David Burke Dishes on David Burke Kitchen Aspen

By Ruth Tobias  |  January 31, 2014
Credit: Anthony Garito

“I enjoy Aspen so much; I’ve been coming here for the past 20 years. The tourism is great, the locals are well traveled - and they like food and wine.” So says celebrity chef-restaurateur David Burke of the decision to open his first restaurant west of Chicago by late March. Modeled on its farm-to-fork namesake in New York’s Soho, David Burke Kitchen Aspen will combine urban cool and mountain warmth, signature and local elements. We asked Burke and his chef Matthew O’Neill how the details are all coming together.

Zagat: Tell us about the menu-development process.
David Burke:
I’m driving O’Neill crazy [laughs]. The concept is the same as DBK New York, but obviously ingredients change; we can’t get lobsters like we do on the East Coast, and we can’t get lamb, bison or trout there like we do here. I told him when I hired him, “Look, we’re going to keep writing and writing this menu until it’s perfect. Like writing a song, we’ll throw a lot of paper out.” But in the end it’ll be a combination of shareable appetizers, signature dishes and entrees for two - a nice blend of what’s light and female-friendly but also lusty and gutsy.

Matthew O’Neill: We’ve been working on it for four months now; I’ve never worked on a menu for that long before. But you’ve got to challenge yourself, and David challenges me. Every time I make a dish, he asks me, “Is that the best you can do?” Not in a derogatory way, but it’s meant to make me think. Sometimes I say, “Yeah, I think it’s great!” Other times it leads to whole new ideas.

  • Zagat: What are some of your favorites so far?
    Definitely the ants on a log; I put a twist on one of David’s classics that I think is a winner. We cut a marrow bone lengthwise to about six inches, roast it and top it with these escargot fritters flavored with garlic and parsley as well as homemade julienned beef jerky. It’s really cool.

    Then there’s the pig’s face that I served at my audition. It’s a suckling pig’s head that we cut in half on the bandsaw, brine with aromatics and sugar overnight, confit in pork fat and roast so the skin is super-crispy and the rest is pull-apart tender. We serve it on a board with mustard, pickles and homemade flatbread. 

    DB: We’ve got some ideas up our sleeves for sure. I also love the pappardelle; we put giant prawn heads in a duck press to finish the sauce.

  • Zagat: What about the space - it sounds like it’s going to have that whole rustic farmhouse-meets-ski lodge thing going?
    This is one of the first times I actually don’t have a lot of say in the design. I’ve just got a real sense of trust and faith in the people at 555 Design; they’re real pros. So it’s an approval process - I’m not that nitpicky about it because we’re all on the same page. They do such clever work with wood and custom chandeliers. I love that you see the dry-aging room as soon you walk in, and the outdoor bar is phenomenal, from the heating elements to the lighting - I can see people hanging out there even in the snow.

    MO: It’ll be one of the most beautiful places in Aspen - and definitely the biggest, with a little over 300 seats, including the patio. It’s all going to be decked out in this old refurbished barn wood, with a weathered, grayish look. And the hearth oven, Berkel slicer, white tiles and chalkboards give it a kind of butcher-shop feel.

  • Credit: Dillon Burke

    Zagat: What role do you expect DBK to play in a town filled with luxury destinations?
    I think that we’re positioned to put ourselves among the best restaurants in town with a highbrow-lowbrow menu and wine list. You can just go in and get snacks and a cocktail, but if you want to spend money on high-end, dry-aged meats, you can do that too. Off-season, we’ll plan on doing lots of promotions for the locals - maybe themed specials like burger nights to keep the momentum going. Everyone’s fighting for a small piece of the pie in the shoulder months; that’s when the chef and general manager have to come up with some good ideas.

    MO (pictured): Our price range is good for being right in town. Myself, I go down valley to eat a lot, to a taco shack or to the Pullman in Glenwood Springs - because if you want to go to Matsuhisa, you’re going to be dropping $300. I think we’re going to be a good, happy medium for once.

    515 Hopkins Ave., Aspen