It isn’t easy getting a hold of chef Will Meyrick these days — between managing his two wildly popular Bali restaurants Sarong and Mama San, overseeing his newly-opened Jakarta restaurant, Eastern & Oriental (E&O), promoting his first cookbook, filming his new television shows and making time for his family on top of it all, it is safe to say that Meyrick is busy. Surprisingly, he is able to do this all with a smile (or some might say cheeky grin), as I found out when I caught up with him one afternoon at Mama San in Seminyak. Casually clad in jean shorts and a white shirt with the buttons undone and the sleeves rolled to his elbows, he skipped over from his business meeting to have a friendly and animated chat with me about his current ventures.
Tell us about the TV shows you have currently in the works.
The first one is Top Chef Indonesia, where I’m on the judging panel. At this point in filming, we are down to the last nine contestants. The second [show] is Street Food Chef, which will air on July 12 [on local television]. In this show, you’ll see me cooking in warungs (street food stalls) with little old ladies and getting to learn their traditional recipes and age-old cooking techniques.
What kind of judge are you on Top Chef? The Simon Cowell of the panel?
I’d like to believe that I’m “the passionate one” — not so much the Simon Cowell but more like the Nicki Minaj of the judges!
How exciting to have your own show on street food cooking. You also talked about your passion for sharing the “true taste of Asia” in your first cookbook Sarong Inspirations.
Yes, it has always been a dream for me to publish a cookbook. Sarong Inspirations not only has recipes, but is also a travel diary of my journey from London to Australia to Asia. You’ll find that all the photos in the book, aside from the food closeups, are photographs I took during my years of exploring Asia.
One of our favorite parts in the book is the story of the Cambodian stranger pointing out dangerous areas to avoid, while a 22-year-old Will made a mental note to get drunk and investigate those same places later in the evening.
I’ve always been after that adrenaline rush. When I was younger, I dreamed of being a war journalist; I suppose it’s from all the Vietnam War movies I used to watch. I think that’s what initially sparked my interest in Asia.
What’s another intriguing story from your travels in Asia?
I once missed a once-a-week bus I was trying to catch, so I had to explain where I was trying to go by drawing pictures in the sand à la Pictionary. I finally managed to convince a man to take me across Vietnam to Laos on his motorbike for $70. The land had been bombed and affected by Agent Orange, and we stopped overnight at the roughest, poorest places. When I think about that experience, I can still see it — and smell it.
You’ve cooked in Australia, Hong Kong, India, China, Thailand and Indonesia. Out of all the places you’ve visited, why did you decide to set up shop in Bali?
Well, my wife is Indonesian, but aside from that I chose to open Sarong and Mama San in Bali because it is so welcoming to expats. This is part of the reason why I set my sights on Jakarta afterward. To me, some parts of Bali have started to feel like an extension of Australia, and I wanted the challenge of opening a restaurant in the heart of Indonesia, with a different pace and new faces.
Although you are in Jakarta a lot these days, your family is still based in Bali. What do you like to do on your rare days off?
I like to take the wife and kids to Nusa Lembongan. It’s great for families because there’s fishing, snorkeling, diving and surfing. Have you ever seen an elephant on a surfboard? That’s what I look like on a surfboard! The Bedugul area is also great. We have a little cottage up there where we like to barbecue or go strawberry picking. The Candi Dasa area in northeast Bali is also nice — we usually stay at the Alila Manggis Resort when we’re up there.
Where should foodies go in Bali?
Jimbaran is a must for fresh seafood. Denpasar is also great for the abundance of warungs to be explored.
And lastly, what do you recommend for adventurous eaters who want something more exciting than Bali’s famous roast suckling pig?
The Balinese dish lawar nawang, which is made from bee eggs. Aside from that, I recommend sup kepala ikan (fish head soup) — delicious!
Photos courtesy of David Burden Photography