Eleven might just have been the lucky number for Will Guidara and Daniel Humm. Five years into their running of Eleven Madison Park, in 2011 they bought it from Union Square Hospitality, the group owned by restaurateur Danny Meyer, who had introduced them in 2006. Eleven years after their first meeting, the restaurant was finally crowned No.1 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2017. That same year, Humm and Guidara signed a new lease at 11 Madison Square, celebrating with an 11-course menu of chef Humm’s greatest hits before closing the restaurant for an extensive revamp.
But Eleven Madison Park’s success had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with the marriage of equals between kitchen and dining room, Humm and Guidara. A partnership like theirs was a rare thing in the restaurant world, with their respective domains given the same weight and prominence in status and decision making. Humm would never serve a dish that Guidara didn’t like, and their trademark approach of delighting diners with bespoke surprises was a joint effort. Everything adhered to the duo’s favourite saying and overarching company name: ‘Make it Nice’. In July 2019, Eleven Madison Park entered a new era when Humm took sole ownership of the restaurant and started steering it into new directions.
While Swiss-born perfectionist Humm is classically trained, he dedicated the years 2017-2019 to paring things back. The restaurant made its name with his neoclassical style and iconic creations like roasted duck with honey and lavender, or the playful black and white cookies that symbolise New York. Guidara’s slick operation of the Art Deco dining room centred around tableside theatrics like removing the neck of a port bottle with scorching hot tongs, or delivering an off-menu treat based on an overheard conversation.
In 2016, the pair scaled back the quantity of tableside interactions and cut the tasting menu down to just eight to 10 courses because they wanted every dish to be memorable. Humm says he “found himself as a chef” when he perfected a dish of just two ingredients: his signature celery root with black truffle, cooked in a pig’s bladder. Post-renovation, the dining room is cleaner and the menu more minimalist than ever, but the restaurant has lost none of its classic appeal.
The surprises didn't end there: in June 2021, when Humm reopened the restaurant after 15 months of closure, he did so with an entirely plant-based menu. Daring in its concept, flavours and philosophy, this timeless New York restaurant looks set to be a favourite forever.
Watch the video interview with Humm: