A few days before the James Beard Awards ceremony, we had dinner at Eleven Madison Park. When Chef Daniel Humm stopped by our table to say hello, we told him we were, of course, rooting for him to win Best Chef NYC. He smiled and said, “I should win!”
That show of confidence was quite different from the person we met for the first time three years ago. We’d enjoyed dining at EMP during Kerry Heffernan’s tenure. But at the end of ’06, Heffernan left, and we were tantalized by the reports we read about the young, very talented chef whom Danny Meyer had hired to take over the kitchen and give the menu an entirely new look. A Michelin-starred chef at the age of 24 in Switzerland, his homeland, and coming from San Francisco’s Campton Place, where he’d received accolades. We could hardly wait….
By March ’07, Chef Humm’s menu was in place. M and I took J and the P.G. (at that time, her b.f.) to dinner. Opening the menu, we saw that on the left side, Chef Humm had retained the a la carte menu; however, on the right, there were three tasting menus: seafood, seasonal, and vegetarian. The P.G. chose the seafood tasting while J, M and I went with the seasonal.
Our first tastes of Chef Humm’s cuisine were the amuses, a parade the likes of which we’d never before experienced. All were spectacular! As plate after small plate was set down before us, it got to where we started joking, “Has the real meal started yet?” And when the “real meal” was served, every dish bowled us over!
We asked our server if we could meet Chef Humm. He arrived at our table, a very tall, thin, attractive young man. And almost painfully shy. As we raved to him about the meal, it was obvious to me that he wanted to be anywhere except standing there! He smiled, very quietly thanked us, and beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen. So began our love affair with his cooking…
We started dining regularly at EMP and extolled the virtues of Chef Humm’s cuisine to anyone who would listen. We came to feeling strongly that his exquisite cuisine, the superb wine program put together by Wine Director John Ragan, and the stellar service provided by the young, energetic staff shepherded by Manager Will Guidara made Eleven Madision Park worthy of 4 stars from the NY Times long before Frank Bruni finally came to see it that way. And when Chef Humm told us that we must go to Per Se because the cuisine there was, in his opinion, on a level all its own, we came back after our meal there and told him that while it had been superb, in our opinion, his cuisine was the equal. I guess you can say we are members in good standing of the Daniel Humm/EMP Fan Club!
The James Beard Awards ceremony took place on Monday, May 4th. A few minutes past 9 p.m., we were just about to walk out the door to go to dinner when the phone rang. It was u.e. calling from the event to tell us that Daniel Humm’s confident prediction had come true: he had won Best Chef NYC!
u.e. also told us that there would be a celebration party at EMP starting around 11 p.m., and that Chef Humm and other staff members wanted us to be there. Of course, the proverbial wild horses couldn’t keep us away!
In high spirits, we went off for a wonderful dinner at The Modern Dining Room. (You can see photos of that meal here.) Arriving at EMP a little after 11 p.m., we immediately ran into an elated Daniel Humm, sporting his medal and, of course, told him how thrilled we were for him.
The d.j. was just starting to set up, but the bar area was jammed to the hilt with celebrants.
A few tables of dinner patrons were still finishing their meals. Once they were done, the continuously growing crowd spilled into the dining area. And once the music got going at an insanely high decibel level, the young folks in the crowd went into dance-your-brains-out-mode. It was a raucous scene!
At around 1 a.m., the crowd suddenly erupted in a cheer. Daniel Boulud had arrived. His eponymous flagship had won Best Restaurant. The two Daniels, who are close friends, had been hoisted onto a table in the reception area. Uncorking bottles of Champagne, they showered the crowd. As M remarked, it was like the Yankees’ locker room after they’ve won the World Series.
When we left a little before 2 a.m., the place was still rockin’. Anyone passing by and sticking their head in would never guess that this was actually a fairly sedate NY Times 4-star restaurant.
Winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef NYC was another joyous event in what has been a truly wonderful year for Daniel Humm both professionally and personally.