When the prestigious New York City restaurant Eleven Madison Park announced that it would be relaunching with an entirely plant-based menu, many thought this would influence other restaurants to follow this example (via The New York Times). When Eleven Madison Park relaunched with a plant-based menu quickly prompted a 50,000-person long waiting list of excited diners (via Financial Times). At the time of the announcement, Chef Daniel Humm told The New York Times, “The current food system is simply not sustainable, in so many ways.” Plant-based diets have been touted for their environmental and potential health benefits, but the diet has only recently caught on in the world of fine dining, per Insider.
Almost two years since the relaunch of Eleven Madison Park, many of the restaurant’s employees are stepping forward to describe the difficult and what they viewed as hypocritical working environment in the restaurant (via Insider).
Humm’s plant-based take on fine dining was met with some harsh responses from critics with The New York Times’ Pete Wells describing in an article that the menu did “strange things to vegetables.” The menu also contributed to failed expansion plans for a restaurant in Midtown (via Eater). A recent report by Insider featured insight from almost a dozen employees who spoke about the changes to Eleven Madison Park since 2017.
According to Insider, the staff described a difficult work environment where employees were overworked, underpaid, and a high turnover since the plant-based relaunch in 2021. As an anonymous line cook who spoke with Insider described, “It was just, to put it very simply, a s*** show.”
The employees also point out many of what they interpret as the restaurant’s hypocritical operations. While the shift to a plant-based menu was a decision based on sustainability concerns, employees described entire boxes of produce being thrown away. One employee described to Insider that the operation was more akin to “farm to trash.” The restaurant also continued to offer meat dishes in an alternative dining room for those willing to pay extra (via The New York Times). Employees also reported being underpaid with entry level positions offering $15 per hour (while each meal costs diners $335 a piece), and a ban on tips.
Humm was also a target of the criticisms. Per Insider, several employees viewed many of these tactics as self-serving and noted Humm’s absence from the kitchen during meal services, except for VIP tours.
Insider does note that there are some optimistic signs of improvements at Eleven Madison Park. Humm reinstated tips in February 2022, launched a $150 at-home vegan meal kit, and has since removed meat from the private dining room menu.
source: Tasting Table