You may not immediately recognize the name Daniel Burns, but the soft-spoken chef is more than okay with that. Besides, when you have a resume that includes Senior Chef de Partie at The Fat Duck in England (which earned its third Michelin star during his time there), René Redzepi’s lauded Danish restaurant, Noma (he actually created and ran the pastry program), and three years as Head of Research and Development for Momofuku’s test kitchen, there’s not really much else to prove. “You know what I don’t understand? TV chefs in general and the interest in food TV programs,” shrugs Burns. “ As far as I’m concerned, Keith Floyd (formerly of the BBC) is the first and only true TV chef personality.”
Although Burns may be perfectly content to remain behind the scenes, he’s about to log in a lot more face time now that he’s finally heading up his own kitchen — at the recently opened, game-changing Luksus, a high-end tasting room adjunct to the ambitious Brooklyn beer bar, Tørst. A collaboration with famed Danish brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Evil Twin, the spare, sunny and intimate 26-seat eatery bears little resemblance to a sprawling, raucous biergarten or dim, dark wood-panelled sports bar. And the Nordic menu is a whole lot more Noma than it is wing-slinging dive or even gussied up gastropub. Instead, Burns offers a 7-course progression (three snacks and four larger plates) that includes dishes like Roasted Little Gem Lettuce with Egg Yolk, Mushroom and Pea Broth, Lamb Breast tenderized in Hay Ash and served with Sunchoke Puree and Wax Beans, and an entirely original dessert of Rhubarb Mousse and Pickled Beets, topped with Anise-Hyssop Meringue. And naturally, each course comes thoughtfully paired with a unique and nuanced craft beer, like the funky and earthy “It’s Alive” or sweet and malty “Tørst Backroom,” which was bottled and aged by Jarnit-Bjergsø himself.
“I think the focus on cocktails is losing steam, and beer could really fill the void for whoever is interested in learning more about it,” theorizes Burns. “In fact, I’m sure it has the potential to gain as much respect as wine in its relevance to food.”
You have degrees in both mathematics and philosophy. What put you on the path to becoming a chef?
I was thinking about other options after deciding not to pursue academia. After moving out west to Vancouver to pursue it, I fell in love with cooking.
Are there any specific ways in which you’re able to utilize your academic background in the kitchen?
I hope it means I’m able to food cost properly!
You were born in Canada… why not seek to start a career there?
After spending six years in Europe I looked into trying to do something in Canada, but thought that a move to New York would be a much better option.
What eventually sent you halfway across the world to Noma, which wasn’t particularly well-known at the time?
Basically, I just wanted to stay in Europe… after working with Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, I wasn’t ready to move back to North America. So it was amazing being given another great opportunity at a really inspiring restaurant and kitchen.
What would you consider to be some of your signature desserts during your tenure at Noma?
All of the dishes actually came from a guideline given to me by Chef Redzepi. So I don’t consider any of them my signature dishes, however, I was most proud of the Walnut and Blueberry desserts during my time there. And the Snowman dessert, too (considered the most technically difficult dish on Noma’s menu, and constructed out of Vinegar Meringue, Carrot Sorbet, Passionfruit Mousse and Yogurt Granita).
Can you describe what it was like being at Noma right at the time it was transforming from a nice, local restaurant to the culinary phenomenon it is now?
It was the most incredible experience in my chef career. To see the customer base transform from solely Scandinavian guests to people from all over the world was unbelievably inspiring. It made the cooking on a daily basis very meaningful and worthwhile.
What were some of your most exciting innovations during your time as the head of research and development for Momofuku?
We made all of these advances in fermentation, of course. We worked on changing up the Ramen Broth. And I created the Shiitake Mushroom Chip (the company’s most important culinary discovery of 2010).
You’ve certainly worked for a lot of high profile chefs, from René Redzepi to David Chang to Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck. What was the most important lesson you learned from each?
Redzepi: Ensure that the guest is the ultimate focus of energy.
Chang: Learn from your mistakes.
Blumenthal: Maintain the consistency of the product served to the guest, and strive to achieve a level of perfection.
Which of those chefs would you say you have the most in common with, regarding your personal style in the kitchen?
I’d say I’m a combo of both René and Heston.
How did you initially meet Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, and what made you decide to open Tørst and Luksus together?
We met at one of his Evil Twin events, and were just at a similar time in our careers. It made a lot of sense to do something together.
Before teaming up with him, how passionate or knowledgeable were you about beer, and its pairing potential with food?
I’ve always had a keen interest in beer and have seen beer being featured more and more in a large format style within a wine pairing. Which is a nod to its relevance by sommeliers.
Are there any particular beers on Tørst’s menu that you find especially inspiring?
Falco by Evil Twin is one of the best summery IPA’s I’ve ever tasted. And the Alvine Wild West is an awesome sour beer.
If you had to slum it, beer wise, would you rather drink Bud Light, Pabst Blue Ribbon or Miller High Life?
Pabst Blue Ribbon.
What is your favorite dish on Luksus’ menu right now?
My favorite to make is the Beef Tartare with Caramelized Onion Chip and Tomatoes.
You’ve had the opportunity to work all over the world…what excites you particularly about being a chef in Brooklyn?
It’s great being part of an upcoming food neighborhood, which also happens to be where I live!