The Passion of David Drake

by Elizabeth Palmer Starnes in ,


Chef David Drake, photo courtesy of David Drake

According to Chef David Drake, there are two kinds of chefs: those who grew up on the apron strings of their mother and grandmother, comfortable in the kitchen from their earliest memories, and those who come from families with terrible cooks.  Drake comes from the latter type. 

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Drake’s mother cooked up bland mainstays like tuna casserole, turning Drake into a picky eater who couldn’t stand fish (now one of his signature items).

Though his mother did not pass down a culinary legacy to Drake, she did instill him with the zeal to pursue a career based on passion rather than drudgery.  Drake comes from a family of people who followed their passions, many attending the Rhode Island School of Design.  His mother worked as a potter, and taught Drake to throw pots at an early age. Passion comprises the key ingredient in a culinary career; necessary to make it through the long hours and demanding tasks required to succeed.

Though the road to success always comes with setbacks, Drake had to overcome an additional hurdle on his way to culinary acclaim.  At the age of thirteen, he blew off his hand while playing with explosives in a field with a friend.  He insists they weren’t trying to do damage, just teenage boys being teenage boys, unable to resist the appeal of blowing things up. This injury forced him to prove himself twice over to chefs who showed him no sympathy and cut him no corners.

Rising to the challenge, Drake started his career at seventeen as a dishwasher at Chez Odette in New Hope, Pennsylvania.  After receiving his associate’s degree in communications from Farleigh Dickenson University, he shifted his focus to more culinary pursuits.  He rose through the ranks and became the executive chef at Frog and the Peach in New Brunswick.  Drake worked with chef Jean Francois Taquet at the Taquet in Wayne, Pennsylvania, chef David Burke at the River Café in Brooklyn, and with chef Craig Shelton at the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse. He subsequently opened his namesake restaurant in Rahway, but when the economy took a turn, the restaurant closed and Drake turned his sights on Alice’s, on the banks of Lake Hopatcong. 

Bringing his finely tuned culinary skills to Alice’s required Drake to rethink his inspiration, toning down the highbrow French and amping up the American classic. Drake’s menu at Alice’s offers pared down, simple comfort food featuring local, seasonal ingredients, many of which grow at a nearby farm. He strives to strike that delicate balance between acid and fat in his cooking, which takes a finely tuned palate and a keen appreciation for flavor profiles to achieve. This summer, Drake looks forward to incorporating lots of fresh Jersey corn into his menu- he loves serving it succotash style, with a fillet of swordfish on top. He also offers a revamped take on his grandmother’s deviled eggs recipe, proving that home-style food can become really spectacular with the right techniques, flavors, and experience.