Chef David Burke Plants Seeds To Grow 'New Roots'

Chef David Burke gives back at IRC's First Ever 'New Roots' Pop-Up During New York Fashion Week at the Empire Hotel.
Chef David Burke gives back at IRC's First Ever 'New Roots' Pop-Up During New York Fashion Week at the Empire Hotel.Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images

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By Giacinta Pace

David Burke is a well-known chef and restaurateur, who grew up in Hazlet, New Jersey. He was educated at the Culinary Institute of America and went on to hone his skills with French chefs Pierre Troisgros, Georges Blanc and Gaston Lenôtre. Some of his restaurants include David Burke Kitchen, David Burke at Bloomingdale's and David Burke Modern American Cuisine. This culinary genius has also appeared on the television shows 'Iron Chef America' as well as 'Top Chef Masters' and is famous for his Gourmet Cheesecake Pops!

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one of the world’s leading humanitarian aid organizations focused on giving refugees and others who have been displaced by war or natural disaster the tools they need to rebuild their communities and their lives. In 22 cities across the United States, the IRC assists refugees who have been given sanctuary here.

The IRC’s 'New Roots' program connects refugees with the land so that they can grow their own fresh produce, connect with their communities and in some cases, sell their produce at local farmers’ markets. It is one of many programs designed to help refugees make the transition to their new lives in the US.

Q: What is the cause that you support and how did you get involved?

David: The International Rescue Committee. I‘m involved with a portion of it that helps feed people, helps get them jobs. It’s called ‘New Roots’ and they have about 15 gardens around America now in different cities. What they do is help the people that are displaced that come over to the U.S. and help them get jobs. They get them farming first to keep them active while they look for jobs. Me being a Chef in several restaurants, I can take some of these employees and train them in cooking because in cooking, you don’t necessarily need to speak English. It’s a good first job. You know what, we feed them, obviously we feed all of our employees because it’s a restaurant, and we can task them with, you know, peeling vegetables, dish washing and task them with beginner jobs that are not necessarily driven by a computer or communicating with the public. We can teach them a craft. Some of them have cooked before and sometimes it works out. So, we gauge their level and their strengths and we can usually find a job that way. I [also] do cooking demos, go into the farm and spread the word and help to host some of these events.

Q: Why is it important for you as a Chef to give back in a way that is connected with food?

David: It’s important for me to give back because I work with food and food is hospitality, its welcoming and its a survival thing too! I think for myself, because I have also worked in foreign countries and didn’t speak the language, I can really relate to somebody’s fear of being in a place, not necessarily on the level that these guys are. I went to France and worked and you know what, I knew I could come home to America, I had a little cash, but still, to go into a foreign kitchen and not speak the language and not know if you're going to succeed is frightening. They're on a whole other level. They can't go home. So, to be able to help someone along to get started in a new country, I feel I have an obligation, because people helped me along to get to where I am as a Chef. They opened their doors to me in different countries that I worked and let me work for free to learn and so that I can be one of the best Chefs in the world. I can pay these guys to get them started and if they really want to go the distance, I'll be there to support them. It's just good Karma. It's good stuff.

Q: How many have you hired to work in your kitchen?

David: About three or four and we are looking to hire more now. Everyone has worked out great! A couple of them still work there and two of them moved out to open their own restaurant in LA. So that's a bridge...