James Beard award-winning chef and restaurateur Daniel Humm, 41, is used to working in front of a flame, but glance down at his running shoes as he’s cooling off from the kitchen and lapping Central Park, and you just might see sparks.
Need proof? How about a 3:12:10 finish at the 2017 New York City Marathon, or a 2:51:14 personal best during the 2008 running of the iconic marathon.
So many are familiar with the food created at the hands of the Swiss-born New York City-based chef who co-owns Make It Nice, the restaurant group behind Eleven Madison Park, The NoMad in New York and Los Angeles, and Made Nice. But, as much love and uncanny detail as he puts into working peppers and dandelions into a slow-cooked suckling pig dish, his heart also ticks to being an athlete. And, a very good one at that.
In fact, before he won his first Michelin Star at the age of 24, he was racing mountain bikes professionally and cycling for the Swiss Junior National Team.
“It was something I really loved being a part of; the competitiveness, the adrenaline rush, and the camaraderie around it,” Humm said.
He hung up the bike (competitively) at 19 to work full-time as a chef, but his legs never stopped moving. That’s because he noticed that endurance sports help keep him balanced in a profession that can grind anyone to the bone.
“[Staying active] gives me a chance to refocus myself, mentally and physically,” Humm explained. “My schedule can be so erratic and hectic, but to be able to hit the road on my bike for a ride, or head to a park for a long run, it allows me to take my mind and my body to a different place. I crave that balance and it’s a non-negotiable for me. It also keeps me pushing my body. Any job that you’re on your feet for hours and hours at a time requires endurance, so there’s an obvious benefit. But it’s also mental endurance and the ability to remain focused on a task, to power through a service, and motivate yourself and those around you to be better.”
Humm believes in the power of sweat so much that he started the Make It Nice Running Club, a once-a-week gathering for employees of his restaurants to pound the pavement and cultivate a bond beyond the kitchen.
“It started with simple bonds being formed with other members of our team over running – just a few members at a time – but it’s grown into something larger. We’re all a part of a big family and we work so hard together, so having an outlet to stay fit, find focus, and connect outside of work over a shared interest is very meaningful,” Humm said. “It’s brought people together in the company that may never have forged a bond and that’s powerful.”
Not only did Humm put up an impressive performance during last year’s New York City Marathon, but he also round up more than 25 people from the Make It Nice Running club and ran the race for No Kid Hungry, an organization that fights childhood hunger in the United States.
According to the non-profit, more than 13 million children in American live in “food insecure” homes. So, Humm thought it was the perfect charity for his club to partner with. It went so well that the group also plans to run New York again in 2018 with huge support from the New York Road Runners.
When Humm isn’t in the kitchen, on his bike or hammering out miles with his run club, you might find him barefoot and in a wetsuit.
“I just took up surfing while spending time in the Hamptons where we opened up our summer pop-up, EMP Summer House. I’d never surfed before, but I love it already,” he said. “Being on the water, out before anyone hits the beach, and just taking in the sounds and natural beauty of everything, it’s remarkable.”
And some might even say, “delicious.”