Top chef quits Claridge’s as hotel rejects his vegan vision

Claridge’s three Michelin star chef Daniel Humm has dramatically parted ways with the Mayfair hotel in a row over his attempt to give the restaurant a vegan makeover.

The chef was lobbying for a meat-free future at the helm of Davies and Brook, the five-star hotel’s prestigious restaurant and his first outlet in London.

Talks were under way to overhaul the establishment’s menu, famed for its foie gras, roasted venison and dry-aged duck, after the 42-year-old axed meat from his “world-best” New York restaurant to make it fully vegan.

Claridge’s told the Telegraph on Friday that its culinary offering was under review, “including the possible introduction of a fully plant-based menu”.

But last night the row came to a head as Mr Humm confirmed he was leaving the hotel after just two years, insisting that “the future for me is plant-based”.

Mr Humm at Eleven Madison Park where his all-vegan menu debuted to mixed reviews

Credit: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images North America

A spokesman for Claridge’s said: “We completely respect and understand the culinary direction of a fully plant-based menu that Daniel has decided to embrace and champion and now wants to introduce in London.

“However, this is not the path we wish to follow here at Claridge’s at the moment and therefore, regretfully, we have mutually agreed to go our separate ways.”

In May, the Swiss cook transformed the menu at Eleven Madison Park, his three Michelin star establishment in Manhattan, scrapping its renowned meat dishes such as glazed duck for an entirely vegan offering, a move that raised eyebrows in the industry.

New fine-dining plates included cucumber with melon and smoked daikon, and sunflower butter with bread rolls.

Despite a scathing review from the New York Times’ acclaimed food critic Pete Wells, Mr Humm justified the decision by stressing that “the current food system is simply not sustainable, in so many ways” and insisted “we need to inspire change”.

A similar vision was being pursued at Claridge’s, prompting concern that its two centuries of culinary tradition, including foie gras torchon, butter-poached native lobster and roasted venison, would be ditched for climate-friendly vegetables with a lower carbon footprint.

Mr Humm said on Friday night it was “with sadness” that in December he would leave Davies and Brook, which has gained one Michelin star, adding: “The future for me is plant-based. This is our mission and what we stand by as a company, and at this time this is not the direction that Claridge’s feels is right for them.”

‘Maybe he should bring back the celery root steamed in a pig bladder’

He said it was a “dream come true” to join the hotel in 2019 and praised the “beautiful restaurant with a dedicated and passionate team”. Claridge’s thanked him for his efforts and promised an update on its future plans in due course.

Mr Humm, a leading voice in the charge to make the food industry more eco friendly, visited the Cop26 environmental summit in Glasgow this week and expressed his wish to “make plant-based food delicious, magical and luxurious”.

After the vegan overhaul to his 12-course New York restaurant drew criticism, Pete Wells wrote in the New York Times: “Almost none of the main ingredients taste quite like themselves in the 10-course, $335 menu the restaurant unwrapped this June after a 15-month pandemic hiatus.

“Some are so obviously standing in for meat or fish that you almost feel sorry for them.”

The critic remarked that Mr Humm achieved “purer, deeper results out of vegetables before the restaurant went vegan” and suggested that “maybe he should bring back the celery root steamed in a pig bladder”.

William Sitwell, The Telegraph’s restaurant critic, suggested that a high-end vegan Claridge’s restaurant could be a “clever idea” without the costs of buying in protein. “That restaurant has driven away classic Claridge’s customers very successfully already and this cements that view,” he said.

While veganism was not for Claridge’s appetite, Alex Gauthier, the Michelin-star French chef, responded to protests at the doors of Gauthier, his Soho brasserie, over the force-feeding process to produce foie gras by turning his restaurant vegan. Now he cooks a version made of lentils, walnuts and cognac.

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