Contemporary Art

Chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park on the Importance of Art and Beauty

By Alexandra Owens

NEW YORK – For Daniel Humm, the chef and co-owner of Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad in Manhattan, food and art have much in common. Their natural connection is apparent at his Michelin-starred restaurants, where dishes are eye-opening, yet harmonious and thoughtful – something that Humm will bring to Sotheby's when he prepares a VIP dinner on 11 November in honour of the autumn sales of Impressionist, Modern and contemporary art. We spoke with the culinary creative about his favourite artists, the importance of plating and where the New York dining scene should go next.

DANIEL HUMM. PHOTO: FRANCESCO TONELLI.

What is your inspiration behind Friday night’s dinner menu for Sotheby's?
Well, it’s an honour to be among such incredible art in the first place, especially as someone who’s been an art lover for so many years. My father was an architect, so art and design were a part of my life. As a chef I’ve seen my culinary style and philosophy change, going from a place filled with many techniques and ingredients on the plate, to one more of simplicity and minimalism. Our food and the art share that – everything on the plate matters, just as everything on the canvas does.

Do you ever draw influence from art when envisioning a meal?
All the time. A lot of my spare time is spent visiting galleries, museums and installations. I find that art helps me focus, provides inspiration, stretches my mind and creativity, and it inevitably weaves into the creation of our food.

Which artists do you like or inspire you?
Miró, Fontana, Rothko, Noguchi.

LOBSTER WITH DAIKON AND CITRUS THAT WILL BE ON FRIDAY EVENING'S MENU. PHOTO: FRANCESCO TONELLI.

Dining is such a visual experience. Could you speak a bit about the importance of creative, beautiful plating?
We have four guiding principles here that I’ve developed over the past 25 years in the kitchen. Every dish must be delicious, it must be creative in some way, there must be a story it tells, and it must be beautiful. Beauty can mean different things to different people, but we do eat with our eyes first, and it’s so important that a dish is beautiful – whether that is through technique, colour, simplicity or another method really varies.

Eleven Madison Park is celebrated for its forward-thinking take on formal dining and contemporary cuisine. Why do you think it’s important to keep the conversation – whether it’s about art or cuisine – current?
Endless reinvention is a part of our culture here at the restaurant – it’s our belief that no matter what, we can never stop pushing the boundaries. And it’s important to change not when we need to change, but when we don’t need to change. That doesn’t mean we disregard the classics, in fact we use them to inspire so much of what we do – but, like you said, the conversation needs to remain current, not only in food, but in cocktails, wine and service.

What do you hope is next for the New York dining scene?
Increased importance on genuine hospitality.

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