By John Burton
RUMSON – There was no doubt about it. David Burke, the noted restaurateur and chef, and his 26 Ridge Road establishment, David Burke’s Fromagerie, were center stage last week.
The restaurant was jammed Thursday, July 5, with customers to celebrate and watch the Food Network’s Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell. The show, an hour-long reality-style program – that is actually about 47 minutes, minus the commercials – details what occurs when a restaurant owner and Burrell bring together four people who compete for the coveted position of executive chef. Four young professionals were put through their paces before cameras earlier this year at Fromagerie as Burke and Burrell critiqued their work and narrowed down their choice to one.
Burke said the premiere of the show featuring Fromagerie was an important event but noted that it was more important for his restaurant and his staff, than for himself.
“It’s really more about the personality of the restaurant, not the personality of David Burke,” he said.
“For us it’s a big deal because we’re getting a lot of attention,” from the show’s airing, said Joel Ehrlich, director of marketing and branding for the David Burke Group. “It’s a big deal because the Food Network is very careful about the restaurants they work with and chefs they work with.”
Ehrlich described Fromagerie as “a New York restaurant but away from New York.” Even with its long-standing reputation in the area, the venerable Fromagerie is subject to the vagaries of the business – economics, competition from other restaurants – and has to constantly look for ways to keep its name out there and remain on the list of must-go sites for foodies in the region, Ehrlich said.
“Staying current is something that is very important,” in this business, Burke said, echoing Ehrlich’s point.
A big selling point, of this and his other locations and for the show, is Burke himself. “I’ll be blunt with you – he’s a character,” Ehrlich said of his boss. The Food Network people “just love him.”
In addition to Fromagerie, Burke owns and operates a number of restaurants in New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and Connecticut. For foodies, he has become a personality to watch for, so much so that Ehrlich acknowledged that he is “constantly in discussions” with Food Network about possible vehicles for his client.
“We’d like to get our own show,” Burke said. “We’re working on it. We’re not working too hard but we’re working.”
Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell took three days to shoot with about 88 hours of material captured on film back in March, according to Christine Burke Eskwitt, who handles the restaurant’s public relations.
The Food Network’s website described the episode: “David is looking for a chef who can blend with his staff and cook along the lines of his own trademark, whimsical style.” But for the more than 200 diners who made reservations and patrons in the crowded bar area, the purpose of the evening wasn’t so much about who would win the competition and job. (Spoiler alert – it was clear the winner was Phil Deffina, who was working in the kitchen premiere night.) The event wasn’t even about seeing which local residents could be spotted as television cameras scanned the guests at Fromagerie during the spring taping (many were there again July 5). The event was really about celebrating with Burke.
TV monitors were placed throughout the restaurant and there was a lot of energy in the rooms. As showtime approached, the lights at Fromagerie dimmed and the volume was turned up. As the program was broadcast, there were bursts of applause and moments of laughter. When the final credits rolled, Burke and Deffina came out from the kitchen with arms around each other’s shoulders and accepted a round of applause from their customers.
“We’re happy,” Burke said earlier in the night. “We’re making progress here. We’re putting the pieces together.”
The restaurant has a more than 40-year history. Burke returned to take over six years ago after having worked at Fromagerie early in his career.
Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell is broadcast on the Food Network at 10 p.m. Thursdays. The show featuring David Burke’s Fromagerie will be rebroadcast at 5 p.m. Sunday, July 15.