Photos courtesy of David Burke Hospitality Management
Celebrity chef David Burke sits down to talk about the hospitality industry and his new Westchester County restaurant.
A leading man in the world of culinary stars and one of the innovators of New American cuisine, this Top Chef regular has opened Red Horse by David Burke at The Opus Westchester in White Plains (in the space that previously housed BLT Steak). We sat down with the restaurateur to talk about his attraction to the hospitality world, the celebrity-chef culture, and where you can find the best pizza.
WM: Your parents were not excited about your wanting to work as a chef. Why?
David Burke: My parents thought I had more potential than working in a restaurant. I had good grades; I was a good athlete. They said I should go to college and would do good things — become an architect, lawyer, etc. They constantly tried to talk me out of working in the food industry.
WM: What attracted you to working in restaurants?
DB: In 1975, when I as 15, I worked washing dishes at the Sheraton Hotel in Holmdel, New Jersey. The kitchen was full of Vietnam vets, renegades, rebels, and castoffs. They were cool and had fun; I loved the camaraderie. It was like they were backstage, preparing for a show, and once 5 p.m. hit, it was time to go onstage and perform.
WM: What can Westchesterites expect from Red Horse by David Burke in White Plains?
DB: It’s a Modern American steakhouse with an Asian accent, serving dry-aged, thick-cut steaks seasoned with Himalayan sea salt. There’s the original [Red Horse], in Rumson, New Jersey, with a similar menu. Some of the White Plains offerings are lobster dumplings, Japanese pretzel crab cakes, pork shank, bison short ribs, and tableside salad carts.
WM: Tell us about some of your more meaningful work experiences.
DB: As the broiler cook at Navesink Country Club, in Red Bank [NJ], I learned butchering basics and how to move on the line. At Fromagerie [now Burke’s Red Horse] in Rumson, I found out what “fancy cuisine” was. I worked as a private chef one summer for a wealthy family in Norway, and I was exposed to the cuisines of Europe. My role as sous chef for three years at La Crémaillère in Bedford got me ready for New York City [Daniel Boulud, The River Café].
WM: What are your feelings about the celebrity-chef culture?
DB: There was Wolfgang Puck and Emeril and others, but I was part of the pioneering of it, doing Instagram food before Instagram. The plating was daring, with an architectural design element to it. My pastry eye [Burke studied at Ecole Lenôtre Pastry School in Plaisir, France] helped with that.
“The negative part of the chef-as-celebrity thing is that some younger chefs are misled by the notion that the industry is easy and that to be a chef means you’ll be famous.”
After the Food Network encouraged Americans to get hungry for chefs, it became a more respected profession, and owners and investors realized they now needed more than just a charismatic host/maître d’ to have a successful restaurant.
The negative part of the chef-as-celebrity thing is that some younger chefs are misled by the notion that the industry is easy and that to be a chef means you’ll be famous, yet only a small portion of chefs have the good fortune of attaining fame. The passionate hospitality gene seems missing in some, and they instead are getting into the business for the fame aspect. Garnering social media followers is of importance to them, but do they know how to bone out a chicken properly? Or, if a line cook calls out sick, do they realize it’s up to them to step in and do the job?
WM: What is the biggest difference in the dining public since you began in the industry?
DB: They’re more adventurous, more educated, more opinionated. And they travel more. Also, employees are harder to manage than guests these days!
WM: Better pizza: NY or NJ?
DB: I’m a New Jersey guy, raised in Hazlet, but I’d have to say New York. Best pizza I’ve had was at Patsy’s under the Brooklyn Bridge [now Grimaldi’s].