Deborah Yeo, head chef of the new The Ledge by Dave Pynt, has her years at Burnt Ends to thank for her love for cooking over an open fire.
Deborah Yeo turned her passion for food into a career when she started working at the former Cocotte restaurant in Little India. She continued her chef’s journey at the former Joël Robuchon Singapore, where she had the opportunity to see how a fine dining kitchen was run. But it was her arrival at modern Australian barbecue restaurant Burnt Ends some five years ago that really ignited her love for cooking with fire. During her four years with chef Dave Pynt, she mastered various techniques of bringing out the natural flavours of ingredients. Chef Pynt has left his first overseas outpost, The Ledge by Dave Pynt at The Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, in her good hands. On the restaurant’s opening day today, she is raring to serve up all the amazing dishes on the menu.
What has been the toughest thing about adjusting to living in the Maldives?
I wouldn’t say that it’s been tough but there are certain considerations that come into play when living on an island versus a city. A lot more planning is required to ensure that we have everything we need for our menus. It’s often about being flexible and working with whatever is available.
What have been the greatest differences in the kitchen environment, staff relations and working culture?
This is my first time working at a large-scale hotel establishment and it’s been eye-opening to learn about the systems and processes that are in place. The Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi has 11 restaurants serving 122 villas so you can appreciate the amount of organisation and coordination that goes into catering to an operation of this size. At the end of the day, it’s about how we work together as a team. When it’s crunch time, we have no qualms about pitching in to help our neighbouring kitchen.
Have there been any unusual local produce you’ve discovered and are planning to use in your dishes?
If you go to the markets, you’ll find plenty of fresh seafood. Even produce like fresh octopus and eel which you can’t find back home. We’re planning to use the local eel in our eel and bone marrow dish. I have also been experimenting and making my own katsuobushi. I was inspired as we are surrounded by tuna everywhere you go here in the Maldives! I have yet to decide how to incorporate that into a dish.
Tell us more about your love for cooking with fire.
My love for the fire really began at Burnt Ends. There, it’s all about bringing out the natural flavours of your ingredients over a flame. Once you eat a steak that’s been cooked over fire, you never want to eat one that’s cooked over a pan ever again. I love how raw and unadulterated this method of cooking is—it’s very much back to basics, where you are using smouldering embers to roast, bake or grill your food. Even using different woods will add distinct flavours to the meat, and it’s almost like a seasoning on its own. There’s something beautiful in the simplicity of chucking a leek on hot coals and pulling it off and having it taste amazing on its own. I prefer to step away from the more modern techniques of molecular gastronomy and just, cook.
Are you well-accustomed to using the custom-built oven and grills by now?
The grills at The Ledge are the third set of grills I’ve worked with. With each version, Dave makes modifications and improvements so no two are the same. The way it lights up and the amount of heat you get from each grill is different. The ovens also have slightly different specifications and that means having to relearn its temperatures and timings. It’s quite an organic process if you think about the fire as a living, breathing element that you need to work with. A lot of the slow roasting dishes had to be adjusted at The Ledge. For example, a whole suckling pig here doesn’t cook at the same temperature and take the same amount of time as it does in Burnt Ends. It’s not particularly difficult to calibrate, but I’m just thankful that I have had time before opening to play around with all these things!
What were the most precious lessons you learnt in your four years at Burnt Ends?
My time at Burnt Ends gave me the chance to observe how Dave motivates his team and continuously pushes himself. I’ve learned that a good restaurant requires a chef who doesn’t rest on his laurels, and stands the test of time because of what it represents. Dave’s endless energy and drive to chase his creative pursuits has taught me a lot about how he as a personal brand has become synonymous with quality food and a good work ethic. I hope to apply these same principles no matter what is in store for me next.
How has your creative relationship with chef Dave Pynt developed from the time you were a sous chef at Burnt Ends to the present as head chef at The Ledge?
I would say that I am more in tune with what Dave wants and over the years we’ve developed a rhythm that’s built on mutual trust and understanding. We are more or less in sync when it comes to what can and cannot be compromised but I still have so much to learn from him.
Any pressure, coming from Burnt Ends’ Michelin star and Asia’s 10th Best Restaurant accolades?
Naturally, there’s the pressure of living up to what people expect from a brand that’s been recognized by the industry. But at the end of the day, it’s just about doing what we’re doing and doing it well.
What are some of the exciting dishes to look forward to at The Ledge?
We will be serving wood-fired meats, vegetables and seafood at The Ledge. Highlights include dry aged OP Rib, a 45-day dry-aged beef rib; lobster roll, a brioche bun stuffed with freshly grilled lobster and lobster aioli; and local grouper, a grilled whole grouper served with a fresh cucumber and yuzu salad and a green sauce. Because of our surroundings and the amazing produce available, we will have a strong focus on local and sustainably sourced seafood. For example, we would never put a tuna dish on our menu in Burnt Ends. Here however, we have access to skipjack and yellowfin tuna, so we’d use it in our tuna and za’atar dish.
The Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, Ithaafushi Island, South Male Atoll, Male 20009 Maldives. Tel: +960 4 000300