“When I think about creating a meal, I think about art,” says Daniel Humm, whose latest monograph Eat More Plants debuts this week with Steidl. Unlike his many past releases—residence-friendly translations of the chef’s high-concept cooking—the book is no traditional binder of recipes, but rather a volume of paintings, drawings, and hand-written notes taken directly from his personal diaries. These works, beautiful and complex, act as a personal record of change not only for just Humm—a man once known for his lavender glazed duck—but for many of our collective appetites, too.
To both acclaim and critique, Humm has again and again redefined the concept of fine dining. His highfalutin yet undeniably-remarkable Eleven Madison Park is the epicenter of his concept-driven universe of food and culture, and under the chef’s 17-year tenure there, the restaurant, which turns 25 this month, has earned and maintained three-Michelin stars. That’s even after Humm rather astonishingly transformed the kitchen to be entirely plant-based in 2021.
“I think about music. I think about all kinds of seasonal expressions that can be part of a meal,” continues Humm of his food-making process. “Then when I first start out thinking about a season, I write down a poem.” One particular of note for the chef is “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens, which he has incorporated into his art practice.
Printed in a limited collector’s edition of Eat More Plants, the four paintings revealed here were created by Humm during his “light bulb” period during the pandemic; the time when he decided to shift his focus toward sustainable cuisine. Scanned from his diaries, the works’ elemental colors bleed onto each other in a lurid, fiery way, drooling down concerto line sheets from “The Four Seasons” by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. It’s a literal effect when it comes to painting, but nevertheless a mighty one—especially for what the art signifies in the greater food system.
“The beauty of cooking and eating plant-based meals forces you to be in tune with the seasons,” adds Humm, who now collaborates extensively with Magic Farm in Upstate New York. “The most delicious dishes I have eaten have been made with fresh produce at its peak. And that is what I love about cooking with peak-season produce. You don’t need to do much to create a delicious dish; just let the flavors of the ingredients shine for themselves.”