This week on Small Talk, we sat down with world renowned chef, philanthropist, and role model, Daniel Humm, to chat Michelin Stars, fresh perspectives, and culinary compassion.
Daniel’s journey towards self began in his home country of Switzerland. Having left school at the age of fourteen, Daniel set off to pursue his career as a professional cyclist.
“My dad was really against the idea of me leaving school at such a young age. So, he told me that if I left school, I was on my own. So, I told him, fine.”
Daniel started his quest by racing around Europe, but he needed to make money to support his ventures.
Cycling wasn’t paying a lot, and Daniel had no support from outside sources. Due to his need for the funds that cycling wouldn’t supply, Daniel found himself working in a kitchen to earn a living.
“The cycling didn’t pay a lot, and at that age, the only place I could find a job was in the kitchen.”
Working on and off in the kitchen throughout the cycling season, Daniel developed a friendship with a chef, who would soon become one of his first mentors.
“I was really lucky to be in the company of this chef, who was also a cycling fanatic. He kind of took me under his wing, and for years I worked with him, cooking, and cycling.”
Having worked and cycled with his mentor for almost ten years, Daniel was unprepared for the changes that he would soon face.
When Daniel was 23 years old, he had a bad cycling accident that put him in the hospital, taking cycling out of the picture, and giving him time to truly reflect on what he wanted to do, and who he wanted to be in the world.
“I was thinking about my life, about my career, and what I was going to do, and I found myself realizing more and more that I really loved cooking. The more I fell in love with cooking, the more I fell out of love with cycling.”
From competitive cyclist to competitive chef, at 23 years old, Daniel Humm took his determination and drive learned from the sport, and applied it to his new pursuit, cooking.
As Ed Mylett said, 'Oftentimes, our dreams don't show up in the packages we thought they would show up in.'
“In the sport of cycling, there are very few people who end up making a life for themselves. Those few who could make a life for themselves had to be the best, and I was good, but I wasn’t the best.
I decided that if I couldn’t become the best cyclist, then maybe I could become the best chef.”
Daniel says, ‘one thing led to the next’, and within 6 months of working at a small restaurant, by age twenty-four, Mr. Humm received his first Michelin Star.
Through the ups and downs, and twists and turns, life brought Daniel into the kitchen. Thus, Daniel brought his skill set and passion to the U.S in hopes of expanding his practice and conquests.
“There was suffering that came from it, of course, there was a lot of joy that came from it too.”
After 14 years of working in the states, accumulating countless awards and recognitions, Daniel received what many would consider being the pinnacle of all successes, recognition of his restaurant, 11 Madison Park, as the #1 of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World.
Yet, what many fail to acknowledge, are the sacrifices and suffering that come with attaining such a title.
“The German word for passion is Leidenschaft, which translates in English as ‘willing to suffer for it.’ That’s been my reality. My passion for the food, the cooking, and the desire to improve were greater than anything else.”
In terms of relationships, spending time with family, and being there for the ones who mattered most to him, Daniel says that these areas of his life were put in the backseat, while his career steered the way.
“I think in every profession if you want to get to the top, you have to have this kind of tunnel vision approach. You can’t give all of yourself to too many things, and for a while, I gave all of myself to this career.”
Giving his all, certainly paid off for Daniel Humm.
No matter the sacrifices we make, it’s important to remember to leave space for the ones we love.
Having realized this, after achieving such success and learning from his suffering, Daniel rearranged his priorities, thus putting the relationships and those who mattered most to him in the front seat as he steered the way.
Daniel's culinary style is a form of art; a sum of, intricate, delicate, and thoughtful expressions combined to create his world-renowned dishes.
Expressing ourselves creatively through our passions and purposes holds great importance. As mentioned in our interview with Nathan Chen, it’s vital that we use self-expression in our everyday lives and work environments, and as Poet Ali said, ‘it’s the only way’.
“I think that cooking is many things. Firstly, it’s a craft. I was a student of this craft, learning from other chefs and other books.
As the years went on, I started to understand that cooking can be an art, and when cooking becomes an art, it's important that you have your own handwriting.”
When we look at a great artist’s painting, they aren’t necessarily the best in the world at painting, but they have a distinct style, and that’s what makes them a great artist.
“At some point, it became clear. It became clear that I needed to have my own style.”
With his new understanding of authentic self-expression, undoubtedly, when someone sees or eats a plate of Daniel’s, they can immediately recognize and appreciate who it’s from.
“About ten years ago I stopped looking at what other chefs were doing because it was beginning to impact me in negative ways. If I saw something that I thought was great, I couldn’t help but be inspired by it, and I was conflicted. So, to be fully free in the creation, I think it’s good to get inspiration from other industries or genres.”
A vast majority of Daniels companions are, those in the creative community, consisting of musicians, dancers, sculptors and painters; all of which give Daniel Humm his inspiration towards new creations.
Upon being served one of Daniel's plates, this adaptation of artistry becomes clear. With vibrant colors, textured elements, and pensive plating, one would find it difficult to resist the urge to frame, rather than finish their dish.
Calm in Chaos;
Daniel knows far too well, the fast-paced, chaotic, and turbulent environments that kitchen spaces so often tend to represent. Yet, to create a masterpiece, the artist needs to remain calm in the midst of chaos and dialed in throughout the disorder.
Daniel’s recipe to remain centered, calm, and concentrated involves letting off some steam outside of the kitchen, so he can bring on the heat when he returns.
“Exercising and taking care of the body is very important. Every day I do something for an hour, whether it be running, cycling, or meditation. I paint as well, which is very calming and meditative.”
As mentioned in our interview with Kevin Love, grounding can be as simple as taking our shoes off and reconnecting with the earth beneath our feet.
It’s heartbreaking to see the effects that the pandemic has had on so many lives, no matter what industry. In the culinary world, everything has changed. Countless people out of work, restaurants closing, and businesses going under has become a commonality. Yet, through the pain, Daniel and his team have found purpose.
“As devastating as this all is, it’s an experience nonetheless, and that’s what life is. I don’t like to be on this sort of ‘auto-pilot’, knowing exactly how my life is going to unfold; I enjoy the adventure of it all.”
'Life is a great adventure or nothing at all.’- Helen Keller
Struggles serve as both a reminder and a lesson. The reminder; to enjoy each moment to its fullest, and the lesson being, that we are never truly as, in-control, as we believe ourselves to be.
“I’ve gone in waves of how I’ve been dealing with this situation. I see a lot of fear; a lot of people in fear of the virus, in fear of the political situation, and fear of sharing. But fear won’t serve us, unity and community will, and that’s what we’ve tried to symbolize these past few months.”
Not only has Daniel's profession served his state of mind but has also served the community in which he lives.
During the past several months, what was once known as one of the priciest, most exclusive restaurants in the city, has been transformed into a space, inclusive, and free of charge.
“Over the course of the past few months, we’ve turned 11 Madison Park into a community kitchen. We reduced our team and are cooking meals for people in need, serving 3,000 meals per day.”
In the face of uncertainty and emergency, we are faced with two choices. The choice to panic, or the choice to provide. Daniel Humm’s choice to provide is not only remarkably brave but incredibly inspiring.
“It has really touched me, preparing these meals, and then also going out into these neighborhoods where families are struggling. It’s pretty intense, but it’s also beautiful. There are beautiful people out there having a hard time, and to be able to give something to these communities and really make a difference, has been quite life-changing.”
Daniel's public service act is in communion with an organization that he co-founded 2 years ago, Rethink food; a program empowering restaurants to nourish their communities. This movement started by taking excess food from restaurants, producing meals, and supplying them to those in need.
But, when the pandemic hit and restaurants closed, Daniel needed to take matters into his own hands and find a solution to his public service problem.
“We didn’t have open restaurants, but we still had the production space. So, we said, ‘let’s take the production back into the empty restaurants. We know how to cook delicious and inexpensive meals, and we can make this work.”
By virtue of this realization, using an infrastructure that was already in place, around 60 restaurants in New York are open solely to provide meals for those in need.
“We can see this scaling into a national movement, but this is not just a COVID response; this can be a forever solution towards ending hunger in this country.”
Daniel Humm and his team are the perfect examples that the discomfort, pain, and heartbreak, can be used as an opportunity towards expansion. When we learn to step into the discomfort, we step into the possibility of all that we can become, and all that we are.
Strength in Stumbling;
Daniel has experienced many different kinds of crises throughout his career. From work emergencies, to family matters; financial crisis, to the pandemic, yet, for Mr. Humm, what he considered to be his biggest crisis, was what the world saw as his biggest achievement.
“I think personally for me, one of the most difficult times was when we received the award for #1 Best Restaurant in the World.”
As mentioned, Daniel was a competitive athlete before becoming a competitive chef. Cycling implemented competitiveness into him, the competitiveness that he carried into the culinary industry.
“As a young chef, I started chasing Michelin Stars, restaurant ratings, and then, of course, #1 of 50 Best Restaurant ranking. Every year we were slowly able to move up in the ratings until we became number one.”
Receiving the title as #1 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, was a title that Daniel and his team had been working on for ten years; the carrot hanging in front of their noses. Yet, when the goal was attained so was a sense of emptiness.
“Having this goal in mind brought us all to a higher level of excellence, but then when it actually happened, it wasn’t as great as you would think. It wasn’t as satisfying as one would believe. You receive this award, and then one of the first questions that you get asked is, ‘so, what’s next?’, and I actually didn’t know anymore.”
After received this astonishing award at such a young age, Daniel truly didn’t know the answer to the question of what was next. Finding himself in a state of confusion and uncertainty, Daniel hung up his apron, packed his bags, and headed to India for two months.
“I went really deep into meditation and soul searching. I started to find answers to the questions I had been asking, and that’s when we started the organization re-think food. I knew that it was about giving back. I knew we needed to have a higher purpose, and I knew that I needed to use this platform that I had been given, to do good.”
Daniel's souls searching led him to his new pursuit, a pursuit of generosity and goodwill that incorporated his passion for cooking and creating.
This new pursuit would impact the lives of not only 1% of the population that had previously been dining at his restaurants, but the innumerable others who would soon benefit from his philanthropy.
“I would continue to do the art, but I would also do good; not just feeding the 1%, but also feeding the people who didn’t have very much.”
From early on, we are told by our parents, teachers, and elders, to be patient. Something that seems so simple, yet even as we’ve gotten older, is often forgotten and discarded.
If Daniel Humm could give his 24-year-old self, after receiving his first Michelin Star, any piece of advice, it would be exactly that, patience.
“I would tell myself to be patient, make sure you have mentors along the way, but always be patient. I think there were times where I was so restless and I had no patience at all, which was a good thing, but it also backfired. I was constantly anxious, and I always wanted more than what we had. I feel like I may not have enjoyed the moments of victory as much as I should have, as soon as we got one thing, I was looking for the next.”
How easy it is to continuously seek and chase. Constantly in pursuit of the next big thing, the next victory, and the next accomplishment. Yet, if we were to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride, we may come to enjoy the view a lot more.
“Being patient is something that I have to work on daily, but I’m getting better.”
No Longer Pursue;
“Before the pandemic, the world was kind of small.
I traveled a lot, all over the place, all the time, but I had no time. Now, we have much more time, but we can’t go anywhere, so that has brought a lot into perspective; and I think I prefer the life I live today, to the one I had before.”
Throughout the world, much has been put into perspective. Our lives of bustling and business were virtually put on hold, forcing us to ask ourselves, ‘what really matters most to me?’
In taking a step back, we find that much of what seemed necessary, was in-fact a luxury.
“A simpler life is one that I believe is more beautiful, and this time has really put that into perspective.”
|We asked Daniel Humm what he knows 100% to be true, his answer;|
“My favorite quote is by Bob Dylan, who said, ‘The ones that are not busy being born, are busy dying’. It’s a pretty incredible quote, one that I think we should all live by, so, that is what I know 100% to be true.”
At TrooMe, we believe that each day is an opportunity to be reborn. We believe that each morning should be greeted with a freshness, a curiosity, and the question of, ‘what can I do for others?’
May we follow in Daniel's footsteps, being the artists of our own lives, enjoying the journey, and always finding ways in which we can be of service.