From a pop-up in East London to Singapore’s bustling Chinatown precinct; Dave Pynt, the Aussie-born chef and mastermind behind the Michelin-starred Burnt Ends as well as American-style smokehouse Meatsmith, has most recently set up shop in the Maldives — specifically, The Ledge by Dave Pynt at The Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi resort. The islandchief had a chat with him about his early days, his experiences and his passion for fire.
What’s your earliest food memory and your favourite food from your childhood? What ignited your passion for cooking?
Backyard barbecues with the family. It was my dad who took care of the barbecues. We are quite a small family actually, it’s me and my sister, and then we’ve got some very close cousins. We still get together once in a while, but it’s definitely a lot harder when you’re overseas.
My favourite dishes included roast lamb and calamari with dip and chips at a family restaurant by the beach. I learned pretty early on that I love to eat a lot of food. I think it sort of stemmed from there, I enjoy eating so much that it brought me here. Both my mum and my grandma are amazing cooks as well.
Could you tell us a little bit about The Ledge by Dave Pynt and its overall concept?
The Ledge by Dave Pynt is our modern beach barbecue restaurant. We specialize in fresh grilled fish, fresh grilled lobster and amazing steak. The restaurant features our custom four- tonne, dual cavity wood-fired oven and elevation grills, and brings Burnt Ends’ much-loved style of barbecue to the beach in the Maldives. The oven at The Ledge by Dave Pynt is the biggest one we’ve built yet.
So, what inspired you to build your very first oven, and name it ‘Burnt Enz’? Do you design all your ovens similarly? And, if you had to choose just one type of wood to cook with for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I was inspired by my time at Asador Etxebarri. I did a lot of my research and wanted to give it a go when we got the chance to do a pop-up at the rail arches in London. The oven allowed us to slow and hot roast. Everything we did on the menu was grilled.
The Burnt Enz name came up because we would talk a lot about the different types of barbecue and we kept coming back to the name ‘burnt ends’ – it just sounded really right.The issue was we didn’t do American barbecue and burnt ends is a very American barbecue dish. So, I thought back to the New Zealand band named Split Enz.
The ovens we’ve built are always a little bit different. The first one was the original, it had the chimneys coming out the back, it was longer and it didn’t have quite as much insulation. The one in Singapore is a little bit smaller because we had space constraints, but we moved the chimneys to a direct upright flue, which worked really well. As for the one in the Maldives, we changed it from a metal chimney to a pure brick chimney, and it’s significantly bigger.
As for the wood, in addition to the other types, we use jarrah wood which is a native hard wood to Western Australia, where I’m from. I’ve grown up all around it, grown up smelling it, grown up using it, so if I had to choose just one, nostalgia would probably lead me to keep this one.
You’ve worked alongside culinary legends such as Tetsuya Wakuda, Victor Arguinzoniz and you’ve even staged at Noma. Could you please elaborate on these experiences and how they transformed you as a chef?
It has helped me keep an open mind and approach – we can cook whenever and whatever we want.
I actually started my apprenticeship program at an Italian restaurant near my house, before moving to a place called Balthazar in the CBD Centre of Perth, where I completed the program. Once I finished, I went over to Tetsuya’s in Sydney. It was amazing. It was one of those places where you learn how to do things to the utmost perfection, consistently, to such a high standard every day. And the people you are working with are so talented, that it all rubs off on you. You try and pick up a little bit of everything that everyone’s got to offer.
What I really took away from staging at Noma was the way they go about things; the way they look at produce, the way they approach the challenge and just the energy they’ve got within their restaurant. How they conduct their services is probably the most intense and exciting amount of energy that I’ve seen anywhere.
As for Victor, he’s one of the most hospitable, genuine guys you’ll ever meet, and his love of Basque cooking and Basque produce is phenomenal. His commitment and drive to constantly do things better and better, is what makes him so good. He works you hard, but he always makes sure you’re well fed, he always makes sure you’ve had something to drink, and he always makes sure you’re alright. With his hospitality and generosity, you just feel very happy working for him and being in the restaurant. [Asador] Etxebarri was the first place where I realised, I can do barbecue in a restaurant for a living.
What is the very first thought that raced through your mind when you got your Michelin Star for Burnt Ends? How did you celebrate?
I was really proud of the team – all the hard work and effort put in through the years.
I was working when we got it. So, my wife went and got the award and when she came back, we cracked open a few bottles of champagne.
How would you define the gastronomic diversity of Australia and Singapore? What is the place of The Ledge in this diversity?
The Ledge is a modern beach barbecue restaurant - we have local fish and live lobsters from our own cage that could go straight on the grill, and we have great steaks from Australia. Essentially, it is simple, good food cooked over a wood fire.
You have experienced a long and prestigious career at the top of the heavy-weight culinary world. What are the skills and personality traits it takes, to be an enduringly successful culinary mastermind?
Lots and lots of hard work!
Is there any cuisine that you have never tried cooking, but would love to give it a go?
I’m always very inquisitive. I suppose the next area I’d like to really delve into and learn a lot more about is the Japanese food scene. It’s extremely complex, huge amounts of tradition and an incredible amount of refinement over the years. So, it would be nice to touch on that at some stage.
What is it about the Maldives that got you thinking that this is your next stop? When you think back, did you ever imagine opening a restaurant in the Maldives?
I definitely wouldn’t have imagined that we would be opening a restaurant in the Maldives, but I grew up on the beach and around barbecue – the Maldives is the idyllic place for barbecue.
You have Burnt Ends, three Meatsmith locations, and now The Ledge in the Maldives. Do you have any surprises for 2020?
You will have to wait and watch.
And finally, you are granted a wish to revolutionise the gastronomical scene in the Maldives. What would be your wish?
What I would like to see in the Maldives is more people taking food more seriously and believing they can put out a great product that matches the place we are in.
The guys on the island cook a lot of the Maldivian curries in the staff canteen, so I always get to have a taste of them and all the different spice mixes, which is really nice. It’s great to eat in the main restaurant when you’re there, but all the local food is cooked in the staff canteen so it’s actually better and more exciting to go eat over there when I’m on the island.
“The Ledge is a modern beach barbecue restaurant - we have local fish and live lobsters from our own cage that could go straight on the grill, and we have great steaks from Australia.”
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