Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A New Cookbook: Eleven Madison Park

I spent a good chunk of last evening sitting on the well-tailored white pleather sofas in the lobby of the Allegro, chatting with a pair that has taken the New York restaurant scene for a spin. Will Guiarda and Chef Daniel Humm are on their first stop of a multi-leg cookbook release tour to talk about their 16 word menu, their come-back kid style turnaround, and what a true New York restaurant really looks like.

Will and Daniel are quite a pair. Brought in separately to steer the 7 year old Eleven Madison Park into a new direction, when these two started working together they felt that something sparked. Five years later, proof of that spark is blazing before us in the form of the holy trinity for New York establishments: four stars in the New York Times, and a Michelin star (three to be exact), and now a cookbook. The book itself mirrors the restaurant's menu: first divided seasonally, as eighty percent of Eleven's produce comes from their local farmers markets. Then, within the season, we essentially peruse the menu which typically looks something like this:
You have your choice between selecting your own prix fixe four course meal (selecting one word under each leaf) or traversing through the chef's choice tasting menu. "We want our guests to be able to fulfill their cravings if they come in hungry for foie gras, but wanted to keep the element of surprise alongside the feeling of control." And in some ways, this delightfully thick cookbook does just the same. We playfully drift through each season, but as we go we are guided with precision that only a well-trained chef can provide. Recipes of this caliber certainly require advanced techniques and equipment but Chef Daniel does want you to cook from it. Recipes have stand in methods, just in case your sous vide is still being shipped from Sky Mall. The result is a book that takes us on a pristine walkabout New York's top restaurants and into the creative minds of a wildly successful pair of restauranteurs.

Nestled amongst the recipes is the story of the restaurant itself. How an unknown chef in small town Switzerland went to San Francisco and then was snagged to turn around an aging bistro in New York. How an entrepreneurial-spirited general manager found himself under the tutelage of Danny Meyer and when asked to do a stint at Eleven, he found a space for collaboration, a place for no "front-back" language but an entirely new philosophy. They slashed the number of seats in the restaurant, found inspiration from Miles Davis, and began shaping the restaurant into an icon in and of itself. This pair is seeking to honor the placehood of New York. Nestled in the MetLife building, in a ceiling soaring, old school type setting, it already sits in an iconic mainstay of New York buildings. Currently they're playing with quintessential New York dishes like the Long Island clambake, smoked fish like at your neighborhood deli, and the cocktails created 80 years ago by a handful of bars within striking distance of Eleven. "Someone needed to create a New York restaurant. So many others want to be somewhere else: Paris, Tokyo, London, but we want to represent the amazing melting pot we have, right here in the city." They're breaking rules by serving parsnip skins, but sticking close to the long established rules that work. And what results? Like Miles Davis a cool stream of soothing dishes, punctuated by the well-earned surprise.

So will I cook from it? I'm going to have to go with Chef Daniel's quote when asked if people could, "Yes-ish." I'll use ingredient lists to be sure; I'll use the images as inspiration to better visually balance my own plates; and perhaps, on days I'm feeling very adventurous think about new methods in cooking. For me at least, that is precisely what any good cookbook should do for the home cook. Cookbooks should inspire, rather than be copied by rote. And inspire, it does.


  1. Nice article Jo. Were you at the event on Sunday night? If so sorry I missed you.

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