Having worked in the kitchens at the age of 14, Chef Daniel Humm has earned an abundance of awards and recognition for his work. Now, as Head Chef/co-owner at Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad, he boasts three Michelin stars, six James Beard Foundation Awards, four stars from the New York Times and has been recognised by our panel as the Global Winner and winner of the Best Overall Wine List in North America. We caught up with Chef Humm who told us more.
Congratulations on winning Best Global Winner at the World of Fine Wine Awards 2015. The awards, chaired by WOFW editor Neil Beckett, celebrate the importance of a good wine selection and are evaluated by a panel of senior judges. How does it feel to be recognized by industry insiders in this way?
Thank you very much. It's very humbling to receive such an honor and it's meaningful because it recognizes the hard work of our entire team. Everyone in the restaurant works incredibly hard and it's wonderful to take moments like this to celebrate, honor, and reflect on what we've achieved. I like to encourage our team to take time to look forward as part of this celebration because any award, any accolade we receive is for what we've done in the past and we must make sure we continue to achieve our best in the future.
Where did your love of fine dining originate from?
At a very young age, I began working in fine dining kitchens. The Michelin-starred kitchens I spent time in were great training grounds for me. I learned that I had to be patient and, through this, I came to understand the beauty of repetition. Fine dining is very much about technique and focus. It is an art that takes time to learn and one needs to be deeply committed if they are to excel. My love of fine dining developed as I became more and more dedicated to learning this craft. I was inspired by the challenges presented by each and every ingredient and the even bigger challenge of bringing the ingredients come together in the best way possible. When it all works, when everything on the plate and in the dining room is as perfect as it can be, that's truly a moment of beauty.
Was it always your intention to work with food and fine wine?
It wasn't necessarily my intention to become a chef, although I did gravitate towards cooking early on in my life. My other passion is cycling and I would have likely pursued that as a career had I not crashed and had a long recovery period. While recovering, I realized how difficult it would be to make a career out of cycling. After the crash, there was a certain part of me that worried something like that could happen again. Cooking offered me something else that I loved to do. It's a craft that allows me to use my hands and my creativity, but I also have to apply the same amount of discipline and focus I did with cycling. I still love to ride my bike, but I'm glad I chose the path I did.
What is the secret to your success?
Patience is something I recommend to anyone chasing their passion, whether or not they are in the kitchen. It took me about a dozen years to truly be referred to as a chef. That's a long time. During those years I repeated a lot of the same tasks over and over again, whether it was turning carrots, shucking peas, or even slicing a tomato. Success is not something that happens overnight and patience is very important, especially in our industry.
What do you think is the most important element of a good wine list?
Balance is essential for a good wine list. Balance is key in terms of diversity, flavor, and price point. It's also important to have a balance of wines that are unique or less well known and those that may be more familiar and crowd pleasing. The most important thing of all, though, is that the wine list works with the food you're serving your guests.
What is your fundamental philosophy on food and wine?
Food and wine working together elevate the dining experience greatly. Whenever we come up with pairings, we taste the dishes with our wine team and we collaborate to make sure that all the flavors, and that includes the aroma, are going to enhance the dish, and vice versa. We invest a lot of time in this process to make sure all our pairings are well thought out and completely intentional.
What sets your wine list apart?
I believe we have one of the most amazing wine lists in the world. It's one that covers so many different regions, but also represents our region and the incredible wines from New York State. It's important to remember that wine service is more than just a list. Wine service is also about how the wine is described to the guest, how it is served, and how it is poured. The work our wine team does addresses each of these elements with equal care and attention, which is why our service is nothing short of incredible.
What wines do you favor at home?
At home, I really enjoy wines from the Rhone Valley, such as Chateau Rayas, and those from Provence, like Domaine Tempier.
Are there any particular wines that you love, or remind you of a certain place or memory?
Provence is one of my favorite places in the world and I travel there once a year if not more, so any wines from that region always bring back good memories for me.
What is next for you?
We have The NoMad Cookbook coming out this fall and I am so excited for that. It's a beautiful book and really embodies everything that The NoMad stands for: delicious food, creative drinks, and a real sense of timeless style. This has kept us very busy, along with all the excitement at both restaurants.