Restaurant: Eleven Madison Park
Cuisine: Modern American/Fine Dining
Last visited: March 7, 2014
Phone: +1 212-889-0905
Location: Manhattan, NY (Chelsea)
Address: 11 Madison Ave
Price Range: $50+ ($225 per person for tasting menu)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
- Executive Chef Daniel Humm
- Fine dining
- #5 in S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants
- The New York Times – Four Stars
- Michelin Guide – Three Stars
- Forbes Travel Guide – Five Stars
- AAA – Five Diamond Award
- Wine Spectator – Grand Award
- Les Grandes Tables du Monde
- Tasting Menu only
- Seasonal/local menu
- Lunch: Thursday–Saturday, noon–1:00pm
- Dinner: Monday–Sunday, 5:30pm–10:00pm
- Reservations recommended
Go big or go home right? I wasn’t wasting time. New York dining experiences do not have to revolve around fine dining, but if there is room for a white tablecloth restaurant, I would recommend one. After all, this is New York, home to many of the most highly rated restaurants or “best restaurants” in North America. I’ll mention again, I really dislike using the word “best” since it’s all relative and food is personal.
Eleven Madison Park needs no introduction, but I still have to give it one. Last year it was ranked #5 in S.Pellegrino World’s 50
The room felt grander and more open than other restaurants of the same caliber in New York, yet it didn’t feel as pretentious or stuffy. For white tablecloths in New York I actually considered it quite comfortable and perhaps even slightly casual for fine dining. The waitstaff was about one for every two guests, which is somewhat expected since service plays a major role, especially when it comes to 3 Michelin Star rated restaurants.
It was my first time at Eleven Madison Park so I have nothing to compare to, although I know the dining experience has already changed from a year ago. They used to offer a minimalistic menu with a limited selection of ingredients, and diners would select ingredients for a “customized” menu. However now it is just one standard chef’s tasting menu and everyone gets the same thing. While this could sound less exciting and a bit more impersonal and “mass-produced” (which it isn’t, considering what they do here), there are pros to the current dining format. It streamlines the menu and helps ensure the food is consistent, which is key to success for any restaurant. I can’t say which format is better since I didn’t try the old format, but I could see the charm in an attempted personalized experience, although I’d have a hard time picking. At least this way I could try some of everything which is preferred.
Eleven Madison Park was a collaboration of old and new school fine dining. Unlike classic fine dining restaurants where it is about service and food, modern fine dining has gone beyond that. These days it is all about creating a memorable experience and engaging diners, not only entertaining them with table side service. That being said, Eleven Madison Park brings back table side dining and excels at it. It helps personalize the experience and it’s pleasant to see a tired service revived.
The attention to service is really apparent and every dish comes with a story and explanation. The menu emphasizes New York without being patriotic, but it respects the traditions and culture of the city’s food scene. It appreciates the history and the menu tells a story, and traditional dishes are reinterpreted using modern day language and ingredients. Most of the ingredients are local, some exclusive to Eleven Madison Park, and diners are informed of specifics during descriptions of each dish.
While my interest in food history is high and I appreciated all the notes from the servers, I was a bit disappointed in the delivery of the descriptions. Serving here is not an easy task and the enjoyment and understanding of each dish is heavily influenced by the explanation of each dish. This means the server plays an integral role on how a dish is enjoyed, communicated, and appreciated.
Many of the servers are well experienced and know the menu to the T especially since they have to narrate every dish. The problem was, I felt like I was the 600th person to get the speech and I wanted to feel like the first. I know that may come across elitist, but part of storytelling is in the delivery or else it just becomes a speech. I missed the excitement and enthusiasm for every dish and even though I knew I was probably in the thousands of people to get the story, I didn’t want to feel like it. It takes talent to tell the same story over and over again every single day to a new person without making it sound old and I find that was something they could improve on.
On that note the service was a bit on and off even besides the times the descriptions came across as robotic, monotone or rushed. I felt it started off strong with hospitality in mind, but sometimes it just lacked genuine character behind it. In most cases I weigh food much heavier than I weigh service, but again when you’re paying about $350/person without wine pairings, you really expect near flawless service and above and beyond treatment for everyone.
As for the food, it was the whole experience and package that took it there. Everything was more or less excellent, but it was the interactive experiences making it so special. It wasn’t as much of a performance as Alinea and I would never compare it to the classic Per Se, but it was almost in between. It gets the diner involved with not only where the ingredients are from, but where the dish is from and how it came to be.
Since I didn’t have the menu to follow during the dinner and relied on the descriptions from the servers, there was an element of surprise which I think they reinforce and take pride in. However, I found the series of courses harder to follow without the menu and some things I didn’t understand until I was able to see it all together.
The theme of the menu is a tribute to New York and therefore so is the style. However it also alternates between this New York theme and single ingredient theme, which was more or less what Eleven Madison Park was known for to start. The dishes tend to be quite simple with few components (typical for fine dining restaurants of this caliber) and he really directs attention to the ingredient in focus.
The food is delicate and elegant and often the same dish comes in two versions. It is as if there was a dilemma in the kitchen between chefs, on not knowing which version of the dish to make, but there is no hesitation and everything is intentional. The food and presentation is fancy without being dramatic and it is still very approachable, understandable and straight forward, especially when someone is there explaining it.
The courses were satisfying in different ways and they were not all created equal. It was a bit challenging because many of the courses were nostalgic, so it was inevitable to compare them to things you may have tried before. It was hard to go in neutral with no expectations or biases. His interpretations of a dish may not be your favourite, but the story, ingredients and context makes you appreciate it on another level.
At times I missed the fluidity and cohesiveness of the courses, service and delivery, but I would still recommend it as a fine dining destination spot for those visiting or living in New York. It’s not just a fine dining experience, but a New York experience. It is where old-fashioned is new fashion.
Eleven Madison Park has their own identity which is distinct from classic fine dining institutions in New York. It is easy to understand the food and I hope their growing recognition and accolades don’t rob them of their original values and goals. There will always be a bit of an expected show, after all it is New York, but the integrity behind the intentions is what sets it apart and that should come naturally.
Note: This meal was paid for, however previous arrangements were made with public relations for an interview with chef Daniel Humm. All opinions are my own.
On the table:
Inside the envelope was a card and you punch out your choice of ingredient. They don’t tell you what the ingredient will be used for or what dishes will feature it, so there’s a bit of mystery. My choices were maple, cranberry, fennel and apple. I went for maple (it was the Canadian in me), but if I had known what the dishes would be I probably would have gone for fennel.
- Savoury Black and White Cookie with Apple
- Look to the cookie! The Black and White Cookie or half moon cookie is an iconic New York cookie.
- It’s a vanilla based soft shortbread cookie with vanilla and chocolate fondant, but here they made a savoury version.
- It kind of reminded me of a cheddar cheese scone meets a sablé cookie (French shortbread with sandy crumb).
- It was slightly oily from the cheese and the flavour was nutty and intense like Parmesan, but I couldn’t taste the apple.
- I thought it would be a bit sweet from the fondant, but it actually wasn’t at all.
- I’m not sure if “The Big Apple” had anything to do with the flavour choice, but it was a cute amuse bouche.
- Vichyssoise and caviar
- Oysters and caviar… a signature dish often associated with Thomas Keller.
- Many people make their own versions of it, but I have to say nothing beats the one from Per Se so far.
- At Per Se you get almost a tablespoon of caviar ($310 per person for tasting menu), and here it was a bit less ($225 per person for tasting menu), but I don’t want to compare too much either.
- The Vichyssoise chilled soup made from potatoes, leeks and onions was rich and creamy and had a cream cheese like flavour to it.
- It was savoury and tangy and played right into the smooth oyster.
- It was a refreshing and delicate bite and I could taste all three components.
- The caviar had no pop (which is good), and a nice umami and good fishiness different from the umami of oyster and oyster brine.
- The carefully placed caviar was almost the salt and I liked the overall aesthetic of the amuse bouche.
- Marinated with apple, lime and water chestnut
- The menu continued with a fresh and light dish as delicate as the first.
- The selection of ingredients was refreshing and I was already anticipating a clean bite.
- It was salty sweet with the scallop, and the lime yogurt and apple snow was a dessert-like concept.
- The apple snow was sorbet shavings so there were no icy bits to interrupt the smoothness of the dish.
- I didn’t think about the water chestnut and it didn’t play a major role, but I enjoyed this.
- Part 1: Tartare with caviar and smoked bone marrow Part 2: Pastrami with pickles, rye, mustard, and maple
- This was really interesting and I didn’t know what to think of the presentation at first, besides it being playful.
- It was a good transition from fresh, light and delicate seafood to heavier red meat, which was still light in its respective category.
- Beef tartare is a staple at any classic steakhouse in New York, so this was a tribute to that.
- The beef bone was filled with beef tartare mixed with caviar, smoked marrow and crème fraîche.
- The concept could be unsettling and it doesn’t necessarily look apptizing, but nonetheless creative.
- I’ve never had beef tartare and caviar together and it was a bit of surf and turf action.
- I can be a purist so I preferred the caviar on its own, and it seemed like a waste to mix it with beef.
- The quality of beef was excellent and buttery in texture, and together with the smooth caviar it made for a creamy bite.
- The beef was almost like blue fin tuna sashimi and it was a chunkier grind which I liked. It wasn’t chewy at all.
- The caviar seemed different from the one served with the oyster, but I’m not sure if it was.
- In this, the caviar tasted less fishy (it tasted fishy in a good way) and very subtle.
- I liked the choice of crème fraîche instead of mustard or anything heavy.
- It’s a classic with caviar, but not typically matched with beef.
- I liked there were few ingredients because the focus was on the quality of beef and caviar.
- There was nothing masked and I could taste each componant. It was simple.
- Part 2: Pastrami with pickles, rye, mustard, and maple
- Easily the most high maintenance and fanciest pastrami sandwich I’ve had to date.
- New York prides itself on delis and it’s part of their history.
- I was told New York had 110 classic Kosher delis and this course was inspired by them.
- It was a very cute throw-back set up especially at a white tablecloth restaurant and there was a lot of effort to make it special.
- The soda bottles were filled with house made cola and the flavour was the ingredient I selected in the beginning.
- One was a maple soda and the other was a fennel soda.
- I found the maple soda too sweet and if I had known I was getting soda I would have chose fennel, but luckily I got to try the fennel too.
- The fennel infused soda had the faint taste of black liquorice which is acquired. I like the subtle taste of liquorice though, and I found this unique.
- The beef came out in a steamer and immediately I was brought back to the legendary Pastrami Sandwich at New York institution Katz’s Deli. A must try.
- I wouldn’t even compare it to Katz’s because it’s apples and oranges, but I appreciate this version on a fine dining scale.
- It was about medium-fatty and it was tender, but not falling apart.
- The rub was very subtle and I was getting mostly the natural flavours of the beef brisket.
- It wasn’t particularly smoky, salty or anything, but still flavourful.
- The meat wasn’t particularly juicy, although not dry either, and it was a bit chewier than I expected.
- It was meant to be eaten like a mini open faced sandwich.
- There was dijon mustard, which some traditionalists would argue should be regular yellow mustard, spicy pickles, and a cucumber mustard seed relish.
- The thin bread was rye bread, but it had dried out a bit so I needed more sauce.
- The pastrami “canapé” was very good, but the experience certainly made it better and more special.
- I always appreciate excellent bread and butter and this was excellent!
- The house made bread was made with local flour and it was served with Pennsylvania cow’s milk butter and pork fat butter.
- The rolls were warm, light, soft, pillowy and almost a bit crispy on the outside.
- It was almost like a hybrid of a brioche meets a croissant, but only the exterior shell was flaky like a croissant.
- The Pennsylvania butter is made exclusively for Eleven Madison Park. It was a firm butter, hard to melt, and a bit sweet.
- The pork fat butter was excellent. It was savoury and meaty and it melted more easily than the Pennsylvania butter.
- Cured with sunchokes and fermented mustard greens
- I liked having a foie gras course without it being an additional supplement.
- I’m a fan of foie and I prefer the lobe simply pan seared and as is. A purist approach.
- Nonetheless I appreciate all the other modern and creative ways of making it, but if I had to pick, I’d go traditional.
- The foie gras torchon was shaved in melt-in-your-mouth sheets and it was almost like sashimi (I guess it kind of is too).
- I could taste the foie gras with no fillers and it was a meaty “salad” with crisp sunchokes.
- Sunchokes are also naturally meaty as well, and one was fried and the other cured.
- There was a nice textural contrast and it was still very light and elegant for being foie gras, which is so rich and indulgent.
- The sauce tasted like a gastrique and it had a vinegar base.
- It was sweet and tangy and it cut the richness of the foie gras while the sweetness enhanced its umami.
- The fermented mustard greens were supposed to help cut the richness too, but I didn’t really notice them.
- There was also some pear and I think mustard seeds (?) as a condiment.
- It was like a Mostarda (Italian candied fruit mustard), but there wasn’t much of it so I wouldn’t mind more.
- This was thoroughly enjoyed with the brioche, but the brioche was excellent on its own too.
Next, was the table side Waldorf Salad which was a change from the usual Caesar salad typical of steakhouses. The server narrated the story as he prepared the salad. He peeled the apples, cut them and did everything from scratch, except make the mayo which was done previously in the back.
The Waldorf Salad was invented in New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel by maître d’hôtel (dining room manager), Oscar Tschirky, in 1893. He served it at a private party during the pre-opening of the hotel. The recipe for it was published in their cookbook, The Cook Book, in 1896, and originally it only had apples, celery and mayo. It wasn’t until later they decided to add walnuts.
- Waldorf salad with celery, cranberries, and walnuts
- They used tart Granny Smith apples from Upstate New York, marinated celery root, a lemony mayo, lemon juice and zest.
- There were also candied walnuts, balsamic pickled cranberries and local cow’s milk blue cheese.
- It was originally served on a bed of lettuce, but here they used micro greens for elegance.
- It was actually quite heavily dressed with lemony mayo which was perhaps intentional.
- It had a pretty aggressive acidity, but it was not sour.
- The original recipe emphasized good mayo, so it may be why they used more, but I wouldn’t have minded less because the salad was wet.
- The vermicelli noodle-cut like raw apples were soft and I think it would be better crisp and crunchy.
- I wouldn’t mind the apples cut a bit thicker because they released water which made the salad more soggy, especially when mixed with the generous amount of dressing.
- The balsamic pickled cranberries were a bit soft, moist and plump and quite sour.
- Cranberries are already so sour, so pickling them in balsamic seemed a bit intense especially since the mayo was so lemony already, but they were obviously supreme to hard and chewy dried cranberries.
- The creamy shavings of blue cheese was my favourite and it ended up being the star of the show.
- It was a salty and sour salad and I would have liked some sweetness to round it out.
- Part 2 of the salad was a modern take on the Waldorf Salad.
- It was savoury granola and celery yogurt which is acquired, but I loved it.
- I liked it more than Part 1 of the Waldorf Salad, which was more ordinary.
- It was a savoury, sweet and sour granola with oats, almonds, cranberries and popcorn.
- The granola was light and crispy with a bit of brown sugar for sweetness.
- The savoury celery root yogurt was a bit foam like with a nice tang.
- There was also a faint bitterness and I think it was coming from the celery root yogurt, but it was hard to tell when it was all mixed.
- Poached with razor clam, sea urchin, and kale
- It was a rather exotic choice of seafood for North America and I was looking forward to this.
- The lobster was from Maine and he stuffed the lobster claw with a lobster mixture.
- It was diced lobster mixed in a tangy marshmallow like foam. I missed the description, but it was really unexpected.
- I think the lobster was sous vide and it was a great bite, but expected.
- I love razor clams and usually only get them when I’m in Asia, otherwise Vancouver doesn’t get them or serve them.
- The razor clam was marinated in a bit of chili with kale puree, but the puree was very salty and a bit overwhelming for the clam.
- The clam was also quite chewy. If you like razor clams I recommend the ones at Charlie Bird or Peasant.
- So far the sea urchins I’ve had in New York had been incredibly fishy (in a bad way) and disappointing, but this one was good.
- It was good quality and fresh sea urchin served with pear and there was a clean aftertaste. It was my favourite of the three.
- I didn’t even expect a part 2, but this was interesting.
- Part 1 of the lobster dish was almost deconstructed, then part 2 was everything eaten in one bite.
- I’m pretty sure it was the same ingredients, but just executed differently.
- This was a play on classic lobster and butter.
- The piece of lobster was also sous vide (?), but for some reason it was still a bit chewy which is odd.
- I would have like a bigger piece of lobster to match the ratio of the other components.
- It was served with a warm Meyer lemon beurre blanc foam which just gave the bite all sorts of umami, but there was a lot of it.
- I wasn’t too keen on the thinness of the foam, but it had flavour and good acidity.
- The pear was sous vide with a bit of mustard seed and it was a bit sweet and aromatic.
- I loved the texture of it and it was soft, but toothsome with a slight crunch. The texture can only be achieved via sous vide.
- I’m pretty sure it was the same pear condiment used on the foie gras torchon course.
- At a restaurant like this I’m not keen on reusing obvious condiments in a tasting menu, but I liked the seafood and pear combination.
- I’m not sure the purpose for the large leaf of kale besides hiding the lobster and it came across a bit random served this way.
For the main course I could either choose pork for 2 or duck for 2. I love both, but my first instinct would have said duck, especially given the context and type of restaurant. However 2-3 staff members recommended the pork, so I went with the pork after hearing the story of how good it was. I love ordinary pork, but I knew they weren’t serving ordinary pork here. It was a locally raised Mangalista pig and the loin was aged for 4 weeks. They bring out the pork to show you, but it’s a bit of a tease because you don’t get the whole thing (it’s huge, so I didn’t expect to) and you have a 1-2 courses in between before it comes back.
- Braised with black truffle
- This was again very simple and I loved it.
- The ball of celery root was perhaps sous vide before being braised in black truffle.
- It was a rich and meaty bite, but the dish was really only two flavours: celery root and truffle.
- This was my favourite component on the plate – the pureed version of celery root and black truffle.
- It tasted like black truffle infused celery root puree encapsulated with a celery root and béchamel puree.
- I don’t even know how they came up with this and it was silky, smooth, creamy, rich and full of intense flavour and umami.
- It was end-of-season truffles, but I could taste and smell them immediately.
- I would have appreciated 1-2 shavings of truffle for that extra touch of luxury and “garnish” to the plate.
- I loved the two interpretations of celery root and black truffle side by side, and I even used the pureed version as a dip for the braised celery root.
- I would have loved something crispy for more textural contrast, but regardless I would eat this over and over again.
- Broth with Morcilla sausage and smoked Gruyere roasted with cabbage, cocoa beans, and almonds
- This surprised me. I’m usually not as interested in the main course especially after so many creative appetizers, but this ended up being my favourite dish on the menu.
- The cube of crackling was juicy and tender and the jus was well reduced and syrupy without being sticky.
- The Mangalista pork was pretty unbelievable and it had so much natural flavour I didn’t even need the sauce, although the sauce did not go to waste.
- I hate saying “the best”, but imagine the most amazing roast ham in your life and then times 5. It was pretty unreal.
- On top of the 2 pieces of pork was a paper thin strip of guanciale.
- The guanciale was very oily, as expected, since it’s almost all fat.
- It was a bit sweet, salty, but not too salty and it basically tasted like bacon made by god.
- One strip was enough because after two you might need an ambulance.
- This was pure indulgence.
- Another pork dish I loved in New York was the Berkshire Pig 4 ways from Blue Hill.
- So forget about the guanciale… if that didn’t send you to heaven, this will.
- This was even more indulgent than the one strip of delicious guanciale.
- The main pork entree came with a deceiving side dish served in a small bowl. Don’t be fooled, it’s intense!
- It just seemed like layers of sauces and it was an incredibly savoury dish. Major umami bomb.
- It was reminiscent of the celery root and truffle puree, but this time “lighter” with pork jus, foie gras, and béchamel. Sign me up!
- It was syrupy pork jus and pork drippings, super rich and creamy béchamel or pommes puree (?) on top and them some creamy melted foie gras in the middle somewhere.
- It had flavours of sake, soy and mushroom soup, dashi and more and it was full of savoury and salty notes.
- It was creamy, fatty, super oily, stick to the roof of your mouth rich, and mind-blowingly awesome.
- The brilliance of salt and fat together… so bad, but so, so, so good.
- Pretzel, onion and dried fruit
- “Greensward Plan” was the code name for what is now called Central Park.
- The Greensward cheese was originally inspired and made exclusively for Daniel Humm.
- It is a soft-ripened raw cows’ milk cheese, aged in caves for 3 months and washed with Ithaca Beer Co.’s Picnic Basket Ale until it develops a rusty orange hue (from Murray’s Cheese).
- It is a brie style of cheese and while the cheese was a highlight, everything was built around the Ithaca Beer Co.’s Picnic Basket Ale which is exclusive to Eleven Madison Park.
- The beer was also used to make the pretzel bread and reduced in the onion marmalade.
- There was a slice of fig, hazelnut and date pâté as the nuts and fruits to accompany the cheese.
- It was a fun concept and a playful way to serve the cheese course.
The dessert course was also presented table side. The Baked Alaska was invented in Manhattan as to why they did a tribute to this dessert. This was flambé done Eleven Madison Park style. I wished they started and served the dessert all at the table, but they put on the show and brought it to the back to be plated. I rather continue with the energy and momentum by enjoying the dessert immediately after the action.
- Curd with espresso meringue and orange sorbet
- This was a bit of a palate cleanser.
- It had good textures, but it was exactly what it sounded like and not really any better.
- The orange sorbet was refreshing and orange and chocolate are classic combinations, but finding a balance for them is tricky.
- The chocolate was s bit bitter and so was the meringue and I just wasn’t sure where it was going.
- The sweet potato curd wasn’t too sweet and if I didn’t know, I don’t think I would have guessed sweet potato.
- I feel like this had more potential and I would have loved more presence from the sweet potato.
- Baked Alaska with rum, raisin and maple
- Again, the Baked Alaska was invented in Manhattan as to why they did a tribute to this dessert.
- I haven’t had a Baked Alaska in a long time and it’s a pretty challenging dessert to pull off.
- The hot and cold factor is so time sensitive.
- I have to say I was pretty disappointed by the size of it because I was hoping for the whole Baked Alaska I saw during the table side flambé.
- You just knew the flambéed Baked Alaska was for show and in the back there was a big one getting cut for everyone.
- I asked about this, and they said most of it was meringue you didn’t want to eat so much of, but it’s the whole “diving into a dessert” that’s part of the excitement.
- It was a molasses cake, vanilla ice cream, rum raisin caramel and maple meringue.
- It was quite a rich and sweet dessert, but I liked the textures.
- It was a touch too sweet for me because of the maple sauce, which I got because I chose it in the beginning.
- If I had known, I would have gone with something else not as sweet.
- It was mainly flavours of chocolate and caramel and the rum was faint or cooked out.
- There was not much, if any vanilla bean in the ice cream, and overall I didn’t get much ice cream and it was mainly cake and meringue.
- The meringue was made very well and the cake was moist, but a Baked Alaska should have temperature contrast and ice cream.
- The ice cream is a forefront and so is the hot and cold aspect, so it wasn’t my favourite version of the nostalgic dessert.
- Chocolate covered with sea salt
- Mast Brothers Chocolate in Brooklyn pioneered the bean-to-bar chocolate trend in New York.
- The Mast Brothers Chocolate covered pretzels were crunchy, lightly salted, and very good, and it was a nice way to wrap up a New York themed dinner.
- Sweet Black and White Cookie with Cinnamon
- The last petit fours was a revisit to the beginning of the menu with the Black and White Cookies, but this time the sweet version.
- The cookies tasted like cinnamon-oatmeal sablé and they were covered with half dark chocolate.
- At the end of the meal you’re certainly full (coming from someone with a bigger appetite), but not Per Se full where it almost hurts.
Complimentary take-home house made granola. It’s amazing granola! See the recipe here.
An Interview with Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park
1. Would you sacrifice quality for locality or sustainability?
That’s a tough question, but I like to think that there is inherently an overlap with both local and quality ingredients. It used to be that chefs were forced to look outside their area to find the best ingredients, but that’s not the case anymore. I can find some of the best root vegetables, the best fish, the best grains, and the best tomatoes, all within an hour or two of New York City. But what I have always believed is that cuisine begins with quality ingredients. No matter what techniques you use, a quality ingredient is what makes a dish. Now, where you get that amazing ingredient might just happen to be local!
2. How do you feel about chefs copying/borrowing ideas?
The sharing of ideas and looking to others for inspiration is part of this cooking, it’s one of the great things about food and how it has evolved. It’s hard to label a dish or a technique as solely the property of one person, but there are certain instances where it’s appropriate to give credit, or make mention of where a dish may have originated. But that shouldn’t result in chefs keeping their ideas hidden, not acting as a part of a community, or being open with the younger cooks. An individual doesn’t move cuisine forward, but the collective group does, and a little transparency is good for everyone. However, it’s important to not replicate dishes that aren’t your own, to bring your own perspective and narrative to the plate – it’s one thing to be inspired by someone else, but another thing entirely to copy them exactly.
3. How do you manage to create innovative dishes while maintaining the simplicity and integrity of the ingredients?
Innovation doesn’t necessarily require things to be complicated. Sometimes it’s actually harder to do less with a dish than it is to apply lots of techniques and ingredients. In the kitchen it’s so important that when we create a dish we maintain the integrity of the ingredients at hand, whether that is an oyster, a slice of dry-aged beef, or a piece of broccoli. Each of those ingredients are the star of their respective plate and everything we do must elevate them, make those ingredients better, and add to the overall experience of the dish.
A lot of what we do at Eleven Madison Park also requires us to look into the past for inspiration, to the foods, the restaurants, and the dishes that make up New York’s history. We always want to keep the integrity of the dish or ingredient we’re inspired by, not changing it so much that we lose sight of where it came from, but applying our own thinking to it, our own perspective. This is so important because it’s not just about what is on the plate, but about the narrative, the emotional connection, and how this dish fits into the whole experience of our guests.
4. How do you feel about “best of” restaurant/chef lists and are they representable or reliable?
These days there are many lists, many different awards, and they all have their place. What’s important for us is to not get caught up in the results, to appreciate anytime we’re included, but to get right back to working hard on improving. Because there are so many honors and lists out there it can be difficult to block them out, to not let them drive you, and while it’s such an honor to have been able to achieve what we have so far, it’s not what makes us tick.
5. What are your favourite local ingredients? And global?
There are so many amazing ingredients available in New York it is hard to pick just one. I love so many, from the carrots we get from Paffenroth in the Hudson Valley, to the local oysters from Widow’s Hole Oyster Company, and the plums from Red Jacket Orchard. I’m excited for spring ingredients to become available soon, particularly asparagus which has always been one of my favorites. And it may be an obvious choice, but I do love truffles!
6. What is the biggest challenge facing Eleven Madison Park?
Our biggest challenge as a restaurant is to keep improving, to keep reinventing ourselves, and to keep pushing each other to work harder. It’s been very rewarding to see how far we have come since I arrived here in 2006 with Will, but we can still get better, and we have so many amazing minds and people on staff that are essential to our growth and are really the key to our success. I’m so excited to see what the future holds for our restaurant and I know that in order for us to continually improve we need to push ourselves, and keep making it nice in every way we can.
7. Name 3 underrated restaurants in New York worth flying for.
New York is full of so many amazing restaurants it’s hard to narrow the list down to just three. It’s not underrated, but any trip to New York requires a visit to Russ & Daughters or Katz’s Deli. One offers the classic appetizing experience, with smoked and cured fish. The other, a taste of the old New York delicatessen; pastrami, rye, and mustard. Your trip must include one of those. When looking for something a little more under the radar I like to suggest Sakagura, a little Japanese spot in Midtown with a huge sake selection, and underground location. Out in Brooklyn I’m loving Marco’s, a new little Italian spot from the Franny’s folks. It’s a cozy restaurant with great food and a really friendly and warm staff.
8. Which chef would you want to go head to head with in a cooking competition?
I think it’d be a lot of fun to cook alongside or against Daniel Boulud. We’ve known each other for years and I really respect him as a person, as a chef, and as a friend. If you know Daniel, you know he’s got such a great personality, can light up any room, but that he’s also one of the most talented chefs in the world and is fiercely competitive. We’d have fun going head-to-head for sure.
9. You’ve mentioned the importance of owning up to mistakes. What was your hardest mistake to own up to?
I’ve actually never told anyone this story and perhaps that makes it not the best example of owning up to a mistake, but I’m admitting it now. When I was cooking for my mentor, Chef Gérard Rabaey, in Switzerland we had to prepare a foie gras terrine every day for service. One day I overcooked the terrine and had to figure out what to do with it. Chef Rabaey would always check the trash during service to make sure we weren’t throwing anything out so I decided to take hot water and the terrine and blend it all together. I was able to pour it down the sink to hide my mistake, but then, as if the universe was telling me something, I clogged the sink! I’ve always kept this story to myself and never shared with Chef Rabaey. Hopefully he will forgive me!
10. Olive oil from Italy or Spain?
Do I have to pick one? I love them both for different things.
11. Hamburger or hot dog?
Hot dogs; a quintessential New York food.
12. Favourite place for pastrami sandwich?
13. Most overrated New York specialty?
Cheesecake. I love it when it is made property, but too often it’s dry and dense.
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