Have Chef, Will Travel
Published 03 August 2012
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. British Chef and Bali resident, Will Meyrick frequently does, with mouth-watering results.
Text: Katie Truman
Although British chef Will Meyrick enjoyed success at two of Sydney’s premier restaurants – Jimmy Licks and Long Grain – it’s a long-running fascination with Asia’s vibrant street food culture that’s been this intrepid chef’s culinary inspiration and making. Whipping-up dishes in the kitchens of upscale hotels in Bali, Koh Samui and Hong Kong, Meyrick fell spellbound with the region’s exotic spices, flavours, aromas and textures, and in a recurrent theme evident over the years, ever-hungry Meyrick is invariably found roaming wide across Asia, personally sourcing authentic recipes and traditional cooking methods passed down the generations – from sage old ladies to street market hawkers, and from remote mountain villages to seething cities. “I have a library of chefs, not cookbooks,” quips Meyrick.
Experimenting and adapting Asian street-food recipes led to the idea behind Meyrick’s signature restaurant Sarong, launched in 2008, an early leader in Bali’s gastronomic enclave of Petitenget, and still one of the island’s classiest acts. Within Sarong’s refined Euro-Asian elegance, Meyrick masterfully balances modern Asian dishes inspired by carefully researched traditional home-style recipes; an innovative concept of sublime street food – without the ‘street.’
Following on from Sarong’s success, Will and long-term kitchen side-kick, chef Palm Amatawet from Koh Samui, opened the similarly styled, ‘Asian culinary odyssey gone posh,’ Mama San last year – a wildly popular ‘kitchen-bar-lounge’ housed in a converted double-storey warehouse in Seminyak and dripping retro-vintage ambience that again focuses on authentic Asian street food.
Recent culinary forays across Asia, unearthing sensational new recipes and traditional techniques acquired from ibu ibu (Indonesian for mothers) and other culinary wizards has resulted in Will’s definitive “Kitchen Sessions” menu; an on-going, regular series of additions in Sarong and Mama San, concentrating on local cuisine of one particular region, such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Sulawesi, Padang, Aceh and so on. “It’s all about expressing the culture and regional Asian food. Sampling it, experiencing it, understanding it and learning from the ibu ibu, then adapting it for patrons to sample authentic cuisine from focused regions,” explains Will.
Extensive research in regions across the Indonesian archipelago has also inspired Will to put together an in-depth authoritative cook book on Indonesian street food featuring around 150 traditional recipes and related colour photos which will be launched next year. Meanwhile this year, look out for the launch of ‘Inspirations of Sarong,’ a more personalized culinary tome recounting Will’s experiences across Southeast Asia and of living in Bali over the past decade, plus his classic and favourite Sarong-inspired recipes. There are also plans afoot for an ‘Asian concept restaurant’ opening in Jakarta.
Will’s top five
When this nomadic chef is not on the road, and instead holed up at home in Bali with his family, what essential must-have products does he stock in his cupboards?
We always have at least half a dozen free-range eggs in the fridge. Clearly tropical living calls for refrigeration, although we’re lucky to always get small quantities of super fresh, delicious eggs from family friends living nearby.
The Indomie brand is as synonymous with instant noodles in Indonesia as Cadbury’s is with chocolate in the West. In fact, the Indomie name has become so main stream that it’s now used for any brand of instant noodles. There’s something about Indomie that stirs up a cult-like passion, even for those with some of the most refined foodie palates. Locals reared on this Indonesian staple wax lyrical years later about their love of Indomie and their favourite version of it.
I always stock an assortment of sambal (chilli-based condiments) depending on how hot I want to go! Some are homemade from wonderful traditional recipes handed down from locals, but there are also some decent ready-made store versions available.
The ABC brand of this essential Asian condiment is the one I use regularly, easily obtainable from any local supermarket.
When creating something simple but tasty, it’s all about adding in something fresh, clean and green. Leafy choy sum does the job, bought fresh daily in small quantities from the local market.
There’s a method to this list: throw these five ingredients together and you have Indomie Mi Goreng – the perfect fast food. Lightly stir-fry or steam the choy sum, add soy sauce and hot-as-a-rocket sambal to taste. Top it off with a soft, velvety, poached egg. “That’s one of my all-time favourite simple pleasures and comfort meals,” says Will. “A quick, easy lunch, late night snack or hangover cure breakfast. Sometimes it’s not always necessary to complicate dishes or dress them up, especially after a huge week focusing on the nuances of aromatic broth bases or slow-braised signature curries.”