Alex Burger started at a pizza place, studied at Johnson & Wales, worked hand in hand with acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud, and traveled around the world with a pop-up Michelin-starred restaurant. Now he leaves New York City life behind to man the helm as the executive chef at The Amsterdam in Rhinebeck. We got the inside scoop on what it was like to cook across the globe, and what he has planned for the restaurant.
Congratulations on the new executive chef position at The Amsterdam! How did you land the role?
I came up here in October to do an event. I was at Bar Boulud as executive chef at the time. I had never really been to the Hudson Valley before. I loved the town. I loved the restaurant, the concept. I met Howard [the owner of The Amsterdam]. We got to talking a little bit. We just clicked and hit it off. In January, we started having conversations about me coming up here to take the position as executive chef. After a lot of thought I decided to take the role.
Are you living up here?
I’m living in Rhinebeck with my wife and my 10-month-old baby.
What was the transition like from a high-end restaurant in New York City to farm-to-table country in the Hudson Valley?
It’s fantastic. I saw it as an opportunity because I spent a lot of time traveling. I worked with Daniel Boulud for a long time. I worked with Eneko Atxa in the Basque Country. I worked in the south of France and in Asia. I realized that great cuisine comes from regions that have beautiful landscapes and amazing products and people who are passionate about what they do. I saw that here in the Hudson Valley. I really wanted to see what we could do to try and refine what Hudson Valley cuisine is. I think there’s so much opportunity and growth within the community here to do something for that and I wanted to be a part of it.
As a newcomer to the Hudson Valley, what have you observed about the cuisines and trends in the region?
What I’ve seen so far is that products are familiar to me. A lot of what comes to NYC comes from here. I grew up in Connecticut so I’m used to the changing of seasons and the products that are on offer. From what I hear from friends in the area, there’s a real love for food with health consciousness in mind. Part of that and what we’re trying to do at The Amsterdam is showing how to eat what’s available in a refined, natural sort of way to let the products shine. With that comes healthy eating.
Photo by Jen May
Do you have a menu set for The Amsterdam?
We’ve done a full change to the dinner menu. It took me two days to roll out. We designed it to create a convivial experience for the guests. It’s a lot of dishes you can share. Order a lot and have fun with it. We have snacks. We have a whole baked vegetable section that highlights the vegetables of the season. We’re making house made pastas. We just turned over the charcuterie program. I worked on a duck and pork pate that we’re marinating with Hudson Valley whiskey. Everything is trying to be as local as possible.
How has the reception at The Amsterdam been so far?
I try to make a habit every night of going out and speaking to all the tables. That’s been very, very well received. I go around the dining room and talk to everybody. I love speaking with the guests. The restaurant feels like a house, so I want people to feel like they’re coming into our home. We’re welcoming them and it’s very casual and welcoming. It’s part of the experience.
It sounds like the menu is influenced by your time abroad. How do you think your past experiences affect it?
Something I learned from Eneko Atxa is in order to understand who I am, I have to understand where I’ve been and where I want to go. I think that the menu is trying to tell that story. A lot of the techniques that we’re putting into the dishes is where I’ve been and different parts of the world and different chefs I’ve worked with…I’m translating it to the restaurant and seeing where I want to take it.
Can you walk me through your culinary career highlights?
I started cooking at a young age. I worked at a pizza place in high school, which gave me a love for the restaurant industry. It made me want to go to culinary school. I went to Johnson & Wales, which introduced me to what else is out there in the industry. That got me an externship in England at a Michelin-starred restaurant. That was my first exposure to fine dining.
Photo by Liz Clayman
When did you start working work Daniel Boulud?
I went back to Connecticut and my old boss introduced me to him. I started working for him and made my way up to executive sous chef after four years and decide to keep traveling. I went to Europe, did a stage in Spain, and did a stage in Provence. I came back to New York and was banquet chef at DANIEL, and then I was head chef at Feast & Fetes, Daniel’s catering company. I helped open a restaurant in Thailand. It was a three star Michelin restaurant with a very experiential tasting menu. That became a huge success and we took that as pop-up restaurants around the world. We ended up going to Malta, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Then my wife and I decided we wanted to come back to New York. Daniel offered me the Executive Chef position at Bar Boulud. I did that for the past two years, and then we decided we were ready for a lifestyle change to come up to a place we could really call home. So I ended up at The Amsterdam.
Have you been able to explore the Hudson Valley yet?
I have friends in New Paltz, but I’m mainly just exploring Rhinebeck and the neighboring towns so far.
When you need something comforting late at night, what food is your go-to?
Late at night, I love eating cheese. My go-to meal? I love a roast chicken.
What’s your guilty pleasure food?
I love chocolate.
What does your wife think of traveling? What is it like to go all over the world together?
[Jihan] loves it. She’s a big support. She has always been the one to drive me and push me to do more and be better. She’s been amazing.
Experience Alex’s global twist on The Amsterdam’s contemporary farm-to-table fare this season.
6380 Mill Street, Rhinebeck