When the three Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant, previously ranked the best in the world at the World’s 50 Best in 2017, announced that after closing due to the pandemic, it would be reopening its kitchen and dining room to become a commissary kitchen during the public health crisis, people took notice. A restaurant that was once serving 100 refined meals a night, has now scaled up its operations to make approximately 2,000 meals a day for New Yorkers in need, thanks to some funding and coordination from long-time partner, American Express.
Daniel Humm, chef and owner at Eleven Madison Park, has partnered with NYC-based non-profit Rethink Food to make the initiative possible. Rethink is known for its efforts to eliminate food waste in New York City by obtaining surplus food from grocery stores and restaurants, and using those resources to feed underprivileged communities. With many restaurants closing due to the current circumstances, Rethink has received an additional 19,000 lbs from first-time food donors, and has expanded its operations by setting up a Restaurant Response Program to assist with food need and access during times of crisis. The program gives up to $40,000 to no more than 30 restaurants to reopen their doors as food distribution centers (the Eleven Madison Park team is separate from this program).
Former Eleven Madison Park employees have been hired by Rethink Food to produce meals across three of the establishment’s kitchens that prepare meals simultaneously. “Chef Daniel Humm is there every day overseeing the operation,” Matt Jozwiak, executive director and founder of Rethink Food NYC, says. “Our team starts at 7 a.m. to get deliveries, and the first shift begins at 7:30 a.m. to begin packaging food. A later shift begins at 8:30 a.m. for cooking[T]he cooks work in teams of three and are spread out. The amount of people in Eleven Madison Park never exceeds 13. Everybody is typically out by 5 p.m. after the meals are packed for distribution.”
The meals are picked up by partner CityMeals on Wheels and are delivered across New York’s five boroughs including hospitals like New York Presbyterian, as well as community centers. “The most important thing any of us can do is find ways to support the healthcare workers on the frontlines of this battle and those struggling to survive it,” says Humm. “We’re grateful that this partnership will allow the Eleven Madison Park team to contribute in such a significant way.” While a kitchen like Eleven Madison Park’s is no stranger to cleanliness, the highest priority of all involved is to produce safe meals while protecting the staff and people served. The team have their temperatures taken upon arrival, and follow other rigorous safety codes including wearing masks and gloves.
“Our mission of delivering food to New Yorkers in need has never been more important, and finding a way to continue serving those that have always relied on us, as well as helping hospitals provide meals in this all-hands-on-deck moment, is so important,” says Matt Jozwiak. “This innovative program also helps the very restaurants we’re using to prepare the meals and we hope this partnership serves as a model that can be replicated nationwide, which we’re already working to do … post COVID-19, I hope we can work out a sustainable system in place so that restaurants play a larger role in the fight against hunger.”
“This is obviously an extraordinarily difficult moment for New York, and this program has given our team the chance to not only help people, but to do what they love: cook,” says Humm. In a world where so many freedoms have been taken away due to this pandemic, it’s the local initiatives such as these that give hope.