Each night, I throw a dinner party for hundreds of people. I own a restaurant in NYC, Eleven Madison Park, that has three Michelin stars, four New York Times stars, a bunch of sommeliers, big wine lists, multicourse menus—it’s a fine-dining restaurant through and through. I love what I do and can’t imagine doing anything else, but growing up I hated fine-dining restaurants. They seemed so stuffy and definitely not fun. From an early age I felt the pull to hospitality—my dad is a lifelong restaurateur, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps—but I was more drawn to casual places. In fact, my dream job was to run burger joints.
Yet somehow I found myself with an offer to head up this fancy restaurant in NYC with a crazy-talented, Michelin-trained Swiss chef named Daniel Humm. I didn’t want it to be a boring, cold place. Life is too short for that. Sure, fancy restaurants are supposed to be luxurious and over the top. But if I was going to spend 14 hours a day there, mine needed to feel more like home.
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In the year that followed, many of the ideas we implemented were inspired by exactly that: home. Every time we’d consider a new course or a new step of service, we’d ask, “How would we do it if we were having friends over for dinner?” And, before I knew it, fine dining was fun.