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:
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.