Sylvain Delpique took over the reins as David Burke Townhouse’s executive chef in time for the restaurant’s relaunch in January 2009. He is happily immersed in David Burke’s wild culinary world, and especially enjoys the mad science in creating new dishes that he hopes will become signature classics.
How did you become interested in cooking?
My dad worked long hours as a mechanic, just like my grandfather. But no matter how tired he was, he would always have time to cook. Both of them loved to cook—that’s what I remember. It must have rubbed off on me.
Who are your biggest influences in the kitchen?
Well, outside of my family, it would have to be the French chefs I worked with after completing my training, like Pierre Orsi in Lyons and Michel Chabran in Valence. They live in their restaurants, getting up at four in the morning to select the best fish and pick herbs in the garden out back. There’s a story behind every dish.
Aside from culinary school, what have you learned in other areas of your life that carry over into the kitchen?
Organization—for things to run smoothly, you have to be organized, and that’s so important in the kitchen.
What is your process as executive chef? Where do you start?
First of all, I work for David Burke, and he’s got his own unique style. I bring my savoir faire to David’s style. He has incredible ideas—he gets
them wherever he goes, even in his sleep! He throws them at me, I pick a few and work with them, and then he tries them out. Some he likes, others he doesn’t. We work well as a team.
How did you two create the new menu for David Burke Townhouse?
We reintroduced some of David’s signature dishes for the relaunch. People want them; they come for them. And to that list, we added new items. We came up with about 20 main courses, and we chopped it down from there, always using valuable feedback from the staff and our customers. Right now, we are serving a whole baby chicken, stuffed with lobster and mushrooms and wrapped in bacon, that will probably become a classic. We both worked on that dish. The rack of lamb is likewise destined for that same class. People just love it! It’s a little Middle Eastern, with Israeli couscous and spices.
David Burke is known for his wild culinary ways and daring new ideas. In contrast, you were classically trained in France. What is your take on him?
The guy has a mind like no other. He’s a genius. He comes up the craziest ideas that at their essences are great, and then we rework them to make them appropriate for the customer. My French culinary training is only a base; with that as a foundation, you can do what you want. I was fortunate enough to have trained with some of the best out there, and when you mix that with an American “David Burke” brain, it’s a great combination. You never get bored! Between the two of us, we are always cooking up something crazy, and it’s definitely a challenge. We’re always chasing the next idea.
What’s in store for the fall and winter menu?
We just changed the tuna today, which has cauliflower, watercress, and a pineapple jus—a sweet and sour flavor. We’re probably going to bring in some venison from the farms we work with. We’re doing a pumpkin risotto served in a mini pumpkin for Halloween.
Any dishes you’re particularly excited about?
The duck is definitely going to be a hit. We came up with a pretty cool crust: a peanut brittle that wraps around the duck confit drumstick. Now we’re working on a duck confit mousse, served between puff pastry sheets with a red licorice sauce. Delicious!
“Jim Koch is a hard-working guy who has created a very honest product with Samuel Adams beer. I think there is a huge trust involved on the part of the consumer when a new flavor is introduced. He gets credit for knowing what he’s doing because it comes from genuine passion.”–Chef David Burke
“I have to admit that when I cook, I usually cheat,” confesses brewmaster Jim Koch, “because I use beer and my knowledge of beer to make the whole process simple.”
Adding beer to a recipe isn’t just another step, in Koch’s estimation, but a very important component: “The brewers have already assembled a spice package in the beverage; just connect the right beer with the right protein, and you have a home run.” Chef David Burke adds: “There is flavor in beer, just like in herbs and spices. When you add beer to food, to marinate or in a sauce, you impart those flavors.”
While most consumers still associate beer with casual dining fare, things are changing dramatically on the beer-crafting side. This has lead talented chefs to not only incorporate more brews into their cooking, but also develop their cuisine to pair well with beer.
“These days, I meet so many people who know so much about beer, which brew is made from which wheat and so forth,” marvels Burke. “There are genuine Sam Adams fans out there who endear Jim Koch with rock-star status. These are businessmen who know quality.” Koch appreciates the enthusiasm; he’s gone to great lengths to create a craft beer that consumers will take seriously, even as seriously as they take their wine: “Craft beer is brewed for flavor and complexity, just like a good wine, so sip it accordingly, because when you chug it, you miss all that.”
And there is so much to miss! Chef Burke calls Koch “the world’s greatest saucier,” because he flavors his brews like a saucier: “He has this amazing basic veal stock, say, that he puts a little of this and that into and takes it in all different directions.”
Take Sam Adams Summer Ale, for instance, Koch’s attempt to bottle the essence of summer. They start with color and clarity–in this case a bright, golden hue with a slight haziness to it–capturing that moment