This Vegan Chef Has Been Hoisted With His Own Canard
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Society owes a debt of gratitude to those who protect a work of genius, even if only from the genius who created it. Please join me in three huzzahs for the owners of Claridge’s hotel in London, who have just saved Chef Daniel Humm’s lavender-glazed duck from his newfound vegan fixation.
I say proposal, but it appears to have been more of an ultimatum, since the chef has announced he will leave Claridge’s at the end of the year. He is said to be seeking another London outlet for the kind of plant-based fine dining for which vegan or vegan-curious patrons pay $335 a pop at Eleven Madison Park.
Some might see Humm’s decision as an act of gastronomic valor: A risk-taking chef demonstrates the courage of his convictions. In a statement, Humm declared, “The future for me is plant-based… Standing behind this mission, and what we believe in, is most important and is unfortunately not something we can compromise on.”
But if anything, the bravery is on the other side. Claridge’s is gambling by forsaking the star power Humm brought to its kitchen in 2019, only two years after Eleven Madison Park had been ranked the world’s best restaurant. (It had been among the top five for six years running.) Finding a replacement of his luster will be all but impossible.
Rather than indulge Humm, as hoteliers are often forced to do with superstar chefs, Claridge’s chose to side with its clientele, which has embraced David and Brook’s carnivorous offerings. These include roast venison, grilled monkfish and poussin stuffed with black truffles. But the pride of place goes to Humm’s celebrated duck, dry-aged and glazed with lavender and honey, and served with a confit of pear.
This was one of his original masterpieces at Eleven Madison Park, and its arrival on the other side of the Atlantic was greeted with hearty hosannas by London’s gastronomes. One restaurant reviewer was moved to exclaim, “Oh my.”
Loyal patrons of Eleven Madison Park might have responded “Oh no!” when Humm decided to scrap the duck, along with all other animal-based products, from the New York restaurant’s menu this summer.
This required Humm to affect distaste for the ingredients that had been restaurant staples until then. “All the caviar that you find now, it’s farm-raised, they sell it at the airport. Is that truly luxury?” he said to my Bloomberg colleague Kate Krader. “Kobe beef flown in from Japan? That’s not luxury. It’s gluttony.”
The new Humm definition of luxury embraces beets, eggplant and a Chinese lettuce called celtuce. As a committed carnivore, I’m probably not in his targeted demographic, but the reviews have been mixed. Krader commends “the precision, nuance, and, especially the labor-intensiveness of the new menu.” Others sniff that Humm’s vegetables are all pretending to be meat or fish and note that none of it is especially innovative. This last is an especially deep diss for a chef with his record of culinary creativity.
So it turns out that Humm can compromise on his “mission.” Perhaps a solution would have been to reverse the Eleven Madison Park polarity at Davies and Brook: A regular menu in the main hall, and a secret vegan repast in a private room.
Happily for Londoners who are so inclined, there are plenty of other places where they can get a pricey plant-based meal, prepared by chefs whose commitment to sustainable food production is more consistent. The highly regarded Gauthier Soho, for instance, does a prix fixe menu for 75 pounds (about $100) that, my vegan friends assure me, is an absolute treat.
Meanwhile, the lavender-glazed duck remains available at Claridge’s. Go get some, to honor the memory of the chef Humm used to be — and to thank those who are preserving it.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Bobby Ghosh is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He writes on foreign affairs, with a special focus on the Middle East and Africa.
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