Instead, Humm discovered a path ahead by pivoting to greens — a extremely uncommon shift for a storied restaurant.
“At times I thought, well, if we’re going bankrupt with Eleven Madison Park, maybe that’s the end of a chapter,” Humm advised NCS in an interview in August. “I actually got to the place where I was comfortable with that idea. I mean, you have to.”
Humm got here to search out the thought liberating, he mentioned. Like many others earlier than him he had beforehand concluded the meals system required much less meat consumption to be sustainable long-term. So if he would possibly lose the restaurant anyway, why not take a probability?
That considering laid the groundwork for the choice that shocked the meals world: In early May, Humm introduced that when Eleven Madison park reopened the next month it might go fully plant-based. (The solely exception, he mentioned on the time, can be cow’s milk as an add-on for espresso or tea.)
But the transfer comes with vital dangers. By going meatless, Humm is doubtlessly shrinking his buyer base to a smaller area of interest of diners. And these diners at present have cheaper choices amongst different vegan or vegan-friendly fine-dining institutions in New York.
Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy, for instance, has been creating plant-based tremendous eating since 2008, with a tasting menu that runs for $130 per individual together with wine. Daniel Boulud opened his “vegetable-forward and seafood centric” restaurant Le Pavillon earlier this yr, and a six-course vegetarian tasting menu is $155.
Humm, nevertheless, did not lower the value when reducing the meat. EMP’s prix-fixe menu is still $335 per individual — extra should you add wine to the tab.
Reputation issues a lot for a restaurant like EMP, which is in a tier that depends on staying buzzy. In a pre-Covid-19 world, it was the type of restaurant people traveled hundreds of miles for after working exhausting to cinch a notoriously troublesome reservation. Since the reopening diners have largely been New Yorkers, but that’s unlikely to be the case long-term as soon as journey picks up once more. The query is whether or not the brand new menu can sustain the enchantment and the hype that is important to EMP’s survival.
The evaluations thus far — together with a scathing piece from the New York Times’ Pete Wells
The early evaluations of the brand new EMP have largely not been constructive. Some have even been downright scathing.
“People tend to think of factory farms and feedlots when they hear about meat and sustainability. But Eleven Madison Park didn’t buy industrial pork for its compressed brick of suckling pig. As the servers were always reminding you in the old days, the pork, eggs, cheese and other animal products came from small, independent regional farms…If every restaurant that supports sustainable local agriculture followed Mr. Humm’s new path, those small farms would be in deep trouble,” he wrote.
And, importantly, he famous that by the top of this yr, EMP still affords a meat choice for patrons who guide a non-public eating room, a “metaphor for Manhattan, where there’s always a higher level of luxury, a secret room where the rich eat roasted tenderloin while everybody else gets an eggplant canoe.”
Wells did notice that EMP has a historical past of correcting itself, nevertheless: “Each time the restaurant has overhauled itself — the cryptic grid menu, the magic tricks at the table, the themed New York City menu — it has gone overboard, then pulled back to a less extreme place,” he mentioned, including that “its talent for overcoming its own missteps was one reason I gave it four stars in its last review in The New York Times, in 2015.”
A spokesperson for EMP wouldn’t touch upon Wells’ and Sutton’s critiques, noting it’s restaurant coverage to not touch upon evaluations. The spokesperson confirmed the restaurant’s determination to supply meat within the non-public room in a assertion.
“It is an incredible undertaking to reopen a restaurant, especially in the midst of a rapidly evolving pandemic, and it took the entirety of our staff’s focus and efforts to execute this at the level Eleven Madison Park operates,” the assertion mentioned. “Our intention was always to transition the private dining room to be fully plant-based as well. In early September, we made the decision to remove the last remaining animal products from the private dining room menus by January 1, 2022.”
Taking a cue from Tesla
Others say Humm deserves some credit score for his determination to go meatless.
“The problem is [Humm’s] going plant-based creates a narrative of novelty and freshness and vision on his part when there have already been chefs going in this direction who haven’t gotten this attention,” Alicia Kennedy, a author who has written extensively about vegan and vegetarian meals, advised NCS.
Still, Humm’s transfer has significance due to his place within the trade — much like how a prime luxurious clothier refusing to make use of leather-based or fur still has which means even now, Kennedy mentioned.
“If Daniel Humm making this choice has influence on chefs who look up to him … then it is serving a really good purpose,” Kennedy mentioned. If it trickles down even additional, to neighborhood suburban spots, that is even higher, she mentioned.
As for Humm, he mentioned he felt EMP might do with meals what Tesla completed with automobiles.
“It was only really until Tesla created an electric luxury car that they made it sexy,” he mentioned. “They made it luxurious. They made it beautiful. And so it took that for the whole world to change. And I thought of having this similar responsibility of this restaurant that we actually were in a very unique position. Most restaurants don’t have the luxury to make that kind of risky move.”
That would not handle the query of whether or not a meatless menu will hold people coming by EMP’s doorways in the long term. But Humm mentioned in August that the wait checklist was huge, with “15,000 table requests at one time.”
Reservations for Eleven Madison Park have continued to promote out the morning they’re launched, a spokesperson mentioned. Since it reopened, the restaurant has been serving roughly the identical variety of tables because it did previous to the pandemic, but in complete, it’s serving far fewer people: It’s now open for dinner solely six nights a week, and earlier than, it served dinner nightly and lunch 3 times a week. When requested to elaborate on different metrics like gross sales and profitability, the spokesperson mentioned EMP doesn’t share monetary info.
Humm, as ever, is targeted on the meals. And he has remained optimistic that a vegan EMP might be profitable.
“I think it’s the best cooking we’ve ever done,” Humm mentioned. “By a long shot.”