By Tara Jean McDonald

A DAY IN THE LIFE – Chef David Burke

Spending a day with Chef David Burke gave us a taste of the effervescent life of a restaurateur and celebrity chef who is a true native of the Jersey Shore.  Chef David Burke is meticulous, charming, and tough. With his tousled hair and quintessential red rimmed glasses, he efficiently manages 16 restaurants across America, and one in Saudi Arabia. He is actively involved in each, and dedicates his time traveling for business to New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina. When he does find time to relax, he can usually be found having brunch in a Jersey Shore town, at a gallery in Red Bank or basking in the view from his beautiful Atlantic Highlands home.

Genius & Madness

Chef Burke is continuously growing and evolving; he is an avid art collector, author of two books and is presently writing a third. He has a television show in the works, a QVC business agreement brewing and has recently received an honorary Doctorate in Business Administration from Johnson & Wales University for his outstanding achievements in the culinary world. A high-profile chef and restaurateur, who has built an empire in the restaurant industry, Chef David Burke is often described as a genius. A NY Times ad from years ago captures a photograph of Chef Burke in his younger years boasting the title ‘There is a fine line between genius and madness.’

Eclectic Art Collector

Chef Burke’s home in Atlantic Highlands is another one of his masterpieces. After greeting us and offering us some coffee, he asks if we want to take a quick tour of his home. Every wall is accented with his favorite art that he has been collecting over the years. He stores some of the art at home until he decides where to showcase them in his restaurants. A spiral staircase ushers us upstairs winding through art-covered hallways. Chef Burke points out his vast eclectic collection that includes works from the masters to an American cartoonist to local contemporary artists. He explains each framed photograph and painting, remembering the local artists and where he found them. Colors and accents bring the walls alive. Bunches of colorful blown glass balloons hang from the ceiling creating a sense of festive celebrations.  Chef Burke invites us to sign the tiles on his fireplace in his living room. Originally, he planned to re-tile the mantel; now he leaves a silver bowl filled with different colored Sharpies on the hearth and encourages visitors to sign their names on the ‘guest book’ mantel.


Chef Burke is excited to bring us outside to see his property. There is more than just genuine pride for his home as he guides us to tour the grounds. His house was built on the remnants of a natural amphitheater that was structured in the 1800’s, pre-Civil War, using trees to provide a canopy from the summer sun. We follow the stone pathway down toward the lower garden. Originally these paths were aisles that led to seating for the amphitheater, whose backdrop was blue ocean and the NYC skyline. In the garden he presents his brand-new pine framed beehive boxes. He plans to take on another title as beekeeper and house a happy healthy bee colony where he will gather honey for some exciting new recipes.

Celebrity Chef

Upon re-entering his home, I could hear the bustle of managers and chefs who start arriving from THE GOAT, Red Horse, and Dixie Lee Bakery. Chef Burke’s home is the headquarters for his operations in NJ and NY. He also has a corporate office in Charlotte, NC. I asked Chef Burke if becoming a famous chef was part of his dream and goals when he was younger. He says he had always planned on being a chef, but growing up there was no Food Network, and no celebrity chefs. If there had been he might have been intrigued but he explains, “We didn’t see the opportunity. The passion is what fueled us to get to where we are. To be good at our craft, and to keep getting better and better. I always try to keep broadening my horizons.”


Today his craft includes designing restaurants as well. Although he admits he is not an architect or designer, he explains that he has a clear vision of what he wants, and he knows how to decorate it. Setting up a new restaurant involves reimagining dishes, designing menus, and realizing who your customer is. Restaurants have become more exciting places to dine than ever before and Chef Burke embraces that trend. With a dynamic menu, and delicious food, Chef brings individuality to each of his restaurants. He uses his love of art to create the perfect unique experience. “Artwork is very big for us. Art shouldn’t be an afterthought. A new restaurant needs a lot of equipment, a lot of wine, a lot of furniture, but we put a lot of money into the budget for the art.” He believes that people really appreciate the details when they go to a restaurant. A piece of art can invoke emotion.

Music Lover

It’s the same with the music, Chef Burke takes the music choices very seriously at his restaurants. In addition to his flair for the ambiance he uses music to create a unique atmosphere for each individual restaurant. He generally looks for acoustic rock and popular songs that might evoke a memory. He mentioned his favorites: Bob Seger, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Rolling Stones, focusing on the softer songs. Others included Jackson Browne, Jim Croce, Johnny Cash, Counting Crows, Osmond Brothers, and Pink Floyd. Sometimes he chooses songs that people might not have heard in a long time.  Music is also incorporated into their menus. “I name the drinks too; I am involved in everything,” he grins. “We have a drink called the One-Eyed Undertaker, and the Dirty White Boy.” Both are from lyrics in songs. “People that know music, they love it,” he adds. “So, we have fun with it.” According to Chef Burke everything matters and should tie into each other to a certain degree because there are so many different elements to a dining experience. Chef Burke is bold, he’s not afraid to make mistakes when making creative choices in his restaurant.  “It’s not like if a wine maker makes a mistake, it can blow the crop for the entire year. If I make a mistake with wallpaper, I take it down, and paint it.”

Team Manager

It was 10AM and the meetings were about to convene. The head of each David Burke restaurant is seated at the table in his dining room amidst trays of Dixie Lee Bakery items and hot coffee. The early morning meeting begins with Chef catching up with his team, bonding with them, asking about their weekends and personal celebrations. From there it becomes a collaborative discussion. Chef Burke asks about customer reviews first; it’s important that the customer is satisfied, and if there are any concerns they are addressed. From there he reviews the menus, approving new dishes, inspiring creativity, and encouraging his chefs and managers to offer suggestions. He creates goals for each restaurant and takes the sales numbers seriously as it represents the success of his creations. Chef Carmine Di Giovanni is Partner and Chief Operating Officer at David Burke Hospitality. They have been working together for over 5 years. Chef Di Giovanni was executive chef to Michelin star-rated restaurants. His established experience along with his executive perspective makes him a key player and driving force behind the success of Chef Burke’s restaurants. Chef Di Giovanni is well respected and admired by the staff and employees, and his commitment to David Burke Hospitality Management and its vision is evident in all the projects they have lined up for the future.


Finally, Chef Burke takes the time to ask about the employees. Chef believes restaurants work when there is a solid team made up of cooks, dishwashers, servers, and bartenders. Every day each team player contributes to the success of a restaurant. He explains later, “It is important to surround yourself with a good team, more so now than ever.  Keeping people happy at work is harder now.” As with many restaurant owners, there is a struggle finding and keeping employees post pandemic. “Especially in the restaurant business, where it is like a sport, and you are on your feet all day and you’re working. And we need people to deliver, and the margins are not great.” He explains how it’s not a glamorous job, “We are not selling cell phones. We are selling perishable food, and everyone is a critic.”


Chef Burke wraps up the weekly meeting as the chefs and managers rush off to their respective restaurants. I ask him about taking some time to relax; does he put that in his hectic schedule? He explains that it’s a seven day a week operation. He is up at 6am at his desk, his assistant arrives at 8am, meetings take place at 1oam. His assistant updates his large whiteboard listing his calendar of meetings and events for the next 2 months. By the time the cuckoo clock on his mantel clucks twelve times at noon, Chef Burke is on the road to visit another one of his nearby restaurants, and to connect with the team like a coach before a big game.


DRIFTHOUSE by David Burke

We travel to DRIFTHOUSE by David Burke {1485 Ocean Ave N #2225, Sea Bright; 732.530.9760; http://www,} which is just a few minutes from his home. Celebrating their fifth year and recently renovated, this beautiful oceanfront restaurant that is open year-round to the public, is located steps from the ocean surf at Driftwood Cabana Club. The menu is Italian-Mediterranean cuisine with a variety of entrees including delicious seafood dishes, creamy pastas, and juicy burgers. The DRIFTHOUSE Market Blackboard menu has 4 types of seared fish and land lover’s choices like Salt Brick Chicken or 14 oz. Prime NY Strip Steak. You can choose your flavor with 5 different scrumptious sauces including the Caramelized Horseradish Butter and Chimichurri Ginger. There is a full raw bar and exotic seafood towers stacked with local Barnegat Oysters, West Coast Oysters, Middleneck Clams, crab legs, jumbo shrimp and a chilled 1.25 lb lobster with the larger order. The menu is complete with whole lobsters, appetizers, delicious main entrees and the Original Sea Bright Lobster Bisque packed with the meat of an entire lobster. Locals love to watch the stunning sunset view each evening, and during Happy Hour patrons can listen to live music and sip hand-made cocktails every Tuesday through Friday.

Red Horse by David Burke

Not too far away from Sea Bright is another restaurant called Red Horse by David Burke {26 Ridge Rd, Rumson; 732.576.3400;}. We take the drive across the bridge into Rumson to check out the popular modern American Steakhouse and Sushi Bar. Chef Burke has two Red Horse Restaurants, the other is in White Plains, NY. The statement red door leads us into an exquisite restaurant that encompasses Chef Burke’s love of art. Whether sitting in the dining room, bar lounge area or upstairs in the loft, we are surrounded by awesome artwork, and equestrian accents. In the main dining room, there is a wall of brilliantly colored tubes of blown glass that gives the restaurant memorable pizzaz. The menu at Red Horse by David Burke is equally exciting with many of Chef Burke’s signature dishes. Clothesline Bacon and Popovers made of sweet butter cornbread are popular choices. A specialty side is the Angry Lobster Baked Potato with preserved lemon, chili oil, sour cream, chives, and lobster angry style. Innovative dishes include the Johnny Hong Kong Tempura Fried Lobster. Chef David Burke is famous for his patent on Pink Himalayan Salt Dry-Aging technique with beef, and tonight his restaurant is fully stocked for the evening’s reservations. Events are scheduled almost every night at Red Horse, especially on Sundays with mimosas and sangrias at brunch or Burger Night Bento Style in The Loft.

THE GOAT by David Burke

We soon head out toward Chef’s old neighborhood to visit THE GOAT by David Burke {1411 Route 36, Union Beach; 732.264.5222;}, an Italian American restaurant in Union Beach. Chef Burke’s playful nature compliments his quality design choices at THE GOAT. In addition to the fun ambiance, the menu has exciting dishes such as Angry Wagyu Meatballs, Clothesline Bacon, and Flaming Chicken. The colorful wood burning oven produces scrumptious pizzas named after THE GOAT by David Burke, the Angry Butcher and Star Pizza with pepperoni, jalapeno, and ricotta. Wednesdays you can play Bingo or try your luck at Trivia Nights with a three-course menu in The Chandelier Loft. On our way out we pass a couple dining on David Burke’s Cheesecake Lollipop Tree with chocolate tuxedo, cherry pistachio, toffee crunch, bubblegum whipped cream, and cotton candy flavors.

David Burke’s Dixie Lee Bakery

We pass by David Burke’s Dixie Lee Bakery {303 Main Street, Keansburg; 732.787.0674;}. Here is a place close to Chef Burke’s heart, it is where his family visited when he was growing up in Hazlet. When he purchased the bakery, he committed to keep the traditional bakery flourishing for years to come. The delicious black and white cookies, jelly donuts, crumb buns, key lime pie, lobster tails, and cannoli (to name a few) are made fresh daily. The special occasion cakes to order are tastefully decorated in typical Chef David Burke style. Chef has exciting plans to enhance the guest experience at Dixie Lee in the coming months.

Orchard Park by David Burke

Chef Burke tells us that many local Jersey Shore residents like to visit Orchard Park by David Burke {670 Cranbury Road, East Brunswick; 732.554.5714;}So many Monmouth County couples like to wine and dine at the luxurious Orchard Park restaurant that is decorated with a European finesse. A covered outdoor terrace features a full bar, lounge areas, and outdoor fireplaces. Once again award-winning celebrity Chef David Burke’s menu is crafty and whimsical.   Signature small dishes include Naked Oysters and Lobster Dumplings.   At Orchard Park by David Burke there is a wide array of entrees on the menu includes steaks that range from a Petite Filet Mignon to a 34 oz. Dry Aged Porterhouse for 2. Chef Burke’s creativity is also present in the cocktails, mocktails and in his pastry program. Date Night is every Wednesday at Orchard Park with a romantic three Course Prix Fixe Menu that includes Bubbles for Two.

Local Townie

After a long day on the road, Chef Burke heads back home. Although he designates Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays to be on-site at his restaurants during the peak hours, he tries to take a break on Sundays. A ‘perfect day off’ for Chef Burke is an early rise, a cup of coffee, take a walk, or hop in his Jeep for a long drive somewhere depending on the season. He likes to grab brunch, “Something simple, maybe with a friend.” Sometimes he will walk into town at Atlantic Highlands, get lunch, and walk back. If the weather is nice, he says that he likes to visit Sandy Hook, “I drive all the way out and hang out there.” If he is alone, he likes to relax and read a little. He recently adopted three rescue kittens from a local shelter. “I like the property here. I’m not home enough so I like to hang out at the house.”


He talked about the future and what he envisions his life to be like in ten years. “Maybe pull back so much from day to day. Work part time and start traveling around the world. That’s what I want to do. Traveling adds to my creativity,” he explains. “I’ll keep building the business for another 10 years then start to step out of day to day and be a chairman and mentor.” He wants to start a cooking school, “We have a real opportunity based culinary platform for people who can’t really afford the big schools, we can teach them how to get confident and learn the basic techniques to get a job in the restaurant business.”


Chef David Burke is an artist and a star in the kitchen, but he is also a visionary. Although he has built a well-known empire and a powerful brand, he continues to be the Jersey Shore celebrity that strives to enhance the foodie experience for his customers.  Still described as a genius, with an endearing touch of madness, Chef Burke has so many more adventures brewing. As if the world hasn’t seen everything that Chef David Burke is capable of, when asked what plans he has for the future, he doesn’t hesitate to respond with a great smile, “I want to paint. I want to learn to paint.”


  • Chef David Burke was raised in Hazlet, NJ and has three children.
  • Graduate of the Culinary Institute of America
  • Appearances on Food Network “Iron Chef”, Bravo’s “Top Chef”
  • First American to win the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Diplóme d’Honneur (and to date the only American to have ever received this honor)
  • Winner of 8 Chef Awards including: Japan’s Nippon Award for Excellence, the Robert Mondavi Award of Excellence and two nominations for James Beard Best Chef.
  • Author of 2 Cookbooks
  • Virtual Online Cooking Demo Program ‘CookinDB’ on IGTV
  • Stay tuned for his new book: The Insanely Wonderful Life of Chef David Burke

For further information about Chef David Burke visit the website:

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