Burke graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and soon thereafter traveled to France where he completed several stages with notable chefs such as Pierre Troisgros, Georges Blanc and Gaston Lenôtre. Burke's mastery of French culinary technique was confirmed when, at age 26, he won France's coveted Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Diplome d'Honneur for unparalleled skill and creativity with his native cuisine.

Burke returned to the U.S. as a sous chef for Waldy Malouf at La Cremaillere and then for Charlie Palmer at The River Café, where he ascended to executive chef and earned three stars from The New York Times. In 1992, Burke opened the Park Avenue Café with Smith & Wollensky CEO Alan Stillman, and then, in 1996, he became vice president of culinary development for the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group.

Burke has been honored with Japan's Nippon Award of Excellence, the Robert Mondavi Award of Excellence and the CIA's August Escoffier Award. Nation's Restaurant News named Burke one of the 50 Top R&D Culinarians and Time Out New York honored him as the "Best Culinary Prankster" in 2003. In May 2009, Burke was inducted into the Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America by the James Beard Foundation. In that same month, he also won the distinctive Menu Masters award from Nation's Restaurant News, naming him one of the nation's most celebrated culinary innovators. In February 2012, Burke was honored by the culinary school at Johnson & Wales University with the Distinguished Visiting Chef Award, which is given to the world's most influential and celebrated chefs. In November 2012, he was named Restaurateur of the Year by the New Jersey Restaurant Association. In the same month, he was honored with a Concierge Choice Award, celebrating the best in New York City hospitality, winning the best chef award. In 2013, Burke was nominated to "Best Chefs America," a new benchmark in American cooking whereby chefs name the peers who are the most inspiring and impressive in the business. In 2013, the David Burke Group was recognized by Restaurant Hospitality magazine as having one of the "Coolest Multiconcept Companies in the Land." The article highlights restaurant corporations with an enviable business concept that others can't wait to replicate. In addition, it cites the numerous incarnations of Chef Burke's creative vision, from David Burke Fishtail and Burke in the Box to David Burke's Primehouse.

Chef Burke's vast talents have been showcased recently on television, including season two of "Top Chef Masters," a guest spot on the "Every Day with Rachael Ray" show and as a mentor to Breckenridge Bourbon distiller Bryan Nolt on Bloomberg's small-business television series, "The Mentor". In 2013, he returned to season five of "Top Chef Masters."

Burke's visibility as a celebrity chef has also led to consultant positions with hotels, cruise lines and food experts. Most recently, he was invited to join the Holland America Line Culinary Council alongside renowned international chefs Jonnie Boer, Marcus Samuelsson, Jacques Torres, Charlie Trotter and Elizabeth Falkner. In this capacity, Burke will consult on the cruise line's culinary initiatives, including the CulinaryArtsCenter enrichment program, and provide signature recipes which will be featured on all 15 ships.
In 2003, Burke teamed up with Donatella Arpaia to open davidburke & donatella. In 2005 came David Burke at Bloomingdale's, a dual-concept restaurant offering both a full service "Burke Bar Café" on one side and a "Burke in the Box" eat-in concept on the other. In 2006 Burke opened up David Burke's Primehouse in The James Hotel Chicago. His restaurant collection continued to grow that same year when he purchased Fromagerie, a fine dining restaurant in Rumson, New Jersey, where his culinary career began under founders Markus and Hubert Peter. His next ventures included David Burke Prime at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut and David Burke Fishtail in Manhattan, both of which opened in 2008. In February 2011, he opened David Burke Kitchen at The James Hotel New York in SoHo, bringing his signature whimsical style to downtown Manhattan.

In 2014, Burke will bring his SoHo concept, David Burke Kitchen, which features modern takes on farmhouse cuisine, to the ski resort town of Aspen, Colorado.
During his tenure at The River Café, Burke began experimenting with interesting ingredients and cooking techniques. His first culinary innovations, including Pastrami Salmon™ (now available through Acme Smoked Fish), flavored oils and tuna tartare, revolutionized gastronomic technique. During his 12-year period at the Park Avenue Café, Burke created GourmetPops™, ready-to-serve cheesecake lollipops. His Can o' Cake concept, where cake is mixed, baked and eaten from a portable tin, is used throughout his restaurants. Most recently, he teamed with 12NtM to create two non-alcoholic sparkling beverages, available in gourmet retailers such as Whole Foods and at his New York locations. Additionally, Burke is actively involved with culinology, an approach to food that blends the culinary arts and food technology. To that end, he is the chief culinary adviser to the Skinny Eats line of flavor-enhancing products.

In 2011, Burke received the ultimate honor presented to inventors: a United States patent. It was awarded to him for the unique process by which he uses pink Himalayan salt to dry-age his steaks. Burke lines the walls of his dry-aging room with bricks of the salt, which imparts a subtle flavor to the beef and renders it incredibly tender. Burke's steaks can be dry-aged for anywhere from 28 to 55, 75, or even as long as 100 days using this process.
Chef Burke's mastery of French culinary technique was confirmed when, at age 26, he won France's coveted Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Diplome d'Honneur for unparalleled skill and creativity with his native cuisine. Burke was inducted into the "Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America" by the James Beard Foundation for his years of achievement in the industry, and has been honored with Japan's Nippon Award of Excellence, two Robert Mondavi Awards of Excellence, and the CIA's August Escoffier Award. He was the 165th Distinguished Visiting Chef at Johnson & Wales University, where he shared his experience and culinary tips with the school's budding young chefs. The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences gave him the 5-Diamond Award of Excellence in 1998. Burke has also won the distinctive Menu Masters award from Nation's Restaurant News, the same publication that named him one of the 50 Top R&D Culinarians in America, and Chefs in America named him "Chef of the Year" in 1991. Time Out New York honored him as the "Best Culinary Prankster" of 2003, and Star Chefs, the magazine for culinary insiders, awarded Chef Burke with the "Contribution to American Cuisine Award" at the 2009 Star Chefs Congress.

Among David Burke's many outstanding awards and achievements are:

2012 – Distinguished Visiting Chef award, Johnson and Wales University, Providence, RI

2009 – Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America, James Beard Foundation, Menu Masters Award, Nation's Restaurant News

2006 – James Beard nomination, Best Chef, New York City

2003 – Best Culinary Prankster, Time Out NY

1998 – Chef of the Year, Chef Magazine
Chef of the Year, The Vatel Club
5-Diamond Award of Excellence, American Academy of Hospitality Sciences

1996 & 1997 – Robert Mondavi Culinary Award of Excellence

1995 – First ever "Auggie Award" (named for August Escoffier) presented by the Culinary Institute of America

1991 – Chef of the Year, Chefs in America
1988 – Meilleur Ouvriers de France Diploma
International Food Festival in Toyko, Nippon Award of Excellence, Government of Japan
American Culinary Gold Cup Competition, Team Member twice
Burke's first cookbook, Cooking with David Burke, was published in 1995, and his second, David Burke's New American Classics launched in April 2006. He is currently working on his third book, due out in 2015.