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Richard Burns, LI's 'Old Chef,' dead at 80

Chef Richard Burns n a meat locker in

Chef Richard Burns n a meat locker in the Jimmy Hays restaurant in Island Park. (Nov. 22, 2008) Photo Credit: Newsday / Robert Mecea

Richard Burns, who capped a glittering culinary career as founding chef of Jimmy Hays Steak House in Island Park, has died after a long illness. He was 80.

Burns started at Jimmy Hays in 1992, at an age, 59, when most chefs are retiring or, at the least, taking a supervisory position. Not Burns. He came in every morning, then stuck around for the next 12 hours to oversee dinner service. Far from disguising his age, he drove a car whose license plate was "OLDCHEF." His business card featured a version of Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" in which Burns himself served Jesus.

Burns left Jimmy Hays in June and had been consulting until recently.

The chef, who lived in Long Beach, had a hardscrabble childhood in New Jersey. At 17, he joined the U.S. Navy, where he learned to cook. Two years later, he embarked on a cook's tour of Manhattan's most illustrious French restaurants: apprentice to chef Georges Blanc at the Waldorf Astoria, saucier at Le Chanteclair, poissonier at La Caravelle, night chef at The Plaza.

In 1975, Burns teamed up with restaurateur Frank Valenza to open The Palace on East 59th Street, at the time the most expensive restaurant in New York, then ran a succession of high-profile New York kitchens.

In 1992, Burns was hired as a consulting chef at the steak house owned by Jimmy Hays. The four-month gig stretched into 21 years. Even after the two men parted ways, Hays continued to refer to his restaurant as "the house that Burns built."

At Jimmy Hays, Burns aged his own meat on the premises. His signature steak was a 17-ounce New York strip. But he had a special place in his heart for lobster and he was one of the last local chefs to offer lobster Thermidor.

His own creation, the Cognac-lemon-garlic-enhanced Lobster Jimmy, was a house favorite.

Burns' most prized culinary weapon was his veal stock. His first task of the day would be to tend the enormous pot of veal bones and aromatic vegetables that was always simmering on the stove. He started the stock in 1992 and every day, he would add the previous day's stock to the new batch. Today it simmers on, under the supervision of Jimmy Hays executive chef Carlos Miranda, Burns' former sous chef, whom Burns taught to read English and to cook classical cuisine.

Richard Burns is survived by his wife, Terry, and their daughter, Emily, of Lawrence, and a daughter from a previous marriage, caterer Michele Burns of Queens. Funeral services will be held Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. at Boulevard-Riverside-Hewlett Chapel in Hewlett. In lieu of flowers the family asks that donations be made to CASA or Jewish Child Care Association.

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