“Sometimes I thought, well, if we go bankrupt with Eleven Madison Park, maybe it’s the end of a chapter,” Humm told CNN in an interview in August. “I actually got to where I was comfortable with the idea. I mean, you have to do it.
Hmmm came to find the liberating idea, he said. Like many others before him, he had previously concluded that the food system requires less meat consumption to be sustainable in the long run. So if he was in danger of losing the restaurant anyway, why not give it a shot?
That thought laid the groundwork for a decision that shocked the food world: in early May, Humm announced that when Eleven Madison Park reopened the following month, it would go all-plant. (The only exception, he said at the time, would be cow’s milk in addition to coffee or tea.)
But this decision carries significant risks. By going meatless, Humm potentially reduces its clientele to a smaller niche of diners. And these diners currently have cheaper options among other vegan or vegan dining establishments in New York City.
Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy, for example, has been creating fine plant-based cuisine since 2008, with a tasting menu at $ 130 per person, including wine. Daniel Boulud opened his vegetable and seafood-focused Le Pavillon restaurant earlier this year, and a six-course vegetarian tasting menu costs $ 155.
Hmmm, however, didn’t cut the price when cutting meat. EMP’s prix fixe menu is still $ 335 per person – more if you add wine to the tab.
Reputation matters a lot to a restaurant like EMP, which belongs to a level that is all about staying active. In a pre-Covid-19 world, this was the kind of restaurant people would travel thousands of miles to after working hard to land a notoriously difficult reservation. Since the reopening, diners are largely New Yorkers, but that is unlikely to be the case in the long term once travel resumes. The question is whether the new menu can maintain the appeal and hype that are essential to EMP’s survival.
Critics so far – including a scathing article by Pete Wells of the New York Times
The first evaluations of the new EMP have largely not been positive. 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 suckling pig brick. As waiters always reminded you in the past, pork, eggs, cheese and other animal products came from small, independent regional farms … If every restaurant that supports sustainable local agriculture followed the new path of Mr. Hmmm, those little farms would be in big trouble, ”he wrote.
And, most importantly, he noted that until the end of this year, EMP still offers a meat option for customers who book a private dining room, a “metaphor of Manhattan, where there is always a level of luxury. higher, a secret room where the rich eat roast tenderloin while everyone gets a canoe of eggplants. “
Wells noted, however, that EMP used to correct itself: “Every time the restaurant has revamped – the cryptic grid menu, the table magic tricks, the New York themed menu – it’s went too far, then retired to a less extreme place, “he said, adding that” his talent for overcoming his own missteps was one of the reasons I gave him four stars in his last review in The New York Times, in 2015 ”.
An EMP spokesperson declined to comment on Wells and Sutton’s reviews, noting that the restaurant’s policy is not to comment on reviews. The spokesperson confirmed the restaurant’s decision to offer meat in the private room in a statement.
“It’s an amazing undertaking to reopen a restaurant, especially in the midst of a rapidly evolving pandemic, and it took all the focus and effort of our staff to run it at the operating level of Eleven Madison Park. “, says the press release. “Our intention has always been to ensure that the private dining room is also entirely plant-based. At the beginning of September, we made the decision to remove the last remaining animal products from the private dining room menus by January 1st. 2022. “
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Others say Humm deserves some credit for his decision to go without meat.
“The problem is [Humm’s] going plant-based creates a tale of novelty, freshness and vision on her part when there have been chefs who go in this direction before who haven’t caught this attention, “Alicia Kennedy, a writer who has written extensively on vegan and vegetarian food, told CNN.
Still, Humm’s decision matters because of his place in the industry – in the same way that a big luxury fashion designer refusing to use leather or fur still makes sense, even now, Kennedy said.
“If Daniel Humm makes this choice has an influence on the chefs who admire him… then it serves a very good purpose,” Kennedy said. If it reverberates even further into the suburbs of the neighborhood, it’s even better, she said.
As for Hmmm, he said he believed EMP could do with food what Tesla did with cars.
“It’s really only until Tesla creates an electric luxury car that they make it sexy,” he said. “They made it luxurious. They made it beautiful. And so the whole world had to change. And I thought about having this similar responsibility of this restaurant that we were actually in a quite position. unique. Most restaurants don’t have the luxury of doing this kind of risky move. “
That doesn’t answer the question of whether a meatless menu will get people through EMP doors in the long run. But Humm said in August the waiting list was huge, with “15,000 table requests at a time.”
Bookings for Eleven Madison Park continued to sell on the morning of their release, a spokesperson said. Since its reopening, the restaurant has served roughly the same number of tables as before the pandemic, but in total it serves far fewer people: it is now only open for dinner six evenings a week, and before, he served dinner in the evening and lunch three times a week. When asked to develop other metrics such as sales and profitability, the spokesperson said EMP does not share financial information.
Hmmm, as always, focuses on the food. And he remained optimistic about the success of a vegan PEM.
“I think this is the best food we’ve ever done,” Humm said. “By a long shot.”