By MJ Pedone, Cover Story
I have had the privilege to work with David Burke years ago at a restaurant in NYC. Back then, Burke was known for his American cuisine as well as his Cheesecake Lollipops which I had the pleasure to indulge in at work. Burke has been honored with Japan’s Nippon Award of Excellence, the Robert Mondavi Award of Excellence and the CIA’s August Escoffier Award. Nation’s Restaurant News named Burke one of the 50 Top R&D Culinarians and Time Out New York named him the “Best Culinary Prankster”. The James Beard Foundation inducted Burke into the Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America and Nation’s Restaurant News presented him with the Menu Masters award, naming him one of the nation’s most celebrated culinary innovators. Burke was honored by the culinary school at Johnson & Wales University with the Distinguished Visiting Chef Award, which is given to the world’s most influential and celebrated chefs and was named Restaurateur of the Year by the New Jersey Restaurant Association. In the same month, he was honored with a Concierge Choice Award, celebrating the elite in New York City hospitality, winning the best chef award. And in 2013, the David Burke Group was recognized by Restaurant Hospitality magazine as having one of the “Coolest Multi-concept Companies in the Land,” a nod to Burke’s many original and enviable restaurant concepts. Additional accolades include: 1991 Chefs in America – “Chef of the Year”, 1995 Culinary Institute of America – “Auggie Award”, 1996 & 1997 Robert Mondavi – “Culinary Award of Experience”, 1998 The Vatel Club – “Chef of the Year” and 1998 Chef Magazine – “Chef of the Year”.
Needless to say, Burke lives above and beyond the standards that the industry continues to bestow upon many of the celebrity chefs. For me, it is an honor to work with him throughout the years!
MJ: When did you know that you wanted to become a chef?
DB: I was a dishwasher at a hotel in Holmdel, New Jersey. I was just amazed at what happened in the kitchen. I looked up to the chefs, the comradery, the talent. They’re not so serious during the day, but when service began, it’s like they were playing in the NFL Super Bowl or like The Beatles on the stage. It’s perfection, seriousness and teamwork, yet, still joking around. Then the food part watching and learning about the butchery and soup making, the building of a dish, even a club sandwich all of which was crazy. I was like a kid in a candy store. Waitresses interacting, there was such energy. The chef was the cool guy who had command of the kitchen and captain of the ship. He had a beautiful red Corvette and a lot of beautiful girlfriends. I said to myself, I can do this. I think I want to be a chef. He had what I wanted. He had the job, talent, creativity, the car and the girls.
MJ: Who are some of your favorite chefs?
DB: The guys I worked for such as Charlie Palmer, Waldy Malouf, and Daniel Boulud.
MJ: What type of food do you specialize in?
DB: Modern American with a creative twist.
MJ: How many restaurants do you have and where are they located?
DB: We own, manage and operate 15 restaurants in New Jersey: Son Cubano, West New York, Asbury Kitchen, Asbury Park; David Burke Orange Lawn, South Orange; Drifthouse by David Burke and Nauti Bar by David Burke, Sea Bright; Ventanas, Fort Lee. New York restaurants include: King Bar and Patio Bar at The Garden City Hotel, Garden City, Long Island; The Blue Hen by David Burke and Salt & Char at The Adelphi Hotel, Saratoga; and in New York City: David Burke Tavern, Woodpecker Pizza Bar & Grille by David Burke; and Mister French. Also, restaurants located in Washington D.C. and North Carolina.
MJ: How has the pandemic effected your business?
DB: The pandemic devastated our New York City business and wounded our New Jersey businesses. Personally, it has cut my income in half.
MJ: Do you see the hospitality business coming back?
DB: I see everything coming back and I see things in a positive light. Unfortunately, I see New York City taking longer based on the local leadership there.
MJ: How have you pivoted your business structure and do you think its sustainable throughout the winter months?
DB: Outdoor dining is not sustainable during the winter months. Our business isn’t sustainable unless the governor’s allow us to do indoor dining, case closed! We operate on adrenaline, enthusiasm and passion and they’ve take most of that away from us.
MJ: Many chefs and restauranteurs have been very vocal in saying that much of this situation is political? Do you feel this way?
DB: Yes, it is political.
MJ: You certainly serve your community and helped extensively not only during the pandemic, but every time you’re asked.
DB: Yes, celebrity chefs and chefs in general always support charities in need and during a crisis. We do more for others than any other industry. We will work extensive hours to feed those that are hungry.
MJ: What would you like to see in the coming months?
DB: I’d like to see indoor dining for restaurants and operating at 100 percent. I’d like the government to put two people into a restaurant who are health and compliance inspectors. That way, the government would be paying for only two people instead of the 30 people that are out of work and on unemployment.
MJ: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
DB: I hope to be running a cooking school as part of an educational television program. And I hope my company is successful and growing so I can continue to mentor and help people in our corporation grow and of course, I hope to be happy and healthy.
MJ: Let’s have some fun:
Vanilla or Chocolate?
DB: Vanilla if it is ice cream, chocolate if it is a dessert.
MJ: Meat of Fish?
DB: Surf and Turf.
MJ: Black or White?
DB: If it is clothing, black for on the street and white in the kitchen
MJ: Day or Night?
MJ: Sweet or Savory?
MJ: What is your favorite go-to dish?
DB: Pasta if I’m cooking at home and fish if I’m cooking in a restaurant.
MJ: Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs?
DB: Stand on your feet for 15 hours and carry two cases of potatoes up and down stairs 20 times, work every holiday and weekend, and then see if you like it. There’s a big misconception out there because of the Food Network and celebrity chef shows. Talk to as many older people about their careers in the restaurant business to see what it’s really like. It can be great when you reach a certain level, but you have to understand that it is not a joy ride. There are easier ways to make a living.
MJ: What would you tell your 8-year-old self?
DB: Keep a journal and take lots of photos to document your journey. And, be kind to people.
MJ: Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I look forward to catching up with you again soon. Please feel free to follow David.
DB: It was my pleasure and I look forward to seeing you soon!
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