One of the world's top restaurants, Eleven Madison Park, is going vegan

New York fine diner Eleven Madison Park is dropping animal products from its menu.
New York fine diner Eleven Madison Park is dropping animal products from its menu. Photo: Supplied

Like many other restaurants throughout the United States, Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan will soon open again for indoor dining after a year of being closed during the pandemic. But diners there will see a very different menu: Chef Daniel Humm will not be serving meat, fish or virtually any other animal products.

In a note on his restaurant's website, Humm said that the past year — when his acclaimed fine-dining establishment closed and he and his team focused on feeding the hungry through a partnership with a nonprofit group — had changed his perspective. "We have always operated with sensitivity to the impact we have on our surroundings, but it was becoming ever clearer that the current food system is simply not sustainable, in so many ways," he wrote.

Daniel Humm, Executive Chef of Eleven Madison Park, will reopen the restaurant with an all-vegan menu.
Daniel Humm, Executive Chef of Eleven Madison Park, will reopen the restaurant with an all-vegan menu. Photo: Francesco Tonelli

He did not respond to a request for comment.

And so on June 10, gone will be the honey-glazed duck, the butter-poached lobster and the foie gras, all signature dishes that helped earn Eleven Madison Park three Michelin stars and a reputation as one of the world's best restaurants. Humm wrote that he understood the risk he was taking by jettisoning the food that put him and his restaurant on the map but that he was excited about the new flavours he is experimenting with, such as intense vegetable broths, plant-based creams and butters, and fermented ingredients. According to the Wall Street Journal, Humm will make an exception to the all-plant-based rule by serving milk and honey with its coffee and tea.

"It is time to redefine luxury as an experience that serves a higher purpose and maintains a genuine connection to the community," he wrote. "A restaurant experience is about more than what's on the plate. We are thrilled to share the incredible possibilities of plant-based cuisine while deepening our connection to our homes: both our city and our planet."

Eleven Madison Park is hardly a barometer of mainstream tastes: A tasting menu from the former menu cost $335 without drinks or tax. But the move to go plant-based comes as many in the food and restaurant business are rethinking their relationship with meat. Food website Epicurious last week announced it would no longer publish recipes using beef, citing the environmental damage done by cattle farming. Plant-based beef substitutes are widely available in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants such as Burger King.

There are already upscale vegan and vegetarian restaurants that have become known for their creative use of vegetables, such as Manhattan's Dirt Candy and ABCV, Philadelphia's Vedge and Los Angeles's Crossroads Kitchen. And plenty of tasting-menu restaurants offer a vegetarian or vegan option.

Adam Davidson, writing for the Wall Street Journal, sampled some dishes from Eleven Madison Park's new menu and was impressed, particularly by the "amaranth seed and sweet peas served with a creamy fermented almond cream and pea-miso purée."

"The moment I tasted it, I laughed, turned to Humm and said, 'This is going to work,'" Davidson wrote.

The no-meat ethos is only part of the changes at the famed restaurant. Humm wrote that he was inspired by the work he and his team has done during the pandemic, focusing not on high-end diners but on people in need. "Every dinner you purchase will allow us to provide five meals to food-insecure New Yorkers," he wrote. "This food is being delivered by Eleven Madison Truck, which is operated by our staff in partnership with Rethink Food. We've created a circular ecosystem where our guests, our team, and our suppliers all participate."

The Washington Post