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Photo courtesy of David Burke
Photo courtesy of David Burke

9 Questions for Celebrity Chef David Burke


We sat down with Chef David Burke to talk about his new restaurant in Westchester, rules in his kitchen, his favorite seasonal ingredients, and more.

David Burke is a titan of the international culinary scene. The celebrity chef—who was born in New Jersey, educated in the Hudson Valley at The Culinary Institute of America, and has since worked in some of the world’s most distinguished kitchens—is known for his laundry list of successful eateries, appearances on cooking competitions like Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters, and his oeuvre of protein-centric plates.

Burke will soon begin taking reservations for his newest steakhouse, Red Horse, which is situated at the base of The Opus hotel in White Plains. It’s quite the spectacle. The dining experience begins even before one’s appetizer has arrived; the restaurant is adorned with art, curated by Emily Santangelo, which draws from Burke’s personal trove (he’s an avid collector of fine art). There’s a pool table that can transform into a dinner table and a phone booth for patrons to take their calls.

Burke is the only American to ever win the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Diplome d’Honneur, which recognizes chefs with superlative technique, yet he believes a chef should care as much about atmosphere as they do about eats. In light of his culinary foray into the Hudson Valley, we sat down with the chef to ask a few questions about his cooking philosophies, favorite seasonal ingredients, and new steakhouse in Westchester.


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Tell us a little about Red Horse. Where does the name come from, and what made you want to bring your steakhouse to White Plains?

“Red Horse,” the name, comes from a painting I bought in New Hope, Pennsylvania, visiting my son. It was the day of the shutdown, lockdown. I found the painting in an art gallery there and, as soon as I saw it, it hit me and I loved it. I bought it from a Vietnamese painter who lived upstairs.

I thought the best fit for [the restaurant would be] White Plains because of the clientele [and] proximity to the city. It’s supposed to be in a high-end hotel, and Red Horse had the prestige to fit into The Opus. I started my career at La Cremaillere in Westchester. I worked there as a kid when I was 21 or so, so I thought it would be a good fit. It has the feel of a gallery—it’s soothing, it’s sexy, it’s graceful. We had a beautiful space to work with, and it’s done with class.

Do you have any hard-and-fast rules in your kitchen?

You’ve got to work hard. Discipline is important [and so is] being on time and staying busy. We don’t like standing around—there shouldn’t be time for it. Ask questions. Help others. Be on time. The better the staff, the better the work we can do. I can get more creative. It’s like sports, man. If you’re ahead, you can take chances on stolen bases and swing for the fences. If not, you play defense.


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Time Out once called you the “Best Culinary Prankster.” How did you earn that title?

When they banned smoking in New York City, I put a limo outside for people to smoke. It was a wiseass answer—a wiseass solution, maybe. There was always a comeback. I think that’s where [the title] came from.

I play with my food. There’s whimsy, sarcasm sometimes. There’s creativity; we dare to be different. I think there’s a sense of humor in some of the things we do. First and foremost, [a dish] needs to be grounded in some fundamental philosophy of cooking classically. And it has to taste good. Then, when you combine certain ingredients that might not traditionally go together, they think you’re the bad boy. So, you’re pranking them—I’m okay with that.

You’re starving, and you only have 15 minutes to prepare a snack for yourself. What are you making?

15 minutes? I’d do a five-course meal.


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Farm-to-table is hot in the Hudson Valley. Which season yields your favorite produce?

The most colorful time of year is spring to write menus. You’ve got lots of young vegetables and softshell crabs and berries and leeks and zucchini. The fall, also. The fall’s a richer period, with squash, mushrooms, pumpkins, root vegetables—it’s a different mentality, a heavier eat than in the spring. The spring, you know, fish come alive, the menus get prettier with color, a little bit lighter, obviously.

The seasons are important. I don’t think you should be serving venison in spring. I don’t like serving things that are out of season. I don’t want asparagus in winter. I think chefs should use what they have in the market. [Using an out-of-season ingredient] kind of takes away from the joy of having it seasonally, like the joy of a holiday coming. The Hudson Valley has a lot of great stuff: cheeses, smokehouses, produce, ciders, things we will start incorporating into our menus.

Where is the last place you had a great meal in the Hudson Valley?

I ate at Dale Talde’s place [Goosefeather]. I went alone and ate about six dishes. It was very good.

An old friend comes to visit Red Horse. What would you prepare for them?

I’d give them some oysters with crab meat on top, lobster dumplings, clothesline bacon, maybe some crispy shrimp. I’d probably do a sea scallop and octopus dish, then a steak or pork chop with clams. Or a bison short rib. There’s such a variety [at Red Horse], it’s hard to pick. Our pastries are phenomenal—I’d have to give them some cake pops, which I created in the ’90s. And a banana split. But most importantly, they have to feel comfortable and wanted at your restaurant. The food is really important, but people can come to your home and not eat and still feel welcome. People should come and see beautiful art and high energy and think, ‘Wow, this is great!’

Do you have any heroes outside of the culinary world?

I have people I look up to—businessmen and artists. Dale Chihuly is a guy who amazes me with what he does with glassblowing. Musicians I admire, artists, businessmen… or, just people who spend enough time to give you advice and who are caring people. My father is one of my heroes because he’s a guy I can trust. He always gives me the best advice. He would always tell me not to do things, that they were too risky—and that’s how I knew to do ‘em. He was never in a position to take chances because of the way he was raised; he had four kids, stuck to the rules. I was not like that. He afforded me the ability to take chances.


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Last, but certainly not least: Is a hot dog a sandwich?

Is a burger a sandwich? Is a taco a sandwich? I believe a hot dog is in its own category—not a sandwich—because you don’t cut a hot dog and it’s open-faced.

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week is back this April 8-21!