Well that’s a show right there, isn’t it?
Yeah, but I want an angle. I almost want to say a funny military show.
Like Hell’s Kitchen?
No, I want it to be real. I want kids to come from an area in Jersey where I grew up, or that part. Where there are mansions in one area and then poverty in another.
That’s what good about this business. There’s always something new – always something you can grab onto and create. We really have the ability to experiment with anything we want. For the young chefs on TV shows, you need a good foundation for sensible cooking. Then you can start experimenting. Travel is really important. I think it’s so important for a young chef to travel. And understand, you don’t have to go live in France. But it’s good to go for a couple weeks and try to grasp the culture a little bit – or China, Singapore, Germany, or Australia – to understand why they eat certain ways and develop a respect for their food, combinations and styles. Why do the Chinese cut their meat so small? I’ve always been inquisitive about stuff like that.
So how much do those international influences play into your food?
I don’t know how much they play into it, but I think they’re important to understand. And there’s a lot of “why” questions and “why nots.” That way you can create a ‘why not’ dish, not just a ‘why’ dish, and you don’t always follow the same thing. Like, I’ve always wondered why desserts had to be sweet – and also why people put sugar in their coffee. If you think about it, a guy roasts a bean perfectly, hand picks it off the side of a mountain on a certain time of day, puts it in a bag, carries it down, and then we put milk and sugar in it. It’s like putting ice in a good wine.
So for the chefs starting out, you say they should travel…What other advice do you have for them?
Well, my advice always is that I think schooling is good, and to work for good people. If you made a commitment to school, the next five-year commitment should be to work for someone great. I think open mindedness is very important. I think reading and staying excited [is important]. I’ve never had to stay excited because food excites me – the creativity, the craftsmanship. If you’re a cabinet builder, you want to build a great cabinet. If you’re a chef, you want to build a great dish. Then there comes a point where the great chefs become business guys, and you need to replace yourself with a great chef.
So you see yourself more as a creative director now, than a chef?
Yes. But I’m going to go back into the kitchen more. Downtown Soho (James Hotel restaurant – David Burke Kitchen) is up and going well. It took me a good year to get that where I wanted it to be – more time then I thought. Then I’m back up here. Split time in New Jersey, Foxwoods…