The chocolate truffle needs no introduction. They are well named. They are rich, dark, slightly uneven in shape, and they taste like luxury not unlike the savory black truffles. Also, the name truffle sounds a lot better than what Alec Baldwin’s classic SNL character, Pete Schweddy, restaurant owner of Seasons Eatings, called them (if you don’t remember, it was the combination of Pete’s last name and what one throws in a game of catch).

Kidding aside, I have a great passion and respect for the art of pastry, and that’s why my restaurants have better desserts than most. My chefs and I believe it is important for the dessert course to be well thought out and reflect the restaurant’s cuisine, concept, vibe, and location. If a chef has pastry experience on top of culinary experience, you can expect more creativity in texture and presentation. And knowing how to do pastry well also helped define my architectural style of presentation, too, creating sweet and savory dishes that are stacked and layered with flavors and textures like a cake.

As a young man in the culinary field, I knew that learning pastry would be a defining element in my pursuit to become one of the top chefs of modern American cuisine. So nine months before I was to take control of the kitchen at New York City’s illustrious River Café, the owner, Buzzy O’Keeffe, agreed that pastry was a worthwhile pursuit for both the restaurant’s future and my own.

First, I tried to get an unpaid position with L.A.’s famous French pastry chef, the late Michel Richard, owner of Citrus, but he told me that the best route to take would be to attend the pastry school where he once taught, Ecole Lenôtre Pastry School in Plaisir, France, one of the world’s most well-respected pastry schools. Buzzy paid for me to go to France for nine months. I took courses in chocolate, bread making, and pastry, but to gain experience and make the most of my time spent in France, I also worked my tail off. I spent a month interning at France’s legendary Fauchon on Place de la Madeleine from 5 a.m. – 2 p.m., making macaroons, croissants, and pastry. Then from 4-10 p.m., I worked in the kitchen of Maison Blanche located on the rooftop of the Theatre des Champs-Élysées overlooking Paris with a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower, Invalides, and the Seine. I worked hard, but I loved every minute of my time in Paris.

It paid off. During my time as executive chef at River Café, the restaurant received many awards, including three stars from the New York Times. And I believe it is my experience and skill with pastry that helped me to clinch the coveted Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Diplôme d’Honneur, the only American to ever win the award, and later the Nippon Award for Excellence from the government of Japan, for overall skill and technique.


You don’t need to be a professional chef to make a decadent, delicious dessert like truffles. They are a simple and fun activity that the whole family can get their hands into, making them perfect for the holidays. They also double as a stellar tasting gift.

Yield: About 60 truffles
2 cups heavy sweet cream
3/4 cup grated coconut
1 1/2 pounds white chocolate, finely chopped
4 ounces butter, slightly softened
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, melted
1. Combine cream and coconut in saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow the batter to steep for 30 minutes and strain. Bring to a second boil.
2. Place white chocolate in bowl and add hot cream mixture to chocolate. Beat until chocolate has melted and all ingredients are combined.
3. Add butter gradually and continue beating.
4. Chill mixture and form into cherry-sized balls. Dip each ball in melted chocolate. Place truffles in paper candy cups or into parchment or waxed-lined box.

David Burke and Carmel Berman Reingold (2013) Cooking with David Burke, New York, Alfred A. Knopf

DRIFTHOUSE by David Burke
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