Daniel Humm has been a member of the Bocuse d’Or USA Culinary Council since 2009. He started his culinary career in his home country of Switzerland, working his way from apprentice to his first Michelin star at the age of 24. He eventually made his way to the United States, being named executive chef of The Campton Place Restaurant at the Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco. In 2007, he started working at Eleven Madison Park, now a 3 Michelin star restaurant and ranked #5 on San Pellegrino’s World’s Best 50 Restaurants in 2013.
We asked Chef Humm about his involvement with the Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation, the changing landscape of American cuisine and his advice for young chefs.
Bocuse d’Or USA: Why are you a part of the Bocuse d’Or USA?
Daniel Humm: I love the tradition and the camaraderie that is representative of the Bocuse d’Or. It’s an organization that’s inspirational to young people looking to get seriously involved in the food world and supporting this young culinary talent through a scholarship program.
Bocuse d’Or USA: Why is the Bocuse d’Or competition important in the grander culinary world?
Daniel Humm: The competition brings the world’s attention to the culinary world. It highlights the rigors of this craft, and the physical and emotional pressures of succeeding in this industry. Furthermore, it brings together some incredibly talented young chefs, creating for them a small, tightly knit network of like-minded people.
Bocuse d’Or USA: What does “American Cuisine” mean to you?
Daniel Humm: American cuisine is an evolution. It has to do with our commitment to locally sourced products and to the relationship that is fostered with farmers. It also has to do with embracing American dishes—classics that took root here—as well as a realization that we are, in the truest sense, a melting pot of cultures and traditions.
Bocuse d’Or USA: What makes a great chef?
Daniel Humm: A great chef has balance. They derive pleasure from the simplest of tasks; they have the ability to lead but also the desire to always learn; they are creative and intellectual; they are dreamers and they are realists; they are never complacent and always looking to grow; they are endlessly seeking perfection while knowing that perfection does not even exist.
Bocuse d’Or USA: What inspired you to start cooking?
Daniel Humm: Growing up in Switzerland, I would go to the market with my mom every week to buy fruits and vegetables. After spending some summers helping out there, I decided to turn to kitchens, working with the products I spent so much time with. At the time, I was also on the Junior Swiss National Cycling team, but I fell in love with cooking and chose to pursue it as a lifelong career. I started working in kitchens when I was 14.
Bocuse d’Or USA: Who is your greatest culinary inspiration? Why?
Daniel Humm: My mentor, Chef Gérard Rabaey, never compromised on anything. He taught me about organization and precision and excellence.
Bocuse d’Or USA: When did you open your first restaurant?
Daniel Humm: I started working at Eleven Madison Park in 2007, and in 2011, my business partner, Will, and I bought it from Danny Meyer, its original owner. In March of 2012, we went on to open the food and beverage spaces at the NoMad.
Bocuse d’Or USA: How did you develop your personal cooking style?
Daniel Humm: I think my style continues to grow and develop. I’m constantly influenced by the world around me—by where I am at a particular moment. I learned from some wonderful chefs and spent time in cities rich with culture and history. But more than anything, I always found comfort in familiar flavors. As a chef, I like to play with flavors that are nostalgic, presenting them in a new way but always anchored in the familiar.
Bocuse d’Or USA: How has your personal cooking style changed over the years?
Daniel Humm: When I first started as a chef, I made food that was intricate, complicated. I wanted to show as many techniques as possible, use ingredients that I had found around the world, and focus on presentations that were elaborately complex. But as I gained self-confidence and got perspective on my food, I realized that less is more, that if you have the best ingredients possible, you don’t have to do much to make them shine. I try to focus on the seasons, on what’s growing around me, and on letting that come through as the focal point of my food.
Bocuse d’Or USA: What advice do you have for young chefs and restaurateurs who are just getting started?
Daniel Humm: Find inspiration from unexpected places.
Thank you to Chef Humm for taking the time out of his schedule to answer our questions. To learn more about him, check out elevenmadisonpark.com.