David Burke, the New York-based celebrity chef, has selected Matt O’Neill to lead the kitchen at his forthcoming Aspen, Colo., restaurant, David Burke Kitchen.

The restaurant is modeled after Burke’s location at the James Hotel in New York, and will also include a lounge called Huckleberry Hall. The 350-seat venue is scheduled to open in time for Aspen’s next ski season, which begins Thanksgiving weekend. The project, originally scheduled to open in January, has been delayed due to a lawsuit with general contractor Centaur Construction of Chicago.

O’Neill is a veteran of the kitchens of another New York celebrity chef, Daniel Boulud. He discussed Burke’s new restaurant and the challenges of being a chef with Nation’s Restaurant News.

How did Burke find you?

I was working at Ajax Tavern [in Aspen]. David actually came in and ate at my restaurant and loved the food.

What have you been doing since the opening of David Burke Kitchen has been delayed?

We planned on opening in winter of last year, so the menu’s done. I’ve been working on charity events and going back and forth to New York. I was there for about three weeks helping with the opening of Fabrick [in June].

What is on the menu at David Burke Kitchen?

We’re still going to keep some David Burke signatures, but now that he’s kind of moved on from the day-to-day operations of the company, it’s given the executive chefs a little more freedom to put their own twist on things. Being in Aspen, it’s a different demographic from David Burke Kitchen in SoHo. So we’ll have a little mountain food, you could call it.


Exactly. We’ve got an elk carpaccio on there. And I’m really pushing the farm-to-table aspect of it. For quite some time, I’ve [had] relationships with the local farmers, and I’ve really been able to communicate with them the needs of the season. So they will grow a row of certain vegetables for me to keep up with the volume we had at Ajax. I feel that we’re going to be a lot busier than that [at David Burke Kitchen]. It’s going to be the largest restaurant in Aspen.

How many seats?

In total, with Huckleberry Hall, 350 seats.

What sort of farm-to-table products can you get up here in the mountains with such a short growing season?

It’s a challenge. The turnover for vegetables is a lot faster. In New York you could have asparagus for two months. Here, it’s about three weeks, so you’ve really got to stay in communication.

What do you do in the winter?

We’ll definitely be doing a lot of canning, pickling, jarring, making sure we can preserve some summer and fall vegetables. But a lot of people have hot houses now, so you can even get your salad greens grown locally, and a lot of proteins are local as well … elk, bison. My buddy Jack the farmer has cornered the yak market. I haven’t tried it yet, but maybe we’ll dive into that a little bit.

How about Colorado lamb?

Oh yeah. That’s all over the place. It’s a lot more approachable than the New Zealand stuff, which is a little more gamy and leaner. People like the Colorado a lot better.

Are there fruits and vegetables that you think are uniquely delicious in the Colorado area?

Definitely the Olathe corn is one of my favorites, and Palisade peaches. You know, I lived in Georgia, but I don’t think I’ve had a better peach anywhere than here. Right now it’s cherry season. Bing cherries and Rainier cherries are gorgeous now. I’ve been surprised how much fruit is around here. A lot of it comes from Paonia [Colo.], which is about two hours away. This valley’s a little drier, and with the elevation you can’t grow as much as fast. The snow melts out there [in Paonia] a little better.