David Burke is a man of many words, and many restaurants. The ebullient chef not only helms three high-end restaurants in New York City, but also a café in Bloomingdale’s, and restaurants around the country. Also, he’s the brains behind spray salad dressing. Sheer genius, indeed. We got the chef talking about his recent jaunt to Australia and some new restaurants on his to-do list.
What are some of the most memorable meals you’ve had so far in 2012?
Mostly I’ve been in Australia. I’ve had some good meals there. I was traveling with Geoff Zakarian, and we ate at a place called Cafe Sydney — beautiful views on the harbor. We landed and we had brunch there, raw-bar stuff and a couple salads. … We ate at a place on the beach, too. We had chicken that was 90 bucks for two people. Prices are astronomical in Australia compared to the dollar. The waiters get 30 bucks an hour. They pay a lot, so they’ve got to charge a lot.
Was there a specific reason that you were traveling and cooking in Australia?
Yes. The group that runs the James Hotel and the restaurant that Zakarian’s in, the National, they have about 15 hotels nationally. We went over there to help them promote the Australian Travel Bureau. And the tourists of Australia have been flocking to New York over the past few years.
Did you get to do anything interesting besides dining while you were there?
We walked the harbor. I got up early and hit the harbor a couple of times, the Opera House; we did some interviews, but we didn’t really get to do much besides eat and work.
Do you get along well with Geoffrey Zakarian? Have you worked together before?
We never worked, but we’ve known each other since the mid-’80s. We’re about the same age. We’ve never worked in the same kitchen but have crossed paths many times doing charity events. You know what happens? Our sous chefs work together. We’re like coaches of a professional sports team where we trade players. But, yeah, we had a good time together.
What restaurants are on your New York to-do list?
RedFarm. And also Kutsher’s. I know they’re both owned by Chodorow, but they’re both on my list. Fatty ‘Cue is on my list. Brooklyn Fare is on the list. There’s a lot. A lot of places I just haven’t gotten to yet.
There’s a steakhouse in Murray Hill. Dragonfly is on my list. Cornelius Gallagher just opened on the way Upper East Side. I’m glad he’s back in New York. I wanted to try La Mar [Cebicheria Peruana]; I still might go and try that. I know they got a terrible review. Then I’d like to try Floyd’s place, North End Grill. Those are kind of on my immediate radar. It takes me a little while. I’m on the Jersey side. … Sometimes I just want to get home.
If you had to eat at just one of your restaurants, for every meal, for an entire year, which would you choose?
I’d go to the one in Rumson, New Jersey. Just because I love that area. I’d be able to relax and walk around the property between courses. I’d like to hang out there more. That’s a tough decision. Though because David Burke Kitchen is the only one that does breakfast, it would have to be that one in New York … which also has a beautiful garden that’s opening in 10 days.
It’s finally almost grilling season. What are you most excited to throw onto the grates?
I like birds. I like duck but off the bone on the grill. … Beef is always great on the grill. But veggies! This year I’m vegging.
Any spring produce that you’re currently putting onto your menus?
I want to grill frisée. Radicchio and whole leeks marinated in vinegar. Big squash. Whole stuff. Carrots, celery nicely slow-grilled. Fruit I like on the grill. Peaches, pineapple, even a whole grapefruit. Untouched, just in the skin so it warms up on the inside. And then cut it and eat it like a breakfast grapefruit.
You know what’s funny? I had a conversation about ramps. When I was at the River Café in the late ’80s people wouldn’t buy ramps; you couldn’t give them away. People didn’t want them in their walk-in [refrigerator]. They smelled. Larry Forgione and Charlie Palmer before me, they used to get 50 pounds of ramps and we’d think they were crazy. It’s funny, you wouldn’t think [River Café] is a farm-to-table place, but Larry set that in motion.
Now they’re this trophy vegetable. And, you know, they are delicious. They’re fun. You can do a lot with them. But at the end of the day … it’s an onion. It’s an underdog ingredient getting press.