They call him The Streetfood Chef. Will Meyrick has made a name for himself in Asia as a passionate advocate of quick, convenient and downright tasty food that’s uniquely entwined with the culture of a place. He even has a TV show about it.
But the Bali-based Scottish chef’s journey to where he is now has been a long and winding road. As a ‘wild’ 17-year-old, Meyrick found a lifeline in the discipline and structure of kitchen life. He went from a short stint (six weeks) working with Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing in London, to several high-profile restaurants in Australia, via Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, where he developed his passion for Asian food.
His high-end Sarong and Mamasan restaurants in Bali are the culmination of many years research into the authentic food of Indonesia, Malaysia and beyond.
As chef mentor for Tarun Bhatia, young chef finalist for South East Asia region, he spoke to Fine Dining Lovers ahead of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 competition.
You’re known as the Street Food Chef – what is the special appeal of street food for you?
What I love about street food is you can get to the heart of any culture through it.
Does food and travel go hand in hand?
Food and travel is also about different cultures that have migrated and grown together. Look at Malaysia — so many different cuisines that they call their own in just one country.
Tell us about some of your favourite Asian ingredients, and why you like working with them.
Some of the most interesting ingredients used are often found in the remotest of places. For me, I love to use a spice called andaliman, which is similar to a Sichuan pepper. Also in Bali, there is a spice called kencur, which has an incredible earthy flavour. You know, many years ago, spices and other herbal ingredients were used for medicinal purposes in cooking, especially in the rural areas, so not everything about food is ‘food porn’ and Instagram.
Which Indonesian dishes couldn’t you live without?
That’s almost like saying which is your favourite child! I would have to say each region of Indonesia has a favourite dish, and when I am in that region that dish is what I could not live without.
You’ve said before that the structure and discipline of the kitchen was exactly what you needed as a young chef – how important is discipline in your own kitchens?
Discipline, I believe, is the backbone of the kitchen. Once you have that, then you have your team’s attention, so you can teach and provide the education that you have learnt and pass it on to others. They don’t have to agree with you, but they can follow you. Discipline creates attention to detail, which makes you strive for perfection in yourself.
What’s new for you this year – any exciting plans to tell us about?
Yes, this year is going to be interesting as Asia is facing some unpredictability and the economies of the region are not as strong as they were. So for us it is less about new openings and more about consolidating and creating consistency, delivering on our promises to provide high-quality experiences at all times. In this we are doing more training and team building so we stay strong and productive in the current dining destinations that we have.