Eleven Madison Park is one of the fanciest, most expensive restaurants in Manhattan, and it knows a thing or two about how to get the world’s attention. Last year, we wrote about the restaurant’s decision to use its top-tier kitchen and dining room serve COVID-19 first responders and those left in need by the pandemic. Now, the institution with three Michelin stars has created an entirely plant-based menu and will no longer serve meat or seafood, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Eleven Madison Park reopens to the public on June 10, and when it does, diners can expect to see dishes whose preparation is as painstaking as any beef or fish dish; for example, WSJ describes the EMP team finalizing a roasted beet dish whose 16-hour preparation process involves everything from elaborate sauces to a clay vase that gets cracked open as part of the item’s presentation at the table.
“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,” Chef Daniel Humm told WSJ. “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.”
This might come as a surprise to the restaurant’s fans; Eleven Madison Park’s signature dish has long been a roasted duck with honey and lavender, and lots of other meat dishes stood out on the menu, too. WSJ notes that only one other restaurant with three Michelin stars is known to serve no meat or seafood: King’s Joy in Beijing. (However, this is not the first time a notable chef has made waves with the announcement that their restaurant was going meat-free; as food and culture writer Alicia Kennedy pointed out on Twitter, Parisian chef Alain Passard famously removed meat from the menu at L’Arpège in 2001 before adding some meat dishes back into the rotation a few years later.)
So, why is Humm’s restaurant going vegetarian? He explains it in terms of environmental ethics.
“Our practices of animal production, what we’re doing to the oceans, the amount we consume: It is not sustainable,” Humm said. “If Eleven Madison Park is truly at the forefront of dining and culinary innovation, to me it’s crystal clear that this is the only place to go next.”
In the first few hours since this announcement, while many have praised this move as a commitment to sustainability, critics have shared a wide array of dissenting opinions. Some say a vegan restaurant doesn’t really qualify as big news in 2021. Others say that the pivot to vegetables is a sneaky way to increase profit margins. A few have pointed out that, like Alain Passard before him, Humm is unlikely to make this menu change permanent. The Restaurant Manifesto takes issue with the fact that the EMP news is being treated as groundbreaking when many more accessible restaurants have done the same thing. Indeed, some people have pointed out that there are entire meatless cultures and cuisines worldwide, and to treat Humm’s menu as a novelty is to center a Western culinary tradition.
This announcement also follows up cooking website Epicurious’ decision to no longer print new recipes involving beef. The site explained that this is “a shift about sustainability; not anti-beef but pro-planet.” Similarly, it seems that Humm is trying to offer guests an alternative dining experience, but one that is in no way inferior to the animal products they’re used to eating at EMP or other fine dining establishments. Will the new menu alienate longtime fans of the restaurant’s roast duck and poached lobster? Or will it draw in curious diners eager to see whether the celebrated chef has pulled it off? We have just over a month left before we find out—though most of us will obviously be finding out from the sidelines, because getting a reservation at EMP is all but financially and logistically impossible.