Chef David Burke Dishes on Healthy Cooking

                                                                       (Image Credit: Monty Rakusen/Getty Images)

By Diane Henderiks

Continuing with our series of top chefs "Dish With Diane" on healthy eating, I chatted with David Burke.

David and I are friends and have cooked together both on television and live on stage.  In addition to being a great guy and amazing chef, he is generous with sharing his wealth of culinary knowledge and how lucky am I to have his brain to pick?  David is a pioneer of modern American cooking.  In the mid-1980s, he brought new techniques and new styles of food to the table at the River Café in New York City.  He was one of the first chefs, if not the  first chef, to brand and trademark his own food:  "I didn't just put my name on a box of pasta; I invented what's in the box."

Pastrami salmon and cheesecake pops are his signature creations.  David has also taken dry aging to a new level with a technique that is proprietary to him and recognized as a better way to do it that produces a healthier and more flavorful end product.  David Burke has been a trailblazer following and setting trends that have been integral in creating what we now call Modern American Cuisine.

Let's get David's take on healthy cooking and eating:

Diane:  Do you see a trend with diners seeking better-for-you options on the menu?

David: Yes, healthier but not boring. They are not looking for "plate fillers" like French fries; they are looking for exciting, sensible food using grains, fish and seasonal vegetables.  Starch does not have to automatically be included on a plate, those days are over.  Restaurant customers today are requesting kicked up versions of veggies and fruits in place of starch and chefs need to be ready for that.  What I feel is very important is to have a wait staff that knows the menu inside out and can steer customers who want healthier options in the right direction.

Diane: What's your definition of "healthy eating"?

David: Sensible eating and balanced diet with not too much fat, bread, beef or sugar.  There is nothing wrong with chocolate mousse, you just don't eat it every day.  It's important to educate yourself about what foods are good for you.  Try picking 20 things you really like and make salads out of them … pears, cheese, walnuts, beef jerky, whatever - it's a good way to get started.  I am working right now to get myself healthier and have lost 20 pounds by reducing portions, carbohydrates and just being more conscious of what I eat because I want to get ready for the next 50 years of my life.

Diane: What is your secret to cooking healthier without sacrificing flavor?

David:  The key is using quality ingredients.  I use broths, herbs, spices, zests, juices, marinades and limited fats.   Try cooking techniques that caramelizes the natural sugar in foods like grilling and searing.  This adds flavor without extra calories or fat.  Poaching and steaming are healthy ways to cook but can produce a bland result so you need added ingredients like herbs, spices, coffee, tea, vegetable juices, chilies or vanilla to boost the flavor.

Diane: What is your favorite dish on your own menu?

David: My Pastrami Salmon.  I love it because it's versatile, convenient, tasty, smoky, rich and spicy. I feel good eating it. I add it to egg whites, wrap it in lettuce leaves, toss with pasta or use as a garnish.  It's on the menu of all of my restaurants.  

RECIPE: David Burke's Pastrami Salmon

Diane: How about an update on what's new and exciting in your world?

David: I've been doing some fun things with Food Network that include "Finale of Worst Cooks in America" hosted at David Burke Kitchen, and keep an eye out for a full episode of a Food Network show that was filmed at David Burke Fromagerie in Rumson, N.J. I also have an extensive line of cookware products, knives, cutting boards, etc., that are available at T.J. Maxx.  My David Burke Steak Sauce is available in all the restaurants and is a fantastic addition to any meal.  We continue to open new restaurants and currently have eight restaurants in five states.  I have a new cookbook in the works that I am very excited about.  My   12-beverage, sparkling non-alcoholic drink is the newest product that you can check out.

Diane Henderiks is a registered dietitian, the founder of and a "Good Morning America" health contributor.

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