ARCHIVE: Burke’s Law, No Blarney

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David Burke will joining in the celebri-chef challenge in the new season of TOP CHEF MASTERS, airing next month on Bravo — and he’ll be getting into competitive shape this week, during the second annual No Blarney Chef Competition at his Fromagerie in Rumson.

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit March 15, 2010)

Reasons to be thankful for David Burke; part 192 in a series.

All of us who’ve grown up or lived any appreciable amount of time in Monmouth County  — particularly Bayshore-bred brethren like this correspondent — can take a certain amount of vicarious pride in the accomplishments of the Hazlet native whose cooking career has placed him in the rarefied stratosphere of the nation’s top culinary artists. A genuine celebri-chef with the cred to back it up, he’s a carefully crafted brand unto himself; a real innovator and the driving force behind a half dozen premium restaurants across the country — including the local landmark now known as David Burke Fromagerie.

The rustically ritzy Rumson favorite is where the young Burke first apprenticed under Fromagerie founders Markus and Hubert Peter — and his return to Ridge Road a few years back was as much a salute to old friends and mentors as it was a way to stay in touch with his roots. It’s all part of a professional journey that’s encompassed intensive training at the CIA and in France, as well as highest accolades in Europe and Asia.

Rather than put on airs, Burke has always grounded that international reputation in a pronounced playful streak that’s earned him a Best Culinary Prankster citation from Time Out New York, and has seen him compared to Willy Wonka more than the seriously outsized egos that crack the whip in many top-rated kitchens. Naming DB Fromagerie as one of the state’s best restaurants, New Jersey Monthly called it “a stage for Burke’s whimsical design sense and imaginative food…tongue on rye is deli, but tongue-in-cheek ascends to cuisine under Burke.”

This sophisticated chef has also shown a pronounced egalitarian streak, a quality that allows him to share some of his secrets with casual cooks who purchase such Burke-branded products as flavor-transfer spice sheets and spray-on diet flavorings.

It’s that inventor’s inclination that can lead one to liken Burke to another tinkering son of Jersey, Tom Edison. Or perhaps he’s “The Boss” of the bistro business — a previous post here in oRBit cited the Fromagerie and Restaurant Nicholas as “the Springsteen and Bon Jovi” of area eateries, while remaining unclear as to which was which. Then again, that Bayshore connection can summon comparisons to Kevin Smith (although the mega-cult moviemaker has expressed little interest in developing fat-free food technologies).

When all’s said and done, Burke is Burke — a tops-in-his-field legend who’s scaled the heights by, thankfully, not adopting the forced eccentricities displayed by the current crop of increasingly obnoxio food celebs. He did it without “BAMs” and bizarre hairdos; without tossing around faux-folksy phrases or hurling carving knives at cameras. He’s a regular guy of extraordinary expertise and skill; one who stays current and competitive on the only stage that matters.

“All of us in the restaurant business compete every day to survive,” the master chef told us in a phone interview last week. “It’s a quiet competition really; the claws don’t come out, because we respect each other and share a common interest.”

In the days and weeks to come, David Burke will once more engage in a round or two of entirely friendly and very public competition — including a nationally televised tournament designed to prove whose kitchen kung fu is king, as well as the return of a hometown throwdown that takes place right here within the greater Red Bank orbit.

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