The Next Era of Daniel Humm
The Eleven Madison Park chef opens up about his new London restaurant—his first without longtime partner Will Guidara—and the future of fine dining.
"Don’t make me sound, like, arrogant,” Daniel Humm jokes. The chef—best known for the three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park in New York—is on the phone from London. We’re talking about his newest restaurant, Davies and Brook, which opened December 9 at Claridge’s, the iconic London hotel. It’s Humm’s first restaurant outside the United States and, noticeably, the first since his split with longtime business partner Will Guidara in July.
“I think, you know, in the last few years, we haven't seen eye to eye,” he says. “And we had an amazing, amazing journey, and we learned so from each other, but it was just time to realize that that we were holding each other back more than we were helping each other.”
Consequently, Davies and Brook is “just more focused on one vision”—Humm’s. The new restaurant still boasts some Eleven Madison Park (EMP) mainstays, like the honey lavender-glazed duck, which earned EMP a number one spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. But the new menu is also of place, reflecting the pluralism of London’s fine-dining scene and the British colonialist influences of India and the West Indies. Caviar is served with naan.
Despite its global inflections, the menu at Davies and Brook is decidedly focused. The tasting menu features seven courses, compared to eight to 10 at Eleven Madison Park. “There was a time when you ordered a menu and there were three desserts,” Humm says. “Who can eat three desserts after having 15 courses already? No one, and it’s not a good thing.”
“Editing” is something that Humm talks about a lot. In regards to his vision for food, and for life. At 43, the chef has already earned three Michelin stars and a top spot on the World’s 50 Best list. While some might feel this to be the height of professional pressure, he doesn’t.
“I feel liberated,” he says. “I feel more that I have the luxury of really deciding what I want to put my energy towards. And in a way because I've reached some of the things I wanted to reach, like the three stars, the number one in the world, and all these things, in a way I feel quite free because of it.”
“It’s now just about editing,” Humm continues. “Editing my life to fewer things, but to give more of myself to the things I am doing.” And that boils down to quality. It’s another word Humm uses a lot.
“I'm very particular about quality: for quality people in my life, for quality things in my home, for quality of my work," he says. "But at the same time, I'm also quite easygoing ... quality doesn't need to be pretentious.”
Consequently, Davies and Brook—named for the cross-streets where it’s situated—offers a three-course menu for 72 pounds, far more affordable than anything you can get at EMP. At Davies and Brook, an express lunch is 38 pounds. Price point and number of courses aside, Davies and Brook is distilled down in other ways. The over-the-top touches that made EMP the talk of the town—picnic baskets, card tricks, literal sleds waiting to take patrons to Central Park—have been sublimated into softer flourishes at Davies and Brook.
“I think they were all part of the journey and it was all part of finding myself as a chef,” Humm says, “but today, I feel it's definitely mature. And it's definitely much more grown up.”
Part of this subtlety has been a reaction against the ornateness of fine dining as a whole. “When we started Eleven Madison, all the attention went to restaurants like Momofuku and places like that, where it was great food, but it was in the most casual settings," he says. "And I knew then that I wanted to reinvent fine dining because I believed in it. I believe in the craft and art of service, food, sommeliers, tabletop, of all these things ... But we really have to change to make sure it stays relevant, or otherwise it won’t. And, we really have to make it about the guests much more, and and not make it about ourselves.”
Before Momofuku, there was molecular gastronomy, and restaurants like El Bulli . And that, too, prompted Humm to re-evaluate his work. “For a while, I was like, maybe I should learn these techniques" he says. "I even did. It was kind of a confusing time. But I realized that wasn’t for me, and it didn’t feel genuine. I just realized that I have to cook based on how I grew up.”
And that, in a way, is what Davies and Brooke seems to be about. It’s Humm’s purest vision, boiled down. It’s the Swiss-born chef striking out on his own, returning to the continent where he grew up. To the very hotel where he, as a fifteen year old, started as a stagaire in the basement.
He learned the rules of gastronomy in Europe, and went to America to learn how to break them. But now he’s back. He’s not sure what’s next. For now, Davies and Brooke is the only thing on the horizon. And it’s already booked through January.
“I definitely want to do some other things,” Humm says. “I have a lot of years left. But I think I'm quite satisfied with just doing an amazing restaurant in London. That's really fulfilling.”