Chef David Burke Celebrates Mother's Day

PHOTO David Burke prepared a special feast for his mom on Mothers Day.

Get chef David Burke started on the topic of his mother, Joan, and he can go on and on. About how she's a beautiful woman. About how their relationship has always been strong. About how cool and caring she is. About how she can always make him laugh.

There's no end to the things he owes his mother, the chef will tell you.

Cooking, as it happens, just isn't one of them.

"I got a couple stories about mom cooking," Burke said. "Mom's cooking was ... she didn't use a timer. She put the food in the pot and when you got there, it came out. So people ran late. It was, you know when the pork chop can curl, but it was always tasty.

"My family food at home was very simple, good wholesome food, but there wasn't a passion for cooking that you would find in Italian homes or Jewish homes, etcetera. We shared a table as a family but food -- it was more about being together, not about the feast."

With Mother's Day just around the corner, Burke brought his mom into the kitchen at David Burke Townhouse in New York and cooked some of her favorites -- and shared the recipes. He spoke with "Nightline" about having fun at work, life in the food business and how he did get his start in the kitchen.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Burke headed to France for the obligatory European apprenticeship. At 26, he won the coveted Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Diplome d'Honneur, conferred by the French government in recognition of nonpareil culinary output. A pantryful of awards followed, including the Time Out New York Best Culinary Prankster award for 2003. After returning to the states, Burke went to work as a sous chef at the renowned River Cafe in Brooklyn, where he ascended to executive chef and pulled down a three-star stamp of approval from The New York Times.

Burke has opened a string of eponymous restaurants, including David Burke Townhouse, David Burke at Bloomingdale's, David Burke's Primehouse (in Chicago), David Burke Prime (at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut) and, most recently, Fishtail by David Burke (in New York City). Among his culinary inventions the chef counts pastrami salmon, flavored oils, GourmetPops (cocktail lollipops) and culinary products including easy Flavor-Transfer Spice Sheets and Flavorsprays.

Every superhero has an origins myth. Burke's plays out in the suitably humble setting of a motor inn near the Jersey Shore, where he grew up. His dad was a subway driver in New York. His mom worked as a nurse's helper. Burke got a job as a dishwasher.

"My cousin was a turkey club salad guy -- well he was a dishwasher first actually ... then he got moved and I got shifted," Burke said. "And as a dishwasher I couldn't wait to touch the food, because I was amazed that a pot of soup was that big -- even though it was a small kitchen, they did a lot of banquets and stuff, and I had never seen food like that at home.

'They Kind of Made Fun of Me'

"When I'm 14 I'm a dishwasher, first on the weekends, then full-time in the summer. I guess I am a freshman in high school at this time. Because I was a wrestler freshman year, and I did very well. Then I went back as a sophomore and told the coach I wanted to quit because I wanted to be a chef, and he laughed pretty loudly, because back then -- this is 1975, -- being a chef wasn't a great choice.

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