Chef Daniel Humm on the Influence of Miles Davis, The Stones
Daniel Humm was 29 years old when, two months into the job of executive chef at Eleven Madison Park, he earned the restaurant a rating of three and a half stars out of four, from Moira Hodgson of the New York Observer. Hodgson called the young chef a star, and said of the elegant but staid restaurant, “It’s not dull anymore.”
The critic’s only note was that the restaurant could use “a bit of Miles Davis,” which resonated deeply.
After researching “the 11 words that were most often used to describe him,” chef Humm and his team made it their mission to make their restaurant reflect those qualities, including: “endless reinvention,” “forward-moving,” and “collaborative.”
Part of that reinvention was to bring a younger and slightly less reverent tone to the fine dining restaurant, which Daniel and Eleven Madison Park's general manager Will Guiadara eventually bought from Danny Meyer in 2011.
Daniel turned to the fine photography collective Rock Paper Photo, who supplied him with the prints of Miles Davis at the Eleven Madison Park and the “more raucous” Rolling Stones at The NoMad, which Humm calls the “looser, louder sibling” of the two.
Today, the restaurant has amassed accolades like the Michelin guide’s highest possible rating of three stars, a spot in the top ten of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants (4th place as of 2014), and four stars from The New York Times.
Recently, the chef teamed up again with Rock Paper Photo to curate a collection of his favorite prints, which you can see below, and buy online. We spoke with Daniel about the musicians who inspire him to keep innovating.
Miles Davis from the Columbia Records Archive. Photo courtesy of Rock Paper Photo
How did you come in contact with Rock Paper Photo? How did their prints factor into the inspiration boards for The NoMad and Eleven Madison Park?
Both Will and I are very passionate about music, into artists like Miles Davis and the Rolling Stones. They provided a lot of inspiration for us personally, professionally, and in the culture and atmosphere of our restaurants. It was only natural to then tie us back to those artists by having the amazing photos of them in our kitchens. When the time came to find these images for our kitchens, Rock Paper Photo was the obvious choice, having the most expansive collection to choose from.
What was the collaboration process like of designing menu concepts based on Stones and Miles Davis music?
Eleven Madison Park is connected with Miles Davis because he endlessly reinvented himself, his music was so cool, fresh, innovative, and collaborative — all of which are words we use when talking about our culture and our restaurant. We like to think of The NoMad as the looser, louder sibling, and that’s where The Rolling Stones come in. They are one of the original rock bands and their music is universally loved — just as we intend for The NoMad to be an enduring, alive, and satisfying restaurant.
We’ve always loved the music of the Stones and Miles, they are classics, genius artists, but it was when we received our first review in The New York Observer and a line from the critic said she wished we had “a little more Miles Davis,” it was at that moment where we really looked to understand the musical connection.
The Rolling Stones by Robert Altman. Photo courtesy of Rock Paper Photo
Were there ever any other musicians in the running to serve as the menu inspiration?
The Miles inspiration was meant to be after that early review of Eleven Madison Park. We definitely thought of others for The NoMad, but the Stones are just a perfect fit.
What do you think you would cook for the Rolling Stones if they came to New York?
There’d be roast chicken, fruits de mer, some Manhattans or wine, and some amazing conversation.
Keith Richards, Jimmy Miller, and Mick Jagger by Robert Altman. Photo courtesy of Rock Paper Photo
Bob Marley, Mick Jagger, & Peter Tosh by Michael Putland. Photo courtesy of Rock Paper Photo
What music makes you think of New York?
Miles Davis from the Columbia Records Photography Archive. Photo courtesy of Rock Paper Photo
This year the Beard awards were all about the intersection of food and music, and they asked a few chefs to name their guilty pleasure tunes. Can you share yours, and also, what do you listen to while cooking, if anything?
My music taste is pretty rooted in the classics actually, but when we throw some of our parties throughout the year a little dance music or hip-hop is always fun. When cooking, we never have music in the kitchens; it’s not something I believe in as we need to have full focus on the task at hand.