Chef Profile: Will Meyrick

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2012, 10:46pm

It's dinner time, and the kitchen of Will Meyrick's Sarong, his original Bali street-food inspired restaurant, is buzzing. The chefs glide around one another, constructing salads, searing meats and chopping herbs. Meyrick tastes every dish, asking for a little more lime, a touch more sugar, before it's sent out to the restaurant.

Meyrick - a Scotsman who in October launched his first recipe book, Sarong Inspirations - hasn't always worked in kitchens as serene as this. Refreshingly, Meyrick doesn't pretend he became a chef because of any ingrained passion for food. He simply failed at school despite going to the best private ones, and needed a job.

After a fling with graphic design, his mother suggested two career paths for Meyrick, who was born in Portugal, had siblings born in Beirut, lived in Italy and Peru, and had both run and skied for Scotland by the age of 16. The options were physical education instructor or chef.

The problem with the former was that it was "full of biology". But cooking resonated.

"The great thing about cooking - and this is what I fell in love with - is, it has a structure. Aged 17, I was wild, wild, wild," Meyrick says. "I needed structure. I needed an environment where I was shouted at, told off, had pans thrown at me ... I needed that sense of discipline, and that's what made me stay in cooking."

After a one-year course, Meyrick headed into the London kitchen of L'Oranger, run by Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing. He lasted about six weeks. "I didn't know the difference between chervil and rosemary. I got shouted at every day, and told I was useless," Meyrick says. Was he shouted at by Ramsay? "I was shouted at by everybody ... and I was only allowed to skim the stock for two weeks. But it was those moments that I needed."

Meyrick upped sticks in 1998 and headed to Australia, by way of Asia, thanks to "too many Vietnam movies" - crossing Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam - and fell in love with the energy of the region.

"That woman who made noodle soup made it not because she loved making noodle soup, but because she needed enough money to be able to pay for [ingredients] the next day. It's that honesty, that reality of living day to day, that really fascinated me," he says.

Meyrick arrived in Australia with A$500 in his pocket, ready to reinvent himself. He wanted to cook Asian food because he thought the competition wasn't strong.

He worked at renowned Sydney restaurants Longrain and Jimmy Liks before heading back to Asia. He spent time in Bali, Thailand and Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, he was the opening chef for the Thai restaurant Lotus in Central. Then he returned to Bali.

Meyrick's Thai right-hand man, Palm Amatawet, whose grandmother has a small noodle house on Koh Samui, joins us. "His story is much more a love-of-food story," Meyrick says.

Palm's aunt was Meyrick's sous chef in Sydney; she introduced the pair, and they worked together at Jimmy Liks. When Meyrick was sent to Thailand to open the restaurant at Karma Koh

 Samui, he hired Palm, who had just finished at the highly competitive cooking school at Bangkok's Mandarin Oriental Hotel. On Samui, Meyrick met his Indonesian wife, with whom he now has three children.

Meyrick and Palm came to Bali to open another resort restaurant, but after a year and a management change, they were fired. "We were out on our ear, without anything," Meyrick says. He had to sell his house, and Palm had to head to Lotus in Hong Kong to work.

"We were really down in the dumps. We had to make Sarong work. That's why we all put so much energy into it," Meyrick says, adding they found partners to back Sarong.

Sarong, with its concept of elevated street food in plush surroundings, was an instant hit in Bali's chic Petitenget area.

The next restaurant, Mamasan, serving street-inspired food with a bistro feel, opened last year. A Thai restaurant, also with partners, will open in Jakarta next year.

"Our staff want to grow. The only way to give them more is to grow," says Meyrick.

Sarong Inspirations, the result of two years' work, is a collection of recipes and stories that led to the opening of Sarong.

While Sarong Inspirations features recipes from travels around the whole region, the next book will focus on Indonesian recipes. When we meet, Meyrick and Palm have been to about two dozen warungs, or roadside restaurants, in the Balinese capital, Denpasar, in the past week alone.

"We want Indonesian to become hip and cool. That's why we're putting a lot into the menu," says Meyrick, who's also collaborated with esteemed Indonesian chef and restaurateur William Wongso.

These days, Meyrick says he and Palm enjoy the travelling and discovery part of their work the most. "We've both fallen in love with travelling and finding recipes rather than creating dishes; it's about finding the story within a dish."

And despite the calm in the kitchen that night, sometimes Meyrick and Palm are known to throw the occasional plate when they're back in the kitchen after being on the road.

"Once you repeat the same thing three or four times, you can't really handle it. You need that action," Palm says.