Celebrity chef Daniel Humm responded to Insider’s investigation into acclaimed restaurant Eleven Madison Park at the 2022 Aspen Ideas Festival on Monday, addressing a leaked op-ed draft that revealed management was fully aware it was underpaying its staff.
The restaurant hired a journalist to ghostwrite the piece, which it hoped to publish in The New York Times, sources told Insider’s Kate Taylor, who reviewed the op-ed draft as part of a series looking into the Michelin-star restaurant’s chaotic shift to veganism.
The op-ed draft read: “It is absurd and unjust that people working in the kitchens and dining rooms of some of the finest restaurants in the world can barely afford their own food and rent. We are going to ensure that everybody working at Eleven Madison Park will receive a living wage of at least twenty dollars per hour.”
Eleven Madison Park continued to say in the draft that it would offset higher labor costs by raising the price of its tasting menu to $425, up from $335. Charging $335 was only possible, the op-ed draft said, because most kitchen workers were paid $15 an hour. However, the plans to increase worker pay were dropped after The New York Times wrote a scathing review of the restaurant’s new vegan menu.
After Humm was questioned by MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff about the report on stage, he said the op-ed draft was written as an “exercise” to test out the restaurant’s proposed increase in staff wages and menu prices.
“This is not just a creative endeavor. It’s also running a business in a very tough environment. And that is our livelihood,” he said. “We didn’t feel comfortable charging $480 for the meal to do this price increase, so we decided that we would move up there slower.”
“We wanted to pay people, I believe, $20,” Humm continued. “Today we’re paying $17, $18.”
While the pay bump, according to Humm, is an improvement from the restaurant’s original $15 an hour wage, it still falls short of the $20 an hour proposed in the unpublished op-ed. However, Eleven Madison Park did reverse its long-standing no tipping rule in February, which allows staff to accept gratuity.
“You cannot get people to do the work that is required at Eleven Madison Park if you don’t have a great culture, and if you don’t treat them well,” Humm told Soboroff on Monday.
Current and former Eleven Madison Park employees previously told Insider that many quit the restaurant over the past year because long hours, low pay, and food waste. Former employees described juggling roles and working more than 80 hours a week. A representative for Eleven Madison Park dismissed these complaints, saying that the staffers Insider spoke with were “agenda-driven” and that their critiques of the restaurant were “flat-out erroneous.”