Just before 8 p.m., on a Tuesday evening in April, in the massive steel-and-marble kitchen of New York’s Eleven Madison Park, Daniel Humm’s team of chefs perfected the beet. It was a giddy moment. The beet — at first glance — looks like a regular old cooked beet. But when you bite into it, the taste is, all at once, smoky and sweet and acidic and earthy, and there is a rich, creamy texture alongside a hint of crunch. The tastes themselves are incredible, but so is the simple fact of this dish. How in the world can a beet be so complex, so surprising, yet also so authentically beety?
While the dish appears simple, its preparation is almost absurdly complex, requiring a 16-hour process with more than a dozen distinct steps — including preparing a roasted herb and lettuce sauce, herb garland and a clay vase that is cracked open as part of the presentation.
For a long time, EMP and its chef and owner, Daniel Humm, 44, have been described with superlatives: World’s Best Restaurant; three Michelin stars; four New York Times stars. But now the restaurant is making a move that will likely ensure its place in the history of food. Like most fine-dining chefs, Humm is best known for meat and seafood dishes: his legendary duck, roasted with honey and lavender; lobster poached in mushroom butter; smoked-sturgeon cheesecake with caviar. When it reopens on June 10, EMP will stop serving meat or seafood of any kind and make its dishes exclusively from plants—from vegetables, fruits and fungi. (Currently, there is only one three-Michelin-star restaurant that serves no meat or seafood: King’s Joy in Beijing.) EMP will not count as fully vegan because Humm will allow milk and honey for coffee and tea; Humm struggled a bit with this decision, concluding that he didn’t want to deprive guests of pleasures but to delight them with the possibility of plant-based cuisine. (This year’s Michelin stars for New York–based restaurants will be revealed later this week, so they will reflect the old EMP menu. In roughly one year, Humm will learn if his meat-free menu retains this honor.)
“When we set out on this journey we promised ourselves that we would only do this if the meal could be as delicious as it was before,” Humm says. “My goal is to create these beautiful dishes, give people beautiful experiences; unexpected, surprising experiences that make you feel satisfied, as a meal with meat would.”
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