Blind dates and beerios: the enduring bromance behind Eleven Madison Park

Laura Price - 05/02/2015

They’re one of the most dynamic duos on the global fine dining scene – Swiss-born chef Daniel Humm and his partner and general manager at Eleven Madison Park, Will Guidara. Together they're responsible for bringing the New York restaurant almost every accolade imaginable over the last decade, including three Michelin stars, numerous James Beard awards and the No. 4 spot in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

It’s four o’clock on a Friday afternoon and Will Guidara and Daniel Humm can’t stop laughing. We’re shooting the pair for a 50-second film and it’s obvious we’re going to have way more than 50 seconds worth of great footage. Every time one of them says something even remotely amusing, the other cracks up, and soon the whole crew is infected with laughter. It’s clear from the off that Humm and Guidara share a bond that goes way beyond the restaurant’s walls.

“He’s my best friend, I’m his daughter’s godfather,” says Guidara of chef Humm. “Because of that relationship, I have the support in the dining room to do whatever I need to do to make the guest happy and hopefully vice versa. It just makes what we do a lot more fun.”

Humm agrees: “We could both have been successful separately but doing it together was the best decision we’ve ever made.”

That decision was made almost a decade ago, when Humm and Guidara were set up on a “blind date” by legendary restaurateur Danny Meyer, then owner of Eleven Madison Park. At the time, both had other jobs and couldn’t be seen in public talking about working together, so they met at a little restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower West Side and quickly discovered a shared love of pasta. “We had a really great meal where we got to talk about mutual aspirations and what we wanted to accomplish within this business,” recalls Guidara. “The thing we discovered that day, which holds true until now, was the desire to really do something as a team.”

The friendship was sealed a month later with a trip to Alinea in Chicago – a meal they describe as both delicious and fundamental to their relationship. “We’d just started working together and we booked a plane ticket to go to Alinea for one night,” says Humm. “We didn’t have enough money, so we shared a hotel room.”

“We don’t share hotel rooms any more,” Guidara quickly interjects, and the pair fall about laughing. “That was the beginning of our relationship. The meal at Alinea was incredible. It was one of those meals where you see people pushing really hard. We’d only known each other for about a month so that trip was important both for our friendship and also in getting things started.”

The personal connection and the hard work paid off – Humm and Guidara bought Eleven Madison Park from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group in 2011, and in 2012 they opened the food and beverage spaces at the NoMad hotel, where Humm’s black truffle roasted chicken dish has already earned itself must-eat status among New Yorkers and international foodies alike. Aside from their two award-winning food ventures, they recently opened a new NoMad bar and have also co-authored two books: Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook and I Love New York: Ingredients and Recipes. Next in the pipeline is The NoMad Cookbook, due out later this year.

Part of Eleven Madison Park’s appeal is its ability to listen to customers and tailor dishes to individual tastes – something championed by Meyer and embraced by Humm and Guidara. Kate Krader, restaurants editor at US magazine Food and Wine, recalls that on a trip to Eleven Madison Park with a girlfriend, she was once overheard by a waiter discussing ‘beerios’ – an American college institution of eating Cheerios with beer instead of milk. Unbeknownst to Krader, the waiter had told kitchen staff what he had overheard, and soon she and her girlfriend were presented with a bespoke, scaled-up version of the college special. “I will never forget that – it was the most amazing experience,” recalls Krader.

It may seem a farfetched approach to hospitality, but both chef and restaurateur clearly love surprising their customers and giving them fuel for stories they’ll repeat forever. “When I’m in the restaurant I’m in my happy place,” says Guidara. “We both love hosting people. Basically we get to throw a giant dinner party every single night.”

That said, the intensity of restaurant life does occasionally take its toll, and both agree that the best thing about running a restaurant is also the worst thing: “It’s the intensity – that’s the answer to both,” says Guidara. “We both love the intensity – it’s what gets you up in the morning, it’s what compels you to push harder every single day. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, but that’s the beauty of running a restaurant with a true partner and best friend, because when you're overwhelmed, there’s someone else to help pick you up.”

Watch the video: 50 seconds with Daniel Humm and Will Guidara

Watch the video: 50 Best Kitchen Insights: Eleven Madison Park

Fancy joining Will and Daniel at one of events for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in Singapore? On Sunday 8th March the pair will give a presentation at the special Summit, plus a unique Masterclass guiding participants through a series of their landmark courses, including ‘carrot tartare,’ inspired by Delmonico’s classic beef tartare, and ‘delicatessen,’ after Katz’s Deli.

Find out more and buy tickets before they sell out!