surf globally, eat locally
May 21, 2012

David Burke Masters Steak at The James & Dining in the Dark
By Marcia Frost

David Burke is as well known for his dry-aged steaks as he is for his creativity in inventing dishes that no one else could imagine. That mixture of comfort food and contemporary style has earned him accolades that started in France, where he began his career.

Chef Burke worked his way up to Executive Chef at Charlie Palmer at River Café in Chicago before becoming Vice President for Culinary Development for Smith & Wolensky. He has since gone off on his own, opening restaurants throughout the country that have earned raves.

My dinner at David Burke’s Primehouse within The James Hotel in Chicago remains one of my most memorable meals. I was excited to be able to finally sit down with the chef at The Perry Hotel in South Beach, Florida.

MF: How many restaurants do you have now?
DB: Eight.
MF: I’ve been to The James in Chicago and loved it.
DB: That’s a good steakhouse.
MF: I especially loved the Red Velvet Cake in a can. Your newest restaurant opened at The James in New York.
DB: Our restaurant is doing well. The rooftop bar Jimmy is very hot.

MF: I’m noticing a lot of pork dishes popping up. Why do you think that is?
DB: Pig is hot. I like pig neck. You eat it right on the bone and it’s like oxtail. It’s good stuff. When you have a bad economy, people can’t afford the prime cuts all the time. Sometimes you need to dig deeper or go back to some basic stuff. It’s always great to take peasant stuff and elevate because you throw gourmet stuff on it and get creative.

What do you with a Veal chop? You’re not going to dumb it down, it’s a prime piece of meat. And, not everyone can pay $60 for a veal chop.

MF: How are you doing in your Chicago restaurant? That is definitely a high end place.
DB: It’s a high end steakhouse and it will remain a high end steakhouse. It’s in a major city with conventions, tourism and it’s very popular with the locals. We’ve got a good brand. If we were in the suburbs, it would be harder. Beef prices continue to go up.

We have David Burke Kitchen in The James New York and that has a lower price point. It’s a little more accessible, a little more farm to table. We still sell high end steaks, but that’s not it. There’s chicken and rabbit and pork chops, lots of fish and short ribs.

When you have a steakhouse it’s a lot of expense account money. It’s not necessarily your own money. You notice that difference when you’re eating in a suburban restaurant. In the suburbs, no one is on an expense account. Those type of restaurants in the ‘burbs don’t have any tourism, they don’t have any conventions, so they actually have got to be better. You have to change the menu more frequently.

MF: Tell me about your experience hosting “Dining in the Dark” in South Beach. A: It was fun, except… the smoke alarm went off!

The host chef did the first course and the second course was done by a lovely lady named Lauren from a place called Mark up in Fort Lauderdale. Then I was doing an aged lamb with dumplings and some couscous, which we slipped a little octopus in it.

What we wanted to do since they couldn’t see was to create some aroma. So we burned some herbs on the grill. The idea was to put this dish on the grill and underneath we’d have a little rosemary burning so they would be smelling it and trying to find out what they were eating.

We had all these herbs and we decided to just toast them up, parade them around the room, then come back and get the course so it would have a little bouquet. What we weren’t thinking was…

MF: Smoke…
DB: Yes, smoke (laughter)! I said ‘sh.., they are going to close this place down.’ It’s would just not be a good PR move for me. ‘Dave Burke burns down The Perry Hotel by smoking in the kitchen!’

We over smoked, and apparently this is a very smoke sensitive hotel. It (the smoke alarms) went off at STK, which is connected, it went off on the roof, it went off in the residences. Everyone knew Dave Burke’s in town!

I went out to the lobby area where all the people are because they strobe emergency lights are on it the room. I say, ‘listen there is no fire.‘ I was taking pictures and signing autographs. Most people were very cool about. I did damage control as best I could.

Then I get on stage and there’s no electricity. So, the microphone is off and I said, ‘I’m David Burke and everything’s under control. I said my sous chefs are Cheech and Chong in the back because we were burning herb! They started laughing. These things happen with experimentation.

Visit David Burke’s restaurants this month for some great specials: David Burke Kitchen-New York City at The James Hotel Pancake Social - Every Saturday from 10:00 am-3:00 pm patrons can sit at the central carving table and watch pancakes grilled with toppings that range from pastrami salmon to mixed berries.

Sunday Supper - For $35 per person, guests can enjoy a four-course supper for two that includes options such as chopped salad, tomato bisque, dry-aged prime rib and a Ferris wheel of donuts with passion fruit whipped cream.

David Burke’s Primehouse-Chicago at The James Hotel.

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