Fired-Up | Dave Pynt

26 Nov 2020
5 min read
Dave Pynt, chef-owner of modern Australian barbeque haunt Burnt Ends in Singapore, is redefining wood-fired cooking. With a set of master grilling skills and a bellowing flame in his belly, Dave has earned Burnt Ends a coveted Michelin Star, along with a long-lasting spot on ‘best restaurant’ lists around the world.

“I love eating” is Dave Pynt’s short and sweet answer to why he became a chef. Albeit that he “sort of fell into” this career, his sheer culinary skill and deep understanding of flavor has catapulted his restaurant, Burnt Ends, into one of the most-loved dining spots around the globe.

Dave looks back on where his journey began, “I started washing dishes in high school as a part-time job and then when I finished school, I applied for university and deferred so I could learn how to make wood-fired pizzas instead.”

After graduating from a commercial cooking course at TAFE West Coast Institute of Training in Perth and completing his apprenticeship, Pynt got a job as Chef de Partie at arguably Australia’s most famous fine-dining destination at the time, Tetsuya’s in Sydney. Beginning his career in the kitchen of Australia’s Best Restaurant, and the holder of the number four spot on San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Dave had a strong start in the industry. 

Affluent modern Australian Restaurant Amusé in Perth was his next gig, and as Sous Chef, greater responsibility and an increased pressure to innovate fell on his shoulders, forcing him to develop both as a cook and as a leader.

Like almost all great chefs, travel soon became the subsequent logical step in Dave’s career. Moving to Europe, the young cook aimed to delve deeper into other realms of cooking, using ingredients he had not yet experimented with, and learning new techniques and cooking styles. On a mission to immerse himself in cultures different from his own, the first stop on his global escapade was Noma in Copenhagen, working under the inimitable René Redzepi. He recalls, “My immersion into Scandinavian cooking was eye-opening. This is when I realized all the possibilities I could make out of the ingredients I was working with every day.”

Asador Etxebarri, Spain followed his time in Denmark, and it was his exposure to Victor Arguinzoniz’s wood grill and oven cooking that had the greatest impact on his culinary outlook. Although no stranger to barbeques as an Australian, it was Victor’s ability to render immense flavor out of ingredients with an open flame that fascinated Pynt most of all, rekindling his passion for the humble grill.

Another defining experience was his introduction to nose-to-tail cooking working with chefs Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver of the St John Group in London. After a successful stint at St John Bread & Wine, Dave teamed up with acclaimed chef Nuno Mendes in 2011 to establish The Loft Project, a high-profile underground supper club in East London spotlighting up-and-coming chefs. On Friday nights, Dave would also host The Long Table, a weekly night food market offering a hand-picked selection of London’s best street food alongside a bar and live music.

In the spring of 2012, Pynt began his residency at the courtyard of Climpson & Sons Roaster’s in trendy London Fields, and it was here that he first tapped into his barbeque-cooking calling. After self-designing, building and installing an outdoor wood-fired oven, his debut personal culinary offering, Burnt Enz was born. Remaining true to the ethos and lessons learned from his Spanish mentor Victor Arguinzoniz, Pynt grilled everything from scallops to leeks and suckling pigs, creating a mouth-watering menu alight with a subtle smokiness from the grill. Snowballing in popularity, Burnt Enz was soon serving up to 350 diners on the weekend, with a well-stocked bar and a local DJ enhancing the experience.

The success of Burnt Enz saw Pynt gain the attention of the Unlisted Collection, an influential group of investors led by renowned Singaporean hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng. Half a year and a minor tweak to the restaurant’s title later, Burnt Ends Singapore came to life with Dave at the helm.

Burnt Ends is all about the barbeque says Dave. Cooking over an apple- and almond-wood fire to bring out flavors unachievable in a conventional kitchen is what distinguishes Dave’s cuisine. The chef is able to drive bounds of flavor into his food using dried herbs added to the fire and different wood types – from olive trees to vines, as long as the wood is well-matured and moisture-free, it works a charm. Easily summed up as: “We cook food we want to eat,” Dave’s philosophy is all about creating tasty titbits using great produce.

The creative journey behind each dish is always an unpredictable adventure, shares Pynt: “Imagine two really small atoms in the universe travelling at really high speed colliding in a blank space, that’s where creativity strikes. Sometimes we nail it on the first go, other times we test it a million times and it never makes it on the menu. Our much-loved eggplant and miso dish took five years of testing to make it onto the menu.”

Dave doesn’t have a favorite dish at Burnt Ends, but he does go through phases of favorite ingredients. At the moment, eel has his attention, along with beautiful figs from France and fresh white truffles. All in all, he uses the best produce in unusual ways in hopes of pushing the boundaries of barbeque cooking.

The focal point of not only the kitchen, but the entire restaurant, is the double-cavity, wood-burning brick kiln complete with custom-built grills controlled by their own pulley systems. Designed and built in part by Dave, the colossal masterpiece can be used for a variety of cooking methods, including smoking, baking, roasting, grilling and direct-coal cooking. From smoked quail eggs to roast banana and the signature pulled pork sanger – a slow-roasted, pulled pork brioche bun brimming with chipotle aioli and a tangy coleslaw – Dave can cook almost anything to perfection on a grill.

“Our menu changes daily and we believe there is magic that comes from cooking with wood. The set-up is intimate with most of the seats on the counter and facing our open-concept kitchen and our custom-four-tonne oven and elevation grills sit in clear view. Service is key, we want people to feel well taken care of, comfortable to interact with those around them, enjoy the food, drinks and overall experience.”

With a direct view of the oven and surrounding kitchen, the restaurant’s eighteen-seat counter allows guests to closely observe the chef and his team at work in the kitchen. Burnt Ends’ ambience is anything but pretentious, the chic black-accented, industrial-style space is abuzz with the sounds of delighted diners, cheerful staff and a gentle hum of cool background tunes. The wine list is an ode to his homeland, featuring an elegant selection of Australian vintages, while good beers and cocktails are also on offer.

Hard work, and a lot of luck is what Dave attributes the success of Burnt Ends to, especially in the company of Singapore’s incredible food scene. Dave shares some of his favorite dining spots in the city: “In Singapore, Sin Hoe Sai in Tiong Bahru – it is awesome late-night feed, you sit outside with a cold beer and great food. It is also nice sharing food in a group. Also, Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck – we usually go to Paragon. It is always on the top of my list. Don’t forget if you are in a bigger group to get the suckling pig which is really good and also the lettuce stems. Globally, Etxebarri in Spain and St John Food & Wine in London.”

From one island to another, Dave has expanded his culinary repertoire with the opening of his latest restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi. Dubbed The Ledge by Dave Pynt, his new venture transports his characteristic grill cooking from Singapore to the paradisiacal South Malé Atoll.

Bringing with it some of the Singaporean favorites such as the steak frites and 45-day dry-aged beef rib, the new restaurant also has a greater focus on locally caught seafood including tuna, a fish that Dave has only recently started working with on the barbeque. Grilled king crab legs in a brown butter sauce, a brioche lobster roll crammed with locally caught Maldivian lobster as well as grissini topped with taramasalata and ikura also feature on the menu.

Skill in the kitchen, especially when it’s as rare as Dave’s superior grilling abilities, is what will define the future of the culinary industry says the chef, who admits that craftmanship is key: “Cooking, in general, is going separate further into a more artisanal experience versus more mass-produced meals. I think this will happen due to the cost of running a restaurant.” As for the future of Burnt Ends, the only goal is to “keep making guests happy” says Pynt, who spends even his free time barbequing with his family.


Images © Simon Pynt

This editorial first appeared in FOUR’s 01.20 Edition