Update, May 6, 2020: As weeks of restaurant closures turn into months, the dining landscape is markedly different now than at the start of stay-at-home orders in March. In a new interview with Bloomberg, chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, who’s been using his posh kitchen to cook meals for first responders and those affected by the COVID-19 crisis, says that his restaurant might not reopen after the pandemic subsides.
“There is definitely a question mark over Eleven Madison Park—if it will reopen,” Humm told Bloomberg. “It will take millions of dollars to reopen. You have to bring back staff. I work with fancy equipment in a big space. I want to continue to cook with the most beautiful and precious ingredients in a creative way, but at the same time, it needs to make sense.”
The restaurant never seriously considered pivoting to a takeout or delivery model, as other upscale restaurants have. “It didn’t feel to me that the world needed Eleven Madison Park food in fancy boxes,” said Humm, adding that it wasn’t worth the risk of exposing his staff to illness. Reopening in April to feed first responders and those in need is what Humm refers to as his “lightbulb moment,” one that made him realize that big structural changes would be necessary to get the restaurant industry moving again in the future.
“Any way that EMP reopens—and it’s like a blank canvas right now, we would need to redefine what luxury means–it will also be an opportunity to continue to feed people who don’t have anything,” said Humm. “I don’t need to only feed the 1% anymore.”
Original post, April 3, 2020: Few fine dining restaurants are as well-regarded, or as expensive, as Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan. Helmed by Swiss chef Daniel Humm, this three Michelin-starred temple of white tablecloth gastronomy requires a nonrefundable deposit of $729 when you reserve a table for two, and the optional wine pairing costs a cool $175 per person. While Eleven Madison has been ranked the best restaurant in the world, needless to say, they haven’t built their reputation on being accessible. But now the world-famous restaurant is serving a decidedly less privileged clientele: COVID-19 first responders and those in need.
“We are blessed to have a beautiful and spacious restaurant and kitchen, we have a team that is looking to work, to cook,” Humm said on Instagram this week. “The city needs food to help those in need—Starting today, we have turned Eleven Madison Park into a commissary kitchen with the goal of producing thousands of meals per day for those who are working in the front lines and those who are deeply effected by the current crisis.”
Per Humm, the pivot is powered by a partnership between the nonprofit organization Rethink Food NYC—which helps distribute excess food to underserved parts of NYC, and is currently providing grants to help keep restaurants running—and American Express. While AmEx’s role hasn’t been explained, presumably they’re helping to bankroll the endeavor.
According to CNN, Humm himself is working the line at Eleven Madison, and the restaurant is pumping out around 2,000 servings a day of dishes like chicken rice with roasted cauliflower, savory braised veal cheek with couscous and roasted carrots, and pasta dressed with Romesco sauce and served with house-made focaccia. Given that food insecurity is such a critical issue that the city is now offering three free meals a day to any and all citizens, additional meal programs like this go a long way toward filling in the gaps. Plus, nothing raises one’s spirits quite like a braised veal cheek.