In Bali culinary scene, Will Meyrick name needs no introduction, for he has already established his reputation as one of the island’s most renowned chef of authentic South-East Asian cuisine. If you take a glimpse into his portfolio now; with exquisite restaurant brands like Mama-San, Som Chai and Billy Ho, you might not immediately noticed that Will’s inspiration is actually rooted in humble local folk’s favorites; which he always strife to bring to the next level. We had talked with the ‘Street Food Chef’ himself and try to understand more about what he’s trying to convey to those who enjoy his culinary creation, amongst his fascinating background, traits, passion and future plan. So here goes.
1. So tell us about yourself. How do you end up residing in Indonesia and opening some of the most prominent authentic restaurant in the island of Bali?
When I first arrived in Bali, I came with some friends, as a tourist. I never really enjoyed Bali, I thought it was too commercial and that it didn’t really have the real spirit of South East Asia like Laos, Vietnam or Cambodia. But as I came more frequently, I found that it was a very interesting place for business rather than for travelling. So hence, coming here on a regular basis, I ended up working here and then I met my wife. And I think, once you’ve scratched the surface of Indonesia, it is an untapped resource of knowledge and culture and intrigue.
2. Name us one of the most favorite local (Indonesian/Balinese) spices that you often use in your culinary creations?
One of my favorite spices is something along the lines of Andaliman, which is from a Szechuan pepper family. There are also some amazing fruits in Kalimantan such as mandai and binjai and also limau kuit which are like a ‘som saa’ in Thailand. And there are a lot of unique aromatase and jungle herbs that are indigenous to certain areas of Indonesia that are very interesting as well.
3. Explain to us a bit about ‘Street Food Chef’; how did you still maintain that passion of tasting different authentic street food in-between running several top-class restaurants?
Do you set particular time for travel each month/ year?
I started ‘Street Food Chef’ when I was about 23 years old and I’ve kept pushing that brand and that emphasis. Back then, people weren’t looking at street food in such a way. But now, street food has become such a culinary comfort food for everybody that, you know, for me to keep on exploring, I always have to go travelling, I always try to set aside at least four or five days a month to go somewhere that is different. And I think the older you get, the more opportunity you need to try and create for yourself, to discover new things because your time is short.
4. Since when did you get that passion for ‘Street Food’, and how would you implement it in your restaurants?
For me the passion of street food is more about understanding cultures. That’s where you see cultures merge, that’s where you see religions merge, that’s where you see tribes that have come from one place and have merged with another culture. It’s really about the origin of people and of humanity and how they interweave into each other’s lives. So that’s the fascinating thing about street food is for me. It’s not about food porn; it’s more about the cultural element of it. And the way I implement it into my restaurants is by taking authentic dishes and not really changing them but just elevating it with better quality ingredients, better quality proteins, and really highlighting the spice element by either making it thicker and less wet. Because usually, when you’re doing street food, you’re trying to stretch your food as much as you can to feed the masses. But then again, if you go into the refined courts of the royal kingdoms or in ceremonies, the detail you can find there is a lot more intense.
5. What is the most thrilling experience during your travel moment so far?
When I travel now, I normally travel from a documentary point of view, whether it’s for writing or for street food. So for me, it’s when I find a story or a subject that just fascinates me. And it can be as simple as an old lady sitting weaving; it can be as simple as a child playing. And it’s those simplicities that, I suppose, I like to capture with my camera or I like to capture through video and that’s what gives me the urge to travel and to constantly search for new things to be involved with.
6. What is the most common misconception about ‘street food’ that you wish you could tell everyone?
Copying a recipe from a cookbook is easy. So, you get a recipe for a street food dish, you copy it, you follow it, it’s easy. But to recreate the same unique flavor that you had is a very difficult challenge and it’s not as easy. Anyone can cook a green curry, anyone can cook a chapati. But it’s all about the spices that go in there, it’s about the balance of fragrance that you have in there, whether it’s the fragrance of the curry with the heat coming through or the bitterness of the green chillis. And to get those profiles right is actually very, very hard.
7. If you can cook for one famous figure right now, who would that be?
For me, it would not necessarily be cooking for a famous person, but I would love to spend time in a refugee camp cooking for 2,000 or 3,000 people or more versus what I do in my restaurant which is, you know a 100 or 150 covers. And the challenge would be to try and take what little ingredients that they have and try to stretch it for 2,000 or 3,000 people. That is a challenge.
8. As an experienced head chef, how would you motivate your kitchen team? Name us one trait that you think someone should have to be a successful chef?
There are many different types of chefs, but after cooking with other chefs and going into other people’s kitchens and seeing how other people operate, I think, what I like to give my guys is the opportunity to be able to think for themselves, to be able to create dishes for themselves, to be able to manage their teams by themselves and not to be micromanaged.