Image courtesy of: David Burke/Facebook
Chef David Burke
Perhaps the reason Chef David Burke is so uninhibited in the kitchen at the Park Avenue Cafe in NYC, able to be completely innovative and even wacky with his dishes and their presentation, is because, as he says, “I didn’t grow up eating that kind of food.”
Burke made his entree into the world of haute cuisine at age 15, working after school as a dishwasher at a Sheraton Hotel in Monmouth County, New Jersey. He says that what he saw in that hotel kitchen was a “whole new world” from the Campbells soup and frozen dinners upon which he was raised.
Burke credits his youth of all-American fast food, overlaid with extensive training at the Culinary Institute of America and years of apprenticeships in France and New York with having left him with an unpretentious eye for food, and a freedom to bend culinary taboos. Burke, infamous for dishes marked by whimsy and a commitment to experimentation, has been affectionately termed the Robin Williams of food.
He is renowned for such dishes as his swordfish chop, a meaty piece of fish almost 2-inches thick, attached to its bone and seared to resemble a veal chop, which sells out almost every night before the second seating. People have been known to call up and try to reserve one with their dinner reservation.
Other Burke indulgences include his creamy hot corn flan, which is spooned into a hollowed eggshell, then set in a porcelain “delivery man” egg cup, and his raspberry and lemon tart, which is baked in the shape of a flatbed truck, wheels and all. All these dishes epitomize Burke’s flippant style and desire to celebrate his New Jersey roots; the delivery man and the truck are his way of bringing blue-collar Americana into the upper echelons of dining.
The result of his fearless experimentation has won Burke many accolades, including the prestigious 1991 Ivy Award, which is chef of the year chosen by his peers. Burke, who divides his time between his restaurants in New York and Chicago, is also often found making media appearances, giving lectures, and teaching cooking courses.
Additionally, in true entrepreneurial spirit, Burke has started a catalogue/mail-order business to make his salmon pastrami (salmon marinated and spiced to look like, and taste a bit like, the deli meat), as well as salmon bacon and a line of signature sauces available to the public.
It is with good reason that this talented man, whose competitive drive, sturdy build, and jocular disposition make him seem more akin to a hockey player than chef, went from Sheraton dishwasher to Executive Chef of one of New York’s top restaurants. He is an entrepreneur, an innovator, and a risk-taker, confident that his bold American food will be well received in any arena.