FROM MICHELIN STARS TO FOOD NETWORK SHOWDOWNS TO EXPANDING ONE OF NJ’S LEADING CULINARY EMPIRES, THIS NEW YORK-BRED CHEF IS A WALKING TESTAMENT TO THE POWER OF PURPOSE AND PERSEVERANCE
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY VIOLET MAYER PHOTOGRAPHY
His colleagues call him the stuntman. Partner and executive corporate chef for David Burke Hospitality Management, Carmine Di Giovanni has been a critical force behind chef Burke’s flourishing culinary empire since teaming up with the celebrity cuisiner in early 2018. Chef Di Giovanni leads all kitchen operations across the expansive Burke portfolio; he crafts the budget, spearheads menu logistics, and ensures quality control; he’s in charge of training, mentoring, and developing young chefs, and he keeps morale and consistency high among his staff but he’s not afraid to get a little dirty in the kitchen.
“Tom Cruise is not going to get dirty,” laughed the Staten Island native. “You’ve got to send the stuntman into the kitchen. And that’s me; I’m the nuts and bolts guy.”
Chef Di Giovanni joined the David Burke brand with a prodigious resume. A graduate of New York Restaurant School, he landed his first executive chef position with BR Guest Hospitality at only 25 years old, and he’s worked under many of New York’s culinary greats, including Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, and Eric Ripert, racking up Michelin stars along the way. He’s appeared on a handful of Food Network shows, including The Best Thing I Ever Ate (2010) and Chopped (2011), where his playful demeanor garnered an immediate fan following and even a shoutout from Rachael Ray as her #ManCrushMonday on Instagram. In 2012, he launched his own hospitality group, gaining invaluable insight into the complexities of opening and running restaurants.
“Every restaurant I worked at in NYC was always at the top of the list of the best restaurants in the city,” he said. “Each kitchen was Michelin star heavy, and I worked under very notable chefs, including chef Burke in 2011. I was very fortunate to be able to get an education from these chefs directly.”
In 2017, after making the necessary decision to dissolve his partnership with his restaurant group, Di Giovanni was eagerly mapping out his next career move. As luck would have it, he bumped into chef Burke in the Hamptons.
“I ran into David Burke in the summer of 2017 and told him I was interested in the next point in my career,” recalled Di Giovanni. “We flirted around the idea, but he didn’t have a position available at the time. Then six months later, we met for coffee, and I started working with him that January. He needed help opening restaurants; he wanted to create his own brand. Four years later, we’ve achieved that.”
Today, the David Burke portfolio encompasses over a dozen restaurants, stretching from Charlotte, North Carolina, up through the Garden State and into New York, with additional locations in Breckenridge, Colorado, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and there are more on the way. Burke and Di Giovanni collaborate on every menu, linking their visions to build creative dishes that align with the DB brand. It’s a cohesive partnership, noted Di Giovanni, as their strengths complement one another. Burke’s signature whimsy, evident in dishes like the cult-favorite Clothesline Bacon, has become a hallmark of his menus, and his stuntman has the gift of execution.
“My strength is the ability to bring visions to life,” noted Di Giovanni. “If it’s a new dish we are trying, something with that famous David Burke flair to it, my expertise is carrying it through. A lot of chefs can make something five times, but it’s hard to make something 100 times, and for a dish to be successful, it needs to be replicated 100 times.”
The chef cited Burke’s famous Twisted Chicken as an example. “The chicken is carved into a bell style and cooked in a pie pan,” explained Di Giovanni. “The white meat sits on the bottom of the pan, the dark meat on top, and the skin is completely wrapped round it. It’s a beautiful dish, but from a culinary technical side, the dark meat moistens the white meat as it’s cooking. Something chefs don’t recommend a lot is chicken, because it tends to be a bit generic and common, but Burke is one of those guys that would recommend the chicken.”
The ability to replicate intricate dishes like the Twisted Chicken across kitchens is key to a brand’s identity and success, explained the chef, and it’s something he instills in each new member of the team.
“It’s all about purpose and perseverance,” he said. “I want cooks to do their best job and bring greatness to the organization. I want to go above and beyond for my employees because I want them to go above and beyond for me. If they need something, I encourage them to come to me, and I will nd a way to help. I want employees to grow with us; I don’t want them to have resumes after they come to work with us.”
As the David Burke empire continues to expand, the partners have several projects simmering beyond the saucepan, from DB-branded sauces, snacks, and cookware to charity and corporate partnerships.
“I want to put everything onto a vision board and see how David and I can create this ecosystem for the growth of the organization,” added Di Giovanni. “I want to see where else we can go beyond the walls of restaurants. There’s so much that we can do, and so much more out there beyond restaurants and guest dining, like curated meal kits, Burke of the month club, working with local farmers and meat producers, and more.”
These lofty ambitions regularly produce double digit workdays, but for the tenacious Italian American chef, the ride hasn’t stopped since he accepted his first restaurant job as a dishwasher at 16, and he wouldn’t change a thing.
“Out of the 365 days in a year, I probably feel like I work five. I think that’s a great testament to where I am in my career and the people I work with.”
Chef Carmine Di Giovanni