David Myers may be based in Los Angeles, but the ‘gypsy chef’ is really a global citizen and wandering soul. At most times of the year, you’ll find him wandering around his restaurants in Tokyo, Singapore, Dubai, and Hong Kong, drawing upon unique flavours and ingredients discovered in his travels to create a unique culinary style that can only be described as his.
During a recent masterclass at his restaurant in Singapore, ADRIFT at Marina Bay Sands, we caught up with the Michelin-starred restaurateur over a drink, and well, his thoughts on the dining industry.
What’s the biggest food trend of this year? Any interesting ingredient or technique that you like to use?
It’s all about cooking over wood fire – anything over a grill or embers. That to me, is the trend and will continue to be the trend. It’s like going back to basics, creating big live fires and using wood to grill meats, seafood, and vegetables. Here we use apple wood, but there are a lot of different varieties, from apricot to mesquite.
Where do you think is the next big mecca of food?
I think every city has really cool new stuff happening.
Share with us some of your favourite restaurants at the moment.
L.A. alone has lots of cool stuff like Majordomo by David Chang, and there’s a restaurant called Vespertine there that opened about nine months ago. It was built from scratch, and it was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had in years. Jordan Kahn is the chef, and it’s worth flying from anywhere in the world to dine at. It’s his cuisine, and you can’t even put it into words.
In Tokyo – which is one of my favourite places in the world – there are so many places that have opened up, like this new sushi restaurant from a guy who used to work at a place called Umi in Aoyama. What’s really hot there are the apprentices who used to work for some of the best chefs in the area, from sushi to yakitori. They’ve now left and opened their own places.
Tons of talented people would love to work in your restaurants. What do you look for in the people you hire?
We look for passion, we look for curiosity, we look for insane drive. They have to be absolutely motivated themselves. We’re interested in hiring people who in their off time studies and learns about food, and go out to eat. It’s easy to train when they have the right stuff. They’re here to push themselves, and we challenge them to deliver at the highest level.
What makes a good mentor in the kitchen?
I think a good mentor is somebody who left a mark that I’ll never forget. Charlie Trotter was my most significant inspiration. I’ve worked with lots of great chefs, like Daniel Boulud, who has a restaurant here. But Charlie was a sort of founding father for me. He was absolutely the most difficult chef that I’ve ever worked for. His standards were epic – he’s like the Steve Jobs of the food world. They beat you down, and build you back up. If you can survive that gruelling process, you come on top, and you’re going to do some amazing things. After that, I was so appreciative and I look back fondly at those memories.
Has any of your former employees gone on to open their own stuff?
Yeah, a lot of them have gone on to open their own restaurants and businesses to great success. One of Ramon Perez, he opened up an amazing chocolate patisserie brand called Puur, and it has some of the most beautiful chocolates you’ve ever seen. Brian Howard opened up a new restaurant in Las Vegas, which was award-winning and absolutely stunning. Sheridan Su opened up his own restaurant and was nominated by James Beard for Best Chef, and Kuniko Yagi who was my chef at Sona went on to do Top Chef and did very well. Since then, she’s going to open her new restaurant in Las Vegas. And I could go on and on.
Is there anything that diners should always order at your restaurants? Say, here at Adrift?
My cooking is very much utilises Asian ingredients from Japan and Southeast Asia, wok techniques, and flavours that I weave into the best product possible we can get, whether it’s produce, meats, or fish. We try to do the least amount to it as possible, and keeping it simple mostly over a live wood fire.
Our satay skewers are a modern take on satay and it’s a cross between yakitori and satay. Some clever combinations that we do are spot prawns wrapped in guanciale that we make ourselves, grill over a bincho-tan, and serve with yuzu and lovage dipping sauce. We do an oxtail that’s marinated with apple vinegar and grilled with pink lady apples in chilli. One of the original dishes that we created here that’s very playful is an Alaskan king crab dish that’s done with pimento cheese, pickles, and chilli.
What was the first Asian cuisine that influenced you?
I’ve always been influenced by Japanese food, but I came to Singapore as my first stop in Asia. So really, I created my cooking style here in Singapore. I remember creating one of my first dishes that won a major award in the US – Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef. It was a preserved green papaya soup with coconut and soursop.
You’ve won countless awards and appeared in various TV programmes. What is one thing that you would still like to do that you haven’t done, and what motivates you to keep achieving more?
Travel, new cultures, new experiences, and bringing my brand to new country excite me to no end. I’m looking forward to build my company in to 15 key cosmopolitan cities around the world. I have four now – Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Dubai. Vietnam is high on our list; Africa is on our list; and London too. We’re opening another place in Tokyo for sure this year.
If you weren’t a chef, what do you think you’d be doing?
I was 19 when I decided I wanted to be a chef. Before, I wanted to be an international businessman, to travel the world and make new business deals. But in a way, I’m still doing it now with something that I love, and that is cooking. I also wanted to be an actor. I love movies, and one of my favourite visually is the original Blade Runner by Ridley Scott and Lost in Translation, which really captured the essence of being in a foreign country. Bill Murray was incredibly funny in that one.
I’ve cooked for a lot of celebrities, and it’s always a pleasure. And they all love food, like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, and we had Tom Hanks in here one night year. I’d never tell them I want to be an actor, but yeah, If I wasn’t a chef I’d be an actor.
Find out more about David Myers at his official website here.