A professional cyclist at age 14 and a Michelin star at age 24, meet Daniel Humm, Claridge’s new cooking talent. Words by Reyhaan Day.
Daniel Humm is one of the world’s most celebrated chefs, having been awarded the highest accolades available to the industry.
His flagship restaurant, Eleven Madison Park in New York City, has retained its three Michelin stars since 2012. The restaurant also achieved the title of world’s best restaurant in 2017.
One might anticipate ego – but Daniel Humm is laid back. Tall and with a broad smile, his lilt sits somewhere between his native Swiss and a West Coast drawl.
Humm’s life has been unorthodox. A competitive cyclist in his early teens, he left school and home at 14 to pursue a career in the sport.
“It was not easy with my parents during that time. It wasn’t easy for them to understand my decision – so much so that my dad wasn’t supportive of it. He said: ‘You’re on your own,'” Humm says.
Finding the kitchen
“In the off-seasons (and at just 14, there are very few places to find a job) the kitchen was a logical move,” he adds.
Humm began working in restaurants around Zurich, and quickly fell in love with cooking. When he wasn’t cycling, the budding chef would work in different cities.
At age 15, he spent a winter at Claridge’s, as a prep cook.
“The kitchen had this sense of athleticism. It almost felt like sport. To be honest, when I stopped cycling at 22 and really dived into this career fully, I feel like I made cooking my sport.
“It was about some competitiveness, training and endurance; there are a lot of similarities.”
Once Humm had embraced cooking as his chosen craft, his rise was quick.
“I was 24 when I received my first Michelin star, at this beautiful little restaurant outside Zurich. I was too young to have that. I felt overwhelmed – I hadn’t found myself yet.
“It was hard, because season after season, you need to change your menu – and you also need to cook. At that age, you don’t have that kind of repertoire. But I worked hard. I knew I couldn’t stay there. I had so much more to learn.”
Then a guest offered him a job at a hotel in California.
“After two years in San Francisco, I was being called the rising star of America. Everything happened so quick, but I just kept going.”
Then he took a job at a renowned New York restaurant called Eleven Madison Park, a brasserie with more than 200 seats.
“It took three years to get the food to the level it was in San Francisco because of its sheer size – and trying to change the concept while remaining open,” he says.
Humm and the Eleven Madison Park team overcame the challenges, quickly building a reputation for offering one of the most stimulating and accomplished dining experiences in the world.
During this time, Humm and business partner Will Guidara, took control of the restaurant.
“We were very young and riding this wave from one review to another, to being number 50 on the World’s 50 Best and going to number one, and going from one star to three.”
Humm recently took over Make It Nice, the restaurant group that operates Eleven Madison Park, NoMad hotels’ dining and the fast-casual Made Nice.
Davies & Brook is the latest addition to the group’s roster.
“Our DNA is that there are no walls between the kitchen and dining room. We want to make decisions that are best for the restaurant, not for the kitchen or dining room. I think we want to be approachable, accessible, fun and relaxed,” he says.
And the future?
“I want to build a restaurant group that is like the Google of restaurant groups. That’s not in terms of size, but in terms of quality.
“I want to do less, but I want to make everything we do really meaningful – and only do things when they are really inspiring and bringing you forward creatively.”