His name is Lefto and he looks remarkably like celebrity chef David Burke of Fort Lee — only much cuter (sorry, chef) and much shorter. And every four or five days you can catch Lefto and Burke giving a casual cooking demonstration on the chef’s social media platforms.
You’re in for a good time.
Especially since Lefto is a 3-foot tall puppet that Burke, currently stuck at home like the rest of us, uses to “help” him cook dishes that can be replicated by non-professional chefs at home. Lefto, ever the professional, sports a crisp white chef’s coat and, like his human sidekick, thick black glasses and a chunky silver watch. His thick hair, like his double, is wild and also graying. He sounds remarkably like his buddy.
“He’s a handful,” said Burke, who wears his friend on his left hand, which makes flipping a trout filet or dumping diced potatoes into a pan challenging.
“It’s difficult,” said Burke who oversees the kitchens at Ventanas in Fort Lee, Nauti Bar in Sea Bright, David Burke at Orange Lawn in South Orange and Drifthouse in Sea Bright. “I do everything myself.”
He shoots the videos with his phone in the kitchen of his second home in Atlantic Highlands. With mostly classic rock music playing in the background, the two sauté, boil, chop and drizzle while discussing what they’re doing. Sometimes Lefto uses his mouth to hold a cutting board. Sometimes he uses his body to move a pot over. Often he inspects — closely — what his buddy is doing. Sometimes too closely.
The other day, Lefto burnt his face.
“I panicked,” Burke said. “I feared he’d call his lawyer.” He then added, “I’ll be honest, I felt kind of bad.”
Burke sent Lefto to a “puppet hospital.” In the meantime, he’s using an “understudy.”
Lefto is a gift from one of Burke’s previous girlfriends. For years, he’s been hanging out in a closet. Then one morning, Burke woke up and took him out of the closet and — just like that — “started doing this,” he said.
Burke apparently has “four or five” other puppets in his closet.
“A few years ago, I was going to take a ventriloquism class,” he said. “But I never had the time.”Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.
Updates on how the coronavirus is affecting your community and the nationDelivery: VariesYour Email
Now, due to the stay-at-home order, he’s got plenty of time. “If there’s a silver lining to this pandemic, it’s that you actually have time now,” he said. And as a result he’s discovered the joy of cooking — at home.
“Chefs don’t cook at home,” he said. “We’re always working.”
He’s cooking now.
“This is very therapeutic for me.” And fun. “I love it,” he said.
Chided that he may have found a new career, Burke quipped, “I might need one.”
Esther Davidowitz is the food editor for NorthJersey.com.
Click here to see the whole article, and video, on northjersey.com.