In Conversation with Daniel Burns: Greenpoint’s First Michelin Star Chef
Last year, a small restaurant hidden behind a bar on Manhattan Avenue was awarded a Michelin star, the first one ever to be granted in Greenpoint. The recipient of this accolade was Luksus, a relatively new restaurant headed up by chef and partner Daniel Burns, whose resume reads like a shortlist of the world’s finest eateries. After working at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in the UK, Daniel spent three years running the pastry department at Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant frequently voted the best in the world. In 2010 he moved to NYC and opened the Momofuku test kitchen for David Chang. Having worked alongside so many iconic chefs, it’s little surprise that his first solo enterprise was an instant success.
Luksus was launched in July 2013, just months after the opening of Tørst, the artfully designed beer bar situated in front of the restaurant, of which Daniel is also a partner. Tørst is a collaboration with Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, gypsy brewer and founder of Evil Twin Brewing, who curates the beer program for the bar and also creates the beer pairing menu for Luksus
Last week Daniel and Jeppe celebrated Tørst’s two-year anniversary, and were greeted by lines around the block of ale aficionados hoping to join the party. We caught up with Daniel to hear about his Michelin star, cooking ‘Greenpoint food’ and his dreams of selling ice cream from a bicycle in McCarren park.
GPers: How is it having your own place?
DB: It’s amazing, and even after 18 months it still feels nicely new and exciting. Being chef and part-owner is a really big deal as you have licence to be as creative as you want without having to ask permission. ‘Luksus’ means luxury in Danish, but it’s a tongue in cheek comment on what fine dining means because this concept is changing. It no longer has to be white table cloths and French service.
GPers: Congratulations on winning your first Michelin Star! How did they let you know you’d won?
DB: I got a phone call! Of course, Eater gets the info an hour before you do, so you see it online and then Michelin phone up and and go, “You probably already know this but…”. It’s very nice, very personal. We only got the actual star a few days ago, so somehow it takes five months to ship the sign. But I’m just glad to have it. It’s funny because we don’t have an actual sign for the restaurant so the star sits in Tørst and someone will be having a beer in the crowded bar space and go “hang on, what’s that?!” The Michelin inspectors are anonymous, so the star acts as a daily reminder that we have to be very consistent and hopefully improve too.
GPers: After spending three years at Noma, how much of a Scandinavian influence does your food have?
DB: When you’ve worked at Noma everyone thinks you’re going to do a New Nordic restaurant, but the whole basis of New Nordic is terroir (from the local area), so instead of Scandinavian produce I use products from around here. We get our produce from Fingerlake Farms and Upstate Farms. I’m also a big fan of Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint. New Nordic is highly seasonal, with more vegetables, and less protein. Personally, I’ve distilled this to mean a use of bright, clean flavors, where you celebrate the produce, making the veg shine to the best level you can. There’s a very small window when vegetables are at their absolute prime, so this is what we focus on, and generally change the menu every 4-5 weeks. If pushed I’d probably say my food is New American, but then I definitely have a New European approach to the kitchen, and I also just want to be seasonal. So let’s say it’s ‘Greenpoint food’! (Laughs)
GPers: Is it true that customers used to cry over a blueberry dessert you created for Noma?
DB: Ha, yes, it is true. The best dishes are the kind where the chef captures a childhood memory. In Scandinavia you can imagine a young child holding mom’s hand walking through the forest, smelling the pine trees and eating blueberries off the ground. So, those two flavors of blueberry and pine together in a dessert, are just like ‘zing’ and brings diners back to four years old. People did actually cry over the dish many times. Unique flavor combinations like that definitely make sense and during a nice dining experience the sensation is compounded. You can make a good flavor combination, but it’s those that transport you to an important memory that elevate a dish to the next level.
GPers: You invented the celebrated Shiitake Chip at Momofuku. Who has ownership of it? Are you allowed to rif on that in your own recipes?
DB: I could do a whole restaurant riffing on all the places I ever worked but that’s the last thing I’d ever want to do. When you work at a restaurant you sign a contract saying that the recipes you develop during your time there are theirs, and that’s totally normal. The thing is that I really like that shiitake chip, but actually I think that the chip that we now make at Luksus is better. And it’s very much my own as I use a completely different technique.
GPers: Luksus is in a very intimate space, and the kitchen is fully on display. What’s it like working so close to diners?
DB: With tasting menus there’s a lot going on, so you have to keep things very under control. Even though you’re only serving 30-40 guests, each one of these people gets 13 servings, which is a lot of dishes. Not only have we got to work very fast and make good food but it’s basically a show kitchen. You have to work as if you’re on TV. I want the restaurant to feel like my front room, with no delineation between the kitchen and the dining space. We have two servers, a beer host, and two cooks, and all of us are serving the food. I saw this for the first time at Noma and the effect of the chef serving the food makes everything relaxed and hopefully more enjoyable. It’s like we’re saying “this is our restaurant and this is what we do…we cook the food and serve it to you”. It’s just very honest.
GPers: Whats your favorite thing on the menu right now?
DB: We have a broth which is very interesting to me as we try and make it like a tea. We make a vegetable based dashi, and then we flavor it. The last one was roasted turnips, and the current one is smoked blue fish, which we get from Acme down the road. It looks very simple but there’s a lot of layers of flavor. Also, I like our winter desserts as we focus upon seasonality. There are no raspberries in February so instead we have root veg like carrots and parsnips featured in dessert. They’re exciting to work with as they have a natural sweetness.
GPers: Where do you like to eat locally on your day off?
DB: A place I really love is a Vietnamese in Ridgewood called Bunker, but its closed on Mondays and that’s my day off! In Greenpoint I often go to Búðin as it’s on my way to work and they do great Scandinavian coffee (including Coffee Collective which we use in the restaurant). The other place I really really like is Alameda, whose chef and owner Nick Padilla also worked at Momofuku. They have a really beautiful bar, designed by the guys at hOmE, who also did our space.
GPers: I hear you and Jeppe are going to be collaborating on a book…
DB: We are! We signed a deal with Phaidon in December so it’s all very new. More than just being about Tørst and Luksus, we want it to be about our whole philosophy around beer and food. And it’s going to have recipes too, so it’s going to be a great way for people to find out about us. It’s going to be released next spring as part of the launch of Phaidon USA.
GPers: Wow, writing a book and a running restaurant…it’s going to be a busy summer!
DB: Yeah, and there’s a few other things I want to do too. I used to put on a charity football tournament between all of the restaurants in Copenhagen and I want to start up something similar in Brooklyn. If we could get some flights sponsored I reckon we could even bring over some guys from Noma and Fat Duck and make an international restaurant football tournament happen…
(At this point one of the cooks brings out a tiny dish of carrot puree for Daniel to sample. He explains it’s going to be for a dessert, swirled together with yoghurt ice…which reminds him of another venture he wants to pursue…)
DB: I also love ice cream! I want to do an ice cream shop one day. Since I have a restaurant I think I can get a vendors license where I can start selling ice cream in McCarren Park. I’ve just got my beautiful bike back from Denmark. It’s called a Long John and has a carrying box on the front of it…perfect for peddling ice cream in the the park!
That’s right Greenpointers…you heard it here first: there’s a high chance McCarren’s going to be getting its very own Michelin-starred ice cream this summer. Eat your heart out other New York parks!
Luksus/Tørst is at 615 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint.
The Luksus tasting menu currently costs $95, plus extra for beer pairing, with two seatings per night. In the next month this will be changing to one seating per night which means guests can linger as long as they please. Another element will be added to the menu and prices will rise slightly.
Tørst has a full bar menu and features snacks from the Luksus tasting menu ranging between $4-18. On Sunday they serve an English roast lunch, between 1-5pm.