Eleven Madison Park’s Daniel Humm on How Cooking Is Like Marathoning, The Hurt Locker, and Getting Sick of Fried Chicken and Pork Belly


Earlier today, we talked to Eleven Madison Park’s executive chef, Daniel Humm, about his four-star review, recognizing Frank Bruni, Twittering chefs, and Obama’s first term.

Now, in the second half of the interview, Humm talks about how sports and cooking are similar, his thoughts on war and The Hurt Locker, and having it up to here with fried chicken and pork belly.

Do you watch TV?

I watched the Olympics a little bit. I don’t watch TV that much. Some sports and some movies. I watch the basketball playoffs. I watch soccer, especially when it’s the World Cup that’s coming up.

Who do you root for in the World Cup?

I’m rooting for Switzerland only for the first week until they’re out, and then I have to pick another one.

What Olympic events did you watch?

I like the skiing, Alpine skiing. But then I also watched the last day, the 50K cross country skiing. I’m a marathon runner, so for me there were a lot of similarities between the two sports.

I also love to watch cycling. I love the Tour de France. It’s very exciting because this year Lance Armstrong is coming back and I think he’s pretty incredible. I used to be on the junior Swiss National cyclists team. So looking at Lance Armstrong is so fascinating.

I feel that it’s part of my success that I look at cooking like a sport a little bit. You know, for every service you have to prepare, and then you really have to be in that moment and the whole team works together. The repetition is our job. You have to really enjoy the repetition.

A lot of the younger kids, they get bored. They feel like they’ve done it three times already, so let me do something else. And in the beginning, you do have to do different things to learn it all, but in the end, no matter what position you end up in in the kitchen, including mine, it’s basically everyday the same. I mean, maybe the menu changes, but you serve 100 people at lunch, 150 for dinner. It’s more or less the same. And if you get bored with that, you’re in the wrong business.

It’s the same way in sport, people say running is boring. But you’ve got to somehow find excitement in that. You’ve got to find excitement in these tasks, ways you can improve on a daily basis.

Where do you do your training runs? Any places in particular you like to run in the city?

I’m running almost everyday, maybe between eight and 16 miles a day. And I run some races in the city: the New York marathon, some high altitude races in Colorado.

We moved six months ago to Montclair, New Jersey, and there’s a nature reservation: I have a six mile loop in there, and depending on how I feel I do two or two-and-a-half loops. Some days I take running stuff to work and go off to Central Park. I love to run there. The other day, my wife asked: Do you miss running in Central Park. And you know, I really do. It’s funny that when you live outside the city, and there’s so much more green, that you miss Central Park.

What’s the last book you read?

The last book was The Perfectionist, about the French chef Bernard Loiseau who committed suicide. It goes way back to where the fine dining really started, gives a history of French cooking. It’s a great book. I really recommend it.

Are you pulling for any of the movies up for best picture this Sunday at the Oscars?

I watched The Hurt Locker, and I think she is nominated for best director. I liked the movie. I mean, it’s another movie that shows how stupid war is. At some point they’re shooting out in the desert, and one guy says: What are we shooting at? it makes me so upset that we’re out there in these countries, fighting these wars, and the soldiers are 18- or 19-years-old, they don’t know what this is all about. It’s just so silly, and I think it demonstrated that well.

Did you see the movie?

Yes, and I liked it too. What do you do on your day off?

I’m usually off on Sundays, so I wake up early, go for a long run, and then I have lunch with my wife. Depending on the weather, some I take a nap. I love naps, it’s such a luxury. Or we got out and do stuff, like like a little hike. Just spend time with my wife.

Is there anything you won’t eat?

No, I really like everything that is prepared properly and beautiful. I love food. You know, I haven’t traveled in Asia that much, and certain cultures, they eat some crazy things. I’m not into eating ants and things. That, I wouldn’t eat.

What’s the last vacation you went on?

We went to Colorado, one of my best friends owns Fresca Food and Wine. We went to visit him and his wife. It was late summer, we spent some time in Boulder, went to Aspen and then to Telluride.

Did you do any good eating in Colorado?

Boulder is a great town for restaurants, and there’s good food in Aspen. We stayed in a house, and in summer in Colorado, the ingredients are incredible: the tomatoes, the was awesome. We just went to the market everyday, bought stuff, cooked, had wine.

That was the last vacation, but in November we went to France, to Paris. Once in a while, I try to do a food trip. We went to Paris, San Sebastian, and Biarritz. We checked out some restaurants.

What do you think we need more of in New York restaurants?

New York has so much to offer, you know, for a while it seemed like fine dining had a little bit of a bad reputation, and I look forward to changing that a little bit. That’s why we talk about the new four-star restaurant as not stuffy. If you look at the top level restaurants in New York, they are some of the best in the country. It’s important for young people to experience that. There’s so much history, and knowledge, and work behind it. I’m looking forward to more young people going to these restaurants.

Momofuku and those places are a lot of fun, and they do a great job, but New York needs both: the casual and the fine dining. I hope it’s not all going to be casual in a few years.

It seems like fine dining will never go away altogether.

I think so too, but lately, it’s fried chicken, pork belly, it’s getting to be too much. Some of these ideas are cool, but it seems like some of these places get so much press, and for what?


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