From the moment he arrived at San Francisco’s Campton Place Restaurant in May 2003, Chef Daniel Humm drew attention and admiration for his innovative style of refined, contemporary French cuisine. Only four months after he took the helm, the San Francisco Chronicle awarded Campton Place the highest possible rating for a new chef. In September 2005, the restaurant achieved the paper’s highest rating, Four Stars. In the review, Michael Bauer, the San Francisco Chronicle’s executive food and wine editor, called Humm “the brightest star to land in Northern California since Thomas Keller opened The French Laundry in Yountville.”
"I am not trying to invent new flavor combinations, but instead take traditional combinations and present them in different ways,” Humm explains. This philosophy is beautifully illustrated in a Soup of Garden Peas with Chanterelles and Mint; the silky smooth texture of puréed peas, perfumed with the classic flavor of mint, gets a nut-like boost from the aromatic and tender chanterelles.
Humm’s contemporary European cooking is strongly rooted in Provence with an emphasis on purity, simplicity, and the flavors of that region. Favoring techniques that express the distinct flavor of each ingredient, his presentations are a feast for the eye. Together with Sommelier John Ragan, Humm has created a remarkable food and wine program that finds its perfect complement in the modern elegance of the dining room at Campton Place.
Humm’s architect father hoped his son would follow in his footsteps, but instead Humm applied his inherited sense of design and structure to his passion for cooking. Humm’s classical European training started at the age of 14 with a three-year culinary apprenticeship. He built on this experience, working at many of Switzerland’s finest five-star hotels, including a position as Chef Hors d’oeuvrier and Chef Rotisseur at Zurich’s Hotel Baur au Lac.
The Swiss-born Humm took his first executive chef position at Gasthaus zum Gupf, located near the medieval university town of St. Gallen in the Swiss Alps. There he earned a Michelin Star and was named “Culinary Discovery in Switzerland 2002” by Gault Millau.
Humm also worked for the famed Restaurant Pont de Brent, a Michelin three-star restaurant in Montreux, under Chef G. Rabaey. Humm remarks, “Chef Rabaey is one of the great European chefs. He taught me discipline and how to be truly creative with a foundation of solid culinary skills.”
In addition to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Four Star rating, Humm has received a continuing series of accolades. In February 2004, the San Francisco Chronicle named him a 2004 Rising Star Chef. The James Beard Foundation nominated him for its Rising Star Chef award in both 2004 and 2005. Food + Wine magazine named him one of their Best New Chefs in 2005. And in Fall 2005, Humm received a Rising Stars Award from StarChefs.com.
A San Francisco favorite for almost two decades and now a Four Star destination with Humm at its helm, Campton Place Restaurant is located in the Campton Place Hotel, just steps away from Union Square.
Interview with 2005 San Francisco Rising Star Chef Daniel Humm of Campton - San Francisco
Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Daniel Humm: My dad is an architect and he wanted me to be an architect too. But he also said that if you find something you like and can be the best at it – that is what you should do. I never cooked at home, but my mom cooked a lot. I learned a lot about ingredients from her.
AB: You took a 3-year culinary apprenticeship at the age of 14, then went on to work at many of Switzerland's finest 5-star hotels. How did this education help develop your culinary skills?
DH: First I went to work at a hotel and learned all of the basics on the job. I think it is very important to build a foundation before you start being creative. Even now I find myself going back to the basics.
AB: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you've learned from them?
DH: Chef Gerard Rabaey of Le Pont de Brent in Switzerland. He taught me that you should give your best every day. Every plate that goes out is important. He taught me the precision of cooking and how to handle ingredients.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
DH: I'm not looking for new flavor combinations, I am more looking to use flavor combinations that work in a new way. For instance, I grill watermelon and serve it with tomato tartare. I'm more conservative and I like the classics. I think the future of food is not in wild creations.
AB: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
DH: Melissa Perrello from the Fifth Floor.
AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
DH: Tripe – you don't see it very often. Oxtail is very rich and has a good flavor. It's all about how you make them. You need skills to prepare them.
AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
DH: A Haake Immersion Circulator – a machine that keeps water at an exact temperature.
AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
DH: We use a lot of sous vide. We braise short rib for 42 hours at a very low temperature. Some of the proteins in the beef cook at different temperatures. Sous vide allows you to serve the short ribs medium-rare but still be incredibly tender.
AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
DH: I ask them why they want to work here to determine what they know about this property and me. I also ask how long they have stayed in the positions they have had.
AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
DH: Be careful where you choose to work. Stay with a chef for 2-3 years before moving on. Work as many stations with the chef as you can. It is important to understand why creations are what they are.
AB: What are some of your favorite cookbooks?
DH: Alain Ducasse's Grand Livre de Cuisine, and Ferran Adria's El Bulli 1998-2002.
AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
DH: Barcelona, Spain – they live a great life, eat great food and it comes from the heart.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
DH: We don't sear that often anymore. Most things we do are at low temperatures, 3 ingredients on the plate with every one having a purpose.
AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
DH: I want to be in a place where quality is the highest priority. And eventually I want my own place.