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Queens Chronicle

Queens chef wins ‘Cutthroat Kitchen’

Despite cement mixer and shopping cart, Tom Burke comes out on top

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Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:40 am, Thu May 8, 2014.

A Queens chef’s catering company — TomCookery — is getting national attention, thanks to the tomfoolery on a reality TV show.

She faced an epic sabotage but contestant chef “Tom” Burke from Douglaston told the judge, chef Antonia Lofaso, on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” “I’m not going down!”

And she didn’t. She won.

It was a tough-fought victory for Burke, who grew up in Cambria Heights and developed her business at Entrepreneur Space in Long Island City after giving up her career as a lawyer.

Her cuisine has been a hit at community events in Southeast Queens, such as the annual June fashion show, hosted by the Jamaica Center Business Improvement District.

She decided to take her skills to “Cutthroat Kitchen” and on April 13, she won the championship.

In the show, contestants are given $25,000 and the opportunity to spend the money to help themselves or sabotage their opponents via a variety of challenges designed to foil their culinary creations.

“Just boiling water can be a challenge,” said Burke, who went against three seasoned chefs with her interpretations of Cobb salad, enchiladas and layer cake.

In round 2, the enchilada challenge, the sabotage came in the form of an ordinary shopping cart, which was morphed into a fully loaded cooking space — containing everything Burke could utilize!

“My Cobb salad was a disaster,” she said. “I forgot a bunch of my ingredients, so I couldn’t make it pop. The enchiladas were much tastier, but because I had to do all of my cooking out of a shopping cart, I wasn’t able to do a traditional sauce.”

Then came the final round, during which Burke would be required to make a layer cake.

She lost a bid and had to mix her batter using a cement mixer and a comically giant wooden paddle. Instead of cooking utensils, she could only use bricklaying tools that came out of a toolbox. But she appeared unconcerned about it all; she stayed cool.

“Needless to say, it wasn’t working. Instead, I made fluffy pancakes, which require a lot less mixing, iced with mascarpone and topped with fresh berries,” Burke said.

While it was risky, it paid off as one judge remarked, “Who doesn’t like pancakes?”

“There are so many curveballs that come your way, but you constantly have to put out the best dish you can, given the circumstances,” Burke said.

“I think Chef Lofaso appreciated the flavor and simplicity of my dishes. Even though I had to be creative with the presentation because of my sabotages, I focused on making the flavors work. I think that is what ultimately got me through to the end.”

Burke’s heart and soul go into making the yummy dishes she serves up at private events throughout New York City.

“We’re hired for all types of parties; from book launches to weddings to bar mitzvahs,” she said of TomCookery. “I don’t consider us a ‘cookie-cutter’ catering company. We specialize in creating custom menus for our clients.”

Burke said she took a huge leap of faith when she left law to start a catering company, but adds, “I think winning ‘Cutthroat Kitchen’ is a sign that I’m supposed to be cooking for a living.”

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