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Hot chef: David Burke is always cooking up something new

The legendary restauranteur opens up to us.

David Burke has nine restaurants. Credit: Lou Manna David Burke has nine restaurants.
Credit: Lou Manna

David Burke has cooked for many a boldfaced name, but in the culinary world he himself is the star. The classically French trained chef is behind some of the city’s most revered establishments, like the intriguingly unique David Burke Townhouse. In his spare time, he’s invented food products, authored a cookbook and opened his own restaurants. The legendary chef spared a few minutes to chat with us.

So many chefs, like you, get their start in France. Why do you think that is?

[In] France, there’s a lot of great chefs and food is taken very seriously. When I did it in the ‘80s it was kind of special — the kitchens I was trained in were mainly European. French cooking was what was taught at the [Culinary Institute of America] when I went, and to be able to get exposure like that is pretty good.

Do you think France will always be the place to train?

I think the young chefs should go to as many places as possible — it could be India, Singapore, China, Norway — because traveling, you see so many different methods, techniques, different utilizations of product, different markets. I’m going to Israel in October, I’m going to Mexico in September — both on food exploration trips.

What will you be looking for there?

Just ideas. I’m going with a couple other chefs. We’ll walk around markets and festivals and eat out at restaurants and just look for inspiration. Israel, I’ve been there a couple times, Mexico I’ve only been once. But this should be [fun] because I’m going to Oaxaca — Oaxaca’s the food capital.

How of much of what you do is cooking, and how much is managing your empire?

Well, it all depends on what’s happening. When we’re opening a concept, cooking’s 80 percent, and designing the kitchen and getting it open. That usually lasts 90 days or so, and then it goes back to about 50/50. Last night I cooked at the [New Jersey restaurant] Fromagerie. I’ll expedite, I’ll work with the chefs, take notes — edit would be a good word. I edit the chefs and the managers on what I think should be on the menu and how things should look.

What ingredients are you loving for summer?

Peaches, watermelon, asparagus, crab meat, frog legs, gazpacho, oysters, whole-roasted fish —

Wait, did you say frogs’ legs? How do you prepare them?

There’s a couple ways. You can tempura them and fry them and eat them like chicken wings, or you can sautee them on the legs — like flour and tomato and olives, or you can pull the meat off the bone and stew them and put them on top of a veal chop.

So do they really “taste like chicken”?

They have a different flavor than chicken, probably a little on the sweeter side, but they’re kinda neutral. They sell pretty well. They’re not that exotic. People like to try them.

Having cooked for many a famous name, what’s the weirdest request you’ve received?

Years ago I had a princess of a certain country, her feet couldn’t touch the floor. She had to be carried in on a, I don’t know, flying carpet. Four guys carried her in, she was sitting cross-legged, they had to bring a special seat in for her, and nothing green could go near the food — not even an herb. She didn’t like anything green. All I know is I didn’t put any chives or any spinach [near her plate]. We also had a guy who ate a porterhouse raw. We served it to him ice-cold on a plate. We gave him salt and pepper, I gave him a dipping sauce, and he was fine. We accommodate.

 
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