Acclaimed chef and restaurateur Will Meyrick continues to steadily build his empire, but remains as hands-on as ever, he tells Helen Dalley.
Celebrity chef Will Meyrick continues to innovate and dominate in both Australia and Asia. New openings like Honey & Smoke and triumphant reopenings of iconic spots like Billy Ho in Canggu have helped the chef emerge from the pandemic more dynamic than ever.
You’ve opened a new restaurant in Bali and will debut several others with Indonesia’s Mirah Investment & Development. Can you tell us about that?
We’ve opened Honey & Smoke (below) this past October, a 35-seater restaurant with an additional 20 seats upstairs, which is more of a cocktail bar. Mirah has opened a few hotels recently, and they’ve partnered with me to curate dining experiences for them. One of them, located in Secana Beachtown residences, will have an Indonesian restaurant similar to Hujan Locale, which reopened this past July in Ubud.
What prompted the decision to team up with Mirah?
I’ve always funded my own restaurants in Indonesia, which can be quite risky, but pairing up with Mirah has enabled us to develop the restaurants we want to without necessarily taking a risk. In Indonesia, you are on the Ring of Fire, and if you don’t make your money back quickly, the next year there might be an earthquake and you would have lost everything.
You opened Will St. in Perth last year. What attracted you to the city and how was it readjusting to life in the West?
I put my daughter through school in Perth, as it’s only three hours away from Bali. I’ve lived overseas since I was a kid and decided to re-engage with Australia and got my residency before Covid arrived. When the pandemic hit, we had a house here and the kids had residency. Perth is a great city; the beaches are amazing, the countryside is stunning, and we’re near the wineries.
Tell us about the restaurant and your approach to the menu.
At Will St., we do Asian food, and it was the right time to do it, as people couldn’t go to Bali and wanted authentic Indonesian cuisine. It was a natural transition, as the market is here. I reckon about half of the Australians who visit Bali are from Western Australia. However, we didn’t want it to look like an Indonesian restaurant, so we kept it very Australian, with natural tones, and we use local produce. The recipes are very similar but we’re using native ingredients from Australia like cassia leaf and saltbush, both of which have a similar texture and flavour profile to some Asian ingredients.
Are you tempted to open any more restaurants in Australia?
I would do, but your margins are much smaller here, and staffing is a lot more difficult and that’s why we only open Wednesday to Saturday. I’d never say no, but my focus is Asia and getting back on top of what we do there.
You’re part of Indonesia’s Top Chef franchise and have appeared on the Asian Food Network. What appeals to you about TV?
I’ve always enjoyed travelling and experiencing different food cultures and would have entered journalism if I wasn’t a chef. I love finding stories and fixers, and it all helps me come up with different restaurant concepts.
Some describe you as a celebrity chef. How do you feel about that?
I think it’s quite funny because when I’m in my restaurants, I’m probably asking guests, “would you like still or sparkling, madam?” I don’t know one celebrity chef that’s managed to do TV and restaurants successfully – it’s one or the other – and I’ve always chosen restaurants. Being on TV encroaches on your privacy; if you say or do one thing wrong, your whole business can fold. For me, the TV stuff is a fun element rather than a career.
How about “The Street Food Chef” moniker – is that still an accurate depiction of who you are?
That’s still very much who I am, so trying to do Western food is difficult as everyone sees you as, “the Asian street food chef”. That’s always been the selling point, but what’s important now is to evolve and being in Australia has enabled me to do that. The “street food chef” [label] will always stick with me, but as we expand and try out different concepts, it will be interesting to see where that takes us.
You were born in Portugal and have lived in Italy, Scotland, Peru, Australia, and Bali. What dishes captured your imagination when you were growing up?
It was never the dishes – it was the nightclubs and parties that got me into trouble and made me cook; I needed to get a job because there was a court case over my head for two-and-a-half years at 19. I think a lot of people become chefs not out of want but necessity, because it’s a job that doesn’t require a skill set or a qualification.
As an avid traveller, how did you cope with being at home during Covid and what did you learn about yourself?
I ended up being a full-on Australian bogan and got myself a ute, a dog, and a trailer. I started going camping, and cray and squid fishing – we never would have done that stuff in Asia.
It’s your last supper. What’s on the menu and why?
It would have to be a good roast dinner – roast chicken, lamb, or beef – because that’s what we eat on a regular basis as a family.
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The original version of this story ran in Jetsetter Magazine