The Inspired Series with Daniel Humm
“If you’re really passionate about something, it means you’re willing to suffer for it."
In April this year when the World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards were in Melbourne, we held a one-in-a-lifetime Inspired Series evet.
We had four of the World’s Best Chefs on the panel one of which was Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, New York.
I had the incredible opportunity to interview him at Higher Ground Café in the CBD in front of Melbourne TAFE students.
Did you know 50% of young Australian apprentices in the industry drop out of their studies? It’s an alarming statistic, one we hope to close the gap on through our Inspired Series Q&As like this one.
Born in Switzerland, Daniel dropped out of school at 14 and had a tough upbringing, which probably hits close to home for many young chefs in Oz.
When I asked him why he dropped out at such a young age, he said his school didn’t appreciate creativity.
“It was almost the opposite,”
“They wanted you not to be creative and follow a certain path and that path wasn’t for me.”
Like my dad, Daniel’s was “stern” and told him if he left school he’d have to leave home.
So at 15, he moved out and tried paying his own bills on $20,000 a year as a professional cyclist.
Struggling on this wage he ended getting a job in the kitchen of a hotel in Switzerland and lucky for him, the head chef there was really supportive of him and mentored him in a way his dad wasn’t able to.
Daniel’s mum on the other hand was the one who sparked his interest in cooking.
“Mum would cook twice a day, she baked her own bread, always went to the markets and made everything herself. Without knowing it I was introduced to this tradition,” he said.
“I remember this one moment very vividly, it was during the fall in Switzerland when it rains a lot, my mum brought in some greens from the farmers. She brought in this marsh salad which was covered in dirt and made me wash it over and over and over again. I was 8-years-old and was like why are you making me do this. I must have washed it 10 times. Then she picked it up and asked me to taste it… At that moment time stopped and I understood there is no cutting corners in cooking – it’s worth doing all the work.”
And he’s right! There are no shortcuts. Yes, it can be really hard but don’t forget why you started.
When I asked Daniel what advice he has for young chefs who might want to throw in the towel, he gave a pretty confronting but really good answer.
“You have to feel really, really strong about this path because its super hard. But you know, every industry is hard. If you want to get to the top, if you want to be a top painter, architect, doctor or whatever, it’s going to be really hard and the problem with the cusine it’s paid very poorly early on.”
He then said something that was so spot on and has stuck with me since… he said the word passion in German translates to "enjoy suffering.” And it makes complete sense… If you’re really passionate about something, it means you’re willing to suffer for it.
When chefs say it’s hard, we don’t want you to be discouraged because cooking is really beautiful and can open so many doors for you.
Daniel said for him
“cooking is really magical. “There’s so much in cooking that you cannot explain in a recipe that is really the magic of cooking. For me, I dropped out at 14 and moved to America 13 years ago, cooking has taught me everything. I learned through cooking, culture, languages, met people from around the world, seen the entire world… food has opened so many doors for me.”
And I couldn’t agree more. Cooking took me to London and gave me opportunities I’d never would have had if I wasn’t a chef.
Hearing from legends like Humm, who had a rough start to life, hits close to home for many young chefs in the industry. But now he’s the World’s Best Chef with four Michelin stars to his name… These kinds of success stories are incredibly inspiring and motivating for young chefs to help them get through the tough times and complete their studies with a long-term goal in mind – to be the next World’s Best.