurant is expanding its reach in an unexpected way.

Starting on April 12, the Eleven Madison Truck will be deployed around New York City. It won't be serving to-go containers of its famed honey lavender roast duck, or anything else that might have featured on the restaurant's $335 tasting menu. Instead, the truck, from chef-owner Daniel Humm's partnership with the non-profit Rethink, will feed underserved food communities, starting in New York's Bronx.

“We had been brainstorming different ways to make the restaurant part of the community and get staff engaged beyond making meals and pushing them out of the door,” says Matt Jozwiak, co-founder and chief executive of Rethink. “And then Daniel called me and was, like, ‘Let’s do a food truck.’

Meals funded by restaurant diners

The handsome, royal blue, customised truck, emblazoned with the names Eleven Madison Truck and Rethink will serve around 400 meals a day for free. Operations will be paid for in large part by the restaurant’s diners; each Michelin three-star meal that’s sold guarantees five meals for Rethink. (Eleven Madison Park's to-go boxes, whose $275-plus price tags have raised eyebrows, generate 10 meals per order.)

The truck will be staffed by Rethink employees and Eleven Madison Park staff on a rotating basis. "For the kids who care hard about these issues, they will see it as a benefit," says Humm. Likewise, the restaurant will prioritise sympathetic suppliers. "We're going to ask them to give us some product for free for Rethink. We'll select our suppliers based on that," he says.

But it won’t be serving an elite kitchen’s version of what they think people want to eat. “Those neighbourhoods are not waiting for a bunch of white guys to show up in their hood and give out food,” says Humm.

Serving "greatest hits" in Brooklyn and the Bronx

“It will be a series of our greatest hits to start,” says pastry chef Laura Cronin, who has been a key part of Rethink’s meal production at the restaurant. “Chicken is, by far, the most popular protein.”

To begin with, the programme will offer the kind of meals that the restaurant's kitchen has been providing to first responders throughout the pandemic, including jerk chicken with roasted vegetables, gumbo-style chicken etouffée with rice, and grain bowls, along with vegetarian and other dietary options.

The EMP-Rethink team is also collaborating with local community boards in hopes of working with neighbourhood restaurants in the future. “We can have them come on the truck with their food,” says Cronin.

Jozwiak estimates that the project will cost about $16,000 a month to operate – not including the food, which will be made from leftover ingredients from Eleven Madison Park, as well as donated product.

Members of local community boards have signed on to manage lines that form and to help organise crowd control.

The truck's starting schedule will park it on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays at Bronx Collegiate Academy, on Tuesdays at St Mark's United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, and on Fridays back in the Bronx at the Mary Mitchell Family & Youth Center.

Eleven Madison Park to reopen in June

The truck helps Humm keep a commitment he made in 2020, while wondering whether he would relaunch his restaurant. "Any way that Eleven Madison Park reopens – and it's like a blank canvas right now, we would need to redefine what luxury means – it will also be an opportunity to continue to feed people who don't have anything. I don't need to only feed the 1 per cent any more ," he said in an interview with Bloomberg Pursuits in May 2020.

As for the reopening of Eleven Madison Park, Humm is shooting for Thursday, June10 and has eight chefs researching and developing the menu.

“We have everything in place.” He says that the restaurant will “still be fine dining – still be on the same level, the same price point. But a little bit different.” The 'EMP at Home' service will continue, even after the dining room is up and running.

Humm continues: “I come from looking at food in an artistic way. I love the art and performance of it. But I’m also wrestling with how many people don’t have access to it.” Combining Eleven Madison Park and Rethink made him realise that “food can be meaningful, on both levels.  Now I can say that one can’t exist without the other.”