Blurring the lines between chef, artist, entrepreneur and inventor, world-renowned chef David Burke is one of the leading pioneers in American cooking today. His fascination with ingredients and the art of the meal has fueled a thirty-year career marked by creativity, critical acclaim and the introduction of revolutionary products and cooking techniques.
From his support of New Jersey’s Table to Table to feeding US Open Tennis patrons, Burke seems to be everywhere. We wanted to get his thoughts on surviving the pandemic and getting ready to reopen and once again serve his dining patrons. Total Food Service interrupted David Burke while he was working with his team to create a signature takeout offering that included a raft of vegetables with watercress asparagus, a slice of mushroom and cherry tomatoes.
How did you pick a Sunday to reopen?
We’ve always had a big following on Mother’s Day. There’s Mom’s out there that would appreciate what we’ve offered over the years, we’ve been in that neighborhood since 1992. So my thought was why don’t we offer some of our Mother’s Day stuff to launch it off? It’s a day that people are certainly not going to cook.
What are your thoughts on how this industry has rallied around the communities it serves?
They have always supported us, so we need to support them in a time of need. We just started feeding 500 homeless people in need, a day. We started on a Tuesday this week, and will continue Monday through Friday. It always comes back.
We’ve never seen anything like this, with an industry that continues to get kicked when it’s down. Yet, instead of turning around and running away, there are so many stories of restaurateurs like you that are giving of their time and money to help other people. Why is this?
I think for some of us, not all of us, it’s a built-in reaction. It’s an automatic, it’s like a natural instinct. You know what I mean? It’s a hospitality gene. Most restaurant people are not lazy. In addition, they are nurturing by nature.
What’s your read on what it takes for a restaurant that may not have the expertise to build a successful Takeout & Delivery operation?
There are several things that we have to consider. The first is what are people expecting when they order. For instance, with our David Burke at Bloomingdales, we knew that a killer burger needed to be our niche. At David Burke Tavern, a higher-end place, we needed something more whimsical. Secondly, you need to understand that certain items like prawns simply don’t travel well but a lobster cobb salad does. Finally, you have to pay attention to packaging. We are going to compare our competition by what the package is like, what it tastes like, of course and that first impression when I open the box.
What about price points for takeout and delivery?
Keep in mind that takeout & delivery are here to stay. In many cases it is what you are going to be “Yelped” and judged on. With that, I expect that Takeout & Delivery could begin to field orders that run as high as $120 per person. Think about it, if I am at home splurging on a date and I want a great steak, do I really want to cook it? New York will always have that sector of the community that has money. In fact, I wonder if you can write off takeout meal for a business dinner, even if you’re eating it over Skype or Zoom?
When do you anticipate the city coming back to work?
I think the middle of June. There’s enough pressure going on Cuomo and Murphy because of what’s happening in Florida and some of the other states that the natives are going to get really restless. I think honestly, it’s time to get back to work. Yes, people will die. Yes, people will get sick. But you know what, you’re going to die and get sick if we don’t get back to work too.
What is your approach to packaging?
Our Bloomingdales experience has given us an understanding of takeout and delivery packaging. I can also see where we can actually factor in a little more on the packaging. We tie the bag with a little ribbon and make sure we have a thank you/business card attached with a VIP invite when you call again or come in. We’ve got a couple of vendors in I. Halper and US Magic Box who “get” what we are trying to accomplish.
We also heard that you have a rather unique solution for weddings that solves the social distancing challenge?
We have three large restaurants in Jersey with outdoor facilities and enough space to do a party on a Saturday night or Sunday. What’s happening is the weekend wedding business is backlogged now because of the last three months.
Bride and grooms don’t want to get married on Monday or Tuesday. So, you know what? If you had a wedding booked that such and such Chateau and they’re saying you’ve got to wait till October for a weekend or you’re going to wait until December for a weekend, we’ll do your wedding and we won’t charge you like they will. It will be a beautiful event with flowers and music and a great photographer.
What’s your vision for catering and special events moving forward?
We are preparing to be really busy with divorce parties after all those quarantines, and about eight months from now a ton of baby showers.
What’s the takeaway going to be?
I think it’s going to be a quick comeback, that will take off when we get a cure or vaccine or a medication you can take. Full speed ahead. A year from now, dining rooms without masks and gloves. I’ll tell you what annoys me is that this didn’t come from a restaurant. Not from a dirty table, a dirty floor or undercooked chicken and I would love for people to stop treating restaurants as if this thing started in the restaurant. There’s more crowded places than restaurants. I don’t hear that talking about wiping down the subway seats and the poles and the elevators and all that, but it’s always all about the restaurants.