When the James Beard Foundation held its Silver Anniversary Gala at New York City’s Four Seasons restaurant in November, the guests were treated to a multi-course dinner cooked by five celebrated chefs: Alfred Portale, David Bouley, Tom Colicchio, Michel Richard and Daniel Humm. Each had been a recipient of the Beard Foundation’s prestigious “Outstanding Chef Award” and each showed off his talents by preparing a different part of the menu. Before the Swiss-born Chef Humm ducked into the kitchen to put the finishing touches on his entree, we had a chance to sit down and chat.
Q. Describe the dish you are preparing for the Gala.
A. It’s a Stuffed Filet of Beef inspired by James Beard’s original cookbook, Menus for Entertaining. It’s wrapped in Swiss chard and accompanied by a sauce made with Madeira and truffles. I also prepared chicken liver toasts to serve on the side.
Q. You recently changed the format of Eleven Madison Park from a $125 prix-fixe menu with several options to a single $195 menu that “tells a story” over several hours. Why the change?
A. I wanted to create more of an experience; a sense of place that is New York City. The city’s cuisine reflects many cultures but that’s not really what New York cuisine is all about. We can source produce from some of the best soil on earth [in the nearby Hudson Valley] and get excellent seafood from the coast. New York also has a fascinating culinary history and many more seasons than four. That’s what I want to convey.
Q. How much staff do you need to pull this off every night?
A. We employ 150 people at Eleven Madison Park. It’s an 80-seat restaurant, so that’s almost a 2:1 ratio of staff to guests.
Q. NoMad is your newer, less formal restaurant. Is it hard to shift gears?
A. The restaurants are located very close to each other, in the same neighborhood, so it’s easy to get back and forth and divide my time between the two. The menu at NoMad is more traditional in format and more approachable, but still focuses on great ingredients and technique.
Q. Have you ever been tapped to appear on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters?
A. I would never go on a cooking competition show. I’m not a movie star; I’m a chef. I didn’t start cooking for the glory; I became a chef because I really enjoyed the craft. It allows me to create something with my hands and see instant results—and that’s very satisfying.
Q. When you’re not behind the stove or running between restaurants, what do you like to do?
A. I run marathons.