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DANIEL HUMM C


hefs have become celebrity icons with cult-like following. Like rock stars, they have their own fervent fans. It is almost a norm for a high-profile chef to have an


eponymous restaurant, whether they are famous or not. Chefs have become marketed as brands, promoting their restaurants and anything else affiliated with them. Even before meeting Daniel Humm during his visit to Singapore as a presenter to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015 Summit, I was already blown away by his credentials.


It is hard to believe Humm moved to the US in 2003 with his knives, a few hundred dollars, and no knowledge of English. This Swiss chef is now the executive chef and co-owner of Eleven Madison Park in New York. The restaurant has three Michelin stars, the number four spot in the World’s Best Restaurants 2014, and a plethora of other accolades. Humm’s cuisine has been described as modern French with a New York swagger and his food is anything but dull. Upon tasting their dishes Humm often asks his cooks: “Where is the acid?” Acid is the foundation of the restaurant’s cuisine. The restaurant uses a variety of vinegars, citrus fruits, and sour dairy Humm deems crucial to awaken flavours in a long tasting menu. At 24, Humm, the chef and co-owner of Eleven Madison Park, earned his first Michelin star at his first executive chef position at Gasthaus zum Gupf in the town of St Gallen in the Swiss Alps. He instantly stands out in the culinary world for being the antithesis to larger-than-life chef icons. Before we start the interview, he is offered the option of still or sparkling water. He grabs a bottle of still, saying: “Warm and still, that’s how I like my water.” Humm knows even carbon dioxide in sparkling water can affect the dining experience, making even the choice between still and sparkling crucial. There’s so much to learn from Humm who left school at the age of 14. Today, he impresses even the smartest Harvard students during a recent lecture he gave on the effects of acid in food, and wows diners of Eleven Madison Park with every single meal.


So why did he move to the US? “I was working in Switzerland. I had just received my first Michelin star at 24 – I was the youngest chef ever at that point. I was in this beautiful restaurant. It was an amazing place. We had our own farm. But that’s the kind of place you work when you’re 50. I was 24, I was up there in the middle of nowhere thinking this is not for me,” says Humm.


When offered the opportunity to work in San Francisco, Humm grabbed it with only a few expectations. “I just wanted to learn a language and to live in a foreign place,” he says. In a few months, he turned the Campton Place around, and quickly became recognised as a rising chef to watch in San Francisco. “Everything happened really fast. I had a solid, long training since I started cooking at 14,” he says.


He knew at an early age he wanted to be a chef.


At eight, his father brought young Daniel along with him to dine with his business partners at fancy Frédy Giradet’s restaurant. “We were eating at the chef’s table. I saw tonnes of chefs in their uniforms and toques. I was in awe of the whole spectacle. Then, Frédy made me spaghetti with tomatoes and lobster.” The effect on Humm would have a lasting resonance.


When I ask how he would describe his style of


cooking, he says: “I ask myself the question, ‘what is my cuisine?’, a lot. What makes a cuisine is the history of a place, and the agriculture of a place, when these come together that makes a cuisine. Everywhere you go that’s what you find. And I think in New York we’re trying to define that. I think New


York is so used to getting everything from everywhere in the world so it’s kind of hard to see what is New York cuisine. Because there’s Chinese, Italian,


and Japanese.” Humm moved to New York in 2006 to be the executive chef of Eleven Madison Park. His love affair with New York has been growing since. “New York is just incredible. You have this amazing city that’s so vibrant with these different cultures. There’s no other place in the world like this. When one comes to New York, it’s to achieve something special, to be the best. You have this


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FRANCESCO TONELLI


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