After a flight from New York, a flurry of meetings, a tour of LA's Hauser Wirth & Shimmel gallery, and an evening drive to Palm Springs ahead of them, Daniel Humm and Will Guidara still manage to have enough energy to be truly hospitable.
I arrive late to our meeting, frantic with misspelt apology texts on the drive over. (Yeah, I know.) If they are bothered by my lateness when I finally arrive, it's hidden behind genuine seeming graciousness. A glass of grüner veltliner with my name on it waits at my spot at the table. They are all warm smiles.
The duo behind Manhattan's lauded restaurants NoMad and Eleven Madison Park, have met me to talk about their newest project, launching at the Desert Trip music festival. But the project is not a fine dining establishment, and the space definitely isn't conducive to a tasting menu. After all, it's a food truck.
For the truck, Humm and Guidara went with the classic LA lonchera, painted robin's egg blue and adorned with little more than the minimalist NoMad logo. The menu consists largely of popular dishes from their NYC location, such as the chicken burger with foie gras and truffle mayo on brioche, as well as "The Humm Dog," a bacon-wrapped hot dog with truffle and celery mayo on a warm griddled bun. This is easily the most truffle-heavy menu of any food truck in the city.
The NoMad, whose signature dish is an $89 whole roasted chicken with foie gras and truffles, is taking an unconventional approach by making its first entry into LA as a food truck. But it's arrival is not especially surprising, considering the recent wave of New York restaurants invading LA, including The Cannibal and Shake Shack, and even a rumored upcoming April Bloomfield restaurant.
Still, outsiders aren't always met with open arms. After all, LA has some amazing chefs and institutions of its own, as well as pride—it's taken LA a long time to be considered a unique and important culinary city on par with New York. What do we really need from New York that we haven't got?
But that's why Humm and Guidara's decision to start the NoMad as a food truck make so much damn sense. They're familiarizing themselves with LA while also getting LA familiar with them—all the while being free to change and reinterpret dishes before being locked into a brick-and-mortar space, full staff, and kitchen.
"We've been spending quite a bit of time out here for the last year," Guidara tells me between sips of beer. "Not really working, but more of it has really been to get to know the city a little bit. We've been going around, eating at a lot of great places for quite a while, and just trying to get to know everyone. And that's a big part of why we're doing a truck. We really embrace the community aspect of restaurants."
"We also believe in embracing the sense of place," Humm continues. " We really believe Eleven Madison Park wouldn't work anywhere else and we don't believe the NoMad, the way it is in New York would work anywhere else, so the NoMad here will be different than the one in New York."
Beyond just the truck, Humm and Guidara are also incorporating themselves further into the LA food scene with a series of partnerships with some of the city's best. The first of their rotating monthly collaborators is food truck king Roy Choi, who is offering a chicken "dumpling" burger with shrimp, chili, and ginger on the NoMad Truck's menu.
Later in the week at Desert Trip, it appears that the New Yorkers have already begun to adopt the California vibe. Clad in NoMad Ts, skinny jeans, and some bandanas for that Coachella valley dust and wind, they pass out chicken burgers and "Humm Dogs" in perfectly packaged bags to a snaking line of customers.
It's an all-hands-on-deck kind of day and Guidara has even managed to wrangle his wife—Milk Bar pastry chef and TV personality Christina Tosi, hidden underneath a big straw hat and glasses—to take orders. "She wouldn't have it any other way," he explains, all smiles in the face of sun and stress. "It's a team effort."
And as Humm prepares a tray of Humm Dogs and chicken burgers, I recall a question that I'd asked him earlier in the week: "Can you have the same kind of a-ha moment that you get from a truly wonderful fine dining experience from a food truck?"
Humm had said yes, explaining that with fine dining that moment can often come from breaking out of the format of the rest of the meal in an unexpected way, creating a surprise. And with a food truck, the opposite sort of surprise can happen—like being handed an unexpectedly over-the-top chicken burger laced with foie and truffle mayo.
As I take my first bite of that delicious burger, I realize he may be right.