The rise and rise of Burnt Ends
Ironically, after debuting at 70th place on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2016, Burnt Ends in Singapore went very quiet. Australian chef and owner Dave Pynt still doesn’t know why, but thanks God it was short-lived.
“We were like ‘oh shit, lets get ready. We need to be really ready. We’re going to be super busy’, and it just trickled down – but it picked back up after six weeks; I think it was just timing.”
Despite this little anomaly, business has been very strong since opening in 2013, and it’s thanks – in part – to the recognition the restaurant has received from world’s media and programs like the World’s 50 Best.
“We’ve been lucky enough to have grown each year and I think the awards and the placings on the list only help to reinforce to the public what we’re doing,” Pynt told Hospitality. “It gives them a lot of confidence in us and our restaurant … There’s a lot of underlying trust that the list helps to build, which is important to the number of customers you get in the door and the amount they’re willing to spend.”
2017 is proving to be a great year for Pynt. Burnt Ends, which specialises in modern Australian barbecue and boasts custom-built four tonne, dual cavity ovens and three elevation grills, jumped up to 53rd spot on the World’s 50 Best list, and Pynt was presented with the Chef’s Choice award at the Asia’s 50 Best list, where the restaurant was ranked 10th.
“It’s one of those holy shit moments that you’ve probably only ever dreamed of,” Pynt said. “Chef’s Choice is the one you want to get. The guys that I have looked up to for so long have been some of the people who have voted for me, so it’s quite humbling … I’m still pretty surprised by it, in all honesty.”
Despite Burnt Ends’ rapid rise on the global restaurant scene, Pynt doesn’t take public praise or accolades too seriously. And he certainly doesn’t have judges or critics in mind when he’s in the kitchen.
“Every single customer that comes in judges our restaurant and judges our food. So to be specific about catering to that group of people [the judges] – I’d have an empty restaurant with a few people very happy, rather than if we try to make all of our customers happy all of the time, we’ll be a successful restaurant. And that’s the number one aim. Being on the list with no customers is still not a very good thing,” he said.
Having spent his formative years under the tutelage of some of Australia’s best chefs, including Tetsuya Wakuda and Martin Benn, Pynt’s restaurant has – in just a few short years – already surpassed the businesses of a number of his industry idols. It’s something he feels very humble – almost sheepish – about.
“It’s very weird. A lot of these guys have been cooking for 20 or 30 years, and Burnt Ends is still very young. So it feels like there should be a little more time before we get to this stage. We still say thank you, but it feels like we’re very young and we don’t have the maturity of a lot of the other guys on the list, and the guys who I look up to.”
And while there is a degree of pressure to live up to the expectations of the world’s media and keep the accolades rolling in, at the end of the day it all comes down to the customers’ experience.
“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform anyway, for the general public, and we’re always pushing to make sure that whoever comes into our restaurant is happy no matter what kind of experience they want. They might just want to come in for a burger and a beer – we can be that kind of restaurant for them. Or if they want to come in and have a big crafted menu, so they get what we think is best on the menu that night – we can do that. We’re working directly opposite the customer, so there’s that enormous pressure to make sure that they’re happy and enjoying themselves and not looking across the counter going, ‘Fuck, this is shit, get me out of here.’ Because you can read it on their faces if they’re thinking it,” he said.
With an open kitchen, counter top dining and moorish menu items like banh mi burgers, pulled pork sangers and a bone marrow bun, Burnt Ends is a far cry from the grandeur of many other restaurants on the World’s 50 Best list. But the list isn’t supposed to pit restaurants against each other, Pynt said.
“I think with the 50 Best list, it’s just about enjoyability … It’s not ‘Is it the most refined? Is it the most technical? Does it have the softest music with the best chandelier? Do the waiters have the best suits?’ It’s just ‘Did I feel comfortable and did I have a good time?’
“From my perspective, you’re just meant to be making a good restaurant, with good food in a hospitable environment. If you’re working on those things, by default you’re targeting the list.”
Pynt spoke with Hospitality just before the revelation of the World’s 50 Best in Melbourne, and he was correct in predicting that New York restaurant would fare very well in 2017. Eleven Madison Park took out the top spot, bumping Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana down to second place, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns was namedthe Highest Climber, jumping 37 places to number 11.
If his theory is right, 2018 should be an exciting year for his industry friends back home.
“You’ll see it in the awards this year in Australia, how well the New York restaurants do,” Pynt said earlier this year. “You had pretty much everyone that voted and all the chefs in New York (in 2016) and everyone ate at the top restaurants. That’ll be fresh in their mind from their experiences, so when it comes time to vote, you should see that the American restaurants do quite well. You could see the same with Australia the following year.
“You’ve got everyone there to get it done – you’ve got all the judges. Everyone who needs to be there will be there in Australia. It’s a great opportunity.”
Let’s hope he’s right.