Japanese cuisine has captured the taste buds and imaginations of food enthusiasts around the world, and India is no exception. The sudden surge of Japanese restaurants in the country proves it. Our new-found love for sushis, sashimis and ramen took us to ADRIFT Kaya, one of many ADRIFT establishments helmed by internationally acclaimed chef David Myers. With a string of successful restaurants around the world, Chef Myers has made a significant impact on the global dining scene. His very first restaurant Sona in Los Angeles won him the coveted Michelin star. In an exclusive interview with NDTV Food, Chef David Myers, also known as 'the gypsy chef' shared his insights on the growing appreciation of Japanese cuisine in India, his travels around the world, personal food preferences and more.
1. While creating new recipes, do you test them on your friends and your family? Who is your experimental guinea pig?
When I come up with new ideas, inevitably, it will come out at my house when I'm throwing a dinner party and I want to see how the dish goes. Or sometimes, I like to come out into the restaurant and just play around in the kitchen with the chefs, and bring the ingredients. I have an idea and then we create something. A lot of dishes come from my inspiration from my travels; so when I am travelling somewhere, I pick up something, I eat something, I see some fruit in the market and think, "Oh my god- this would be great with this!" In my head, I can already taste it and visualise it all, and I almost know that it already works, because I have a sense of what things taste like and how I want to blend it together. That's my kind of creative process. But my friends definitely get the benefit of this play-testing!
2. What is your favourite cuisine when you are dining and your favourite when you are cooking?
My favourite cuisine when I am dining typically depends on where I am in the world. If I am in Bali, I want to eat Indonesian food. If I am in Singapore, I want to visit the hawker stands and try some of the amazing food there.
In general, I would say, Japanese cuisine. I love yakitori, I love sushi, I love soba. Fresh wasabi, yuzu, citrus. These are the things I can eat on a daily basis, but, I am in India right now in New Delhi and I just want Indian food non-stop!
3. Did you grow up in a food-loving family? Tell us a bit about your childhood years.
I did grow up in a food-loving family. My life revolves around food. I wake up every day and think, what am I going to have for lunch, for dinner? Every single day. And I'm so excited about it. I was so lucky to grow up in a family that grew their own food. My family had a lot of land and a big garden with all kinds of fruit trees and nut trees. We followed the seasons, canning and preserving them for the other seasons. As a kid, I didn't think much of it, it seemed normal, but now, looking back, I realise how special that was - to be able to eat food that pure, fresh and healthy. Also, my family was really good at finding the best places to go eat - the best pizza, the best fried chicken, the best ice cream place that made their own ice cream. They weren't trying to be connoisseurs; they were just trying to find the best places to eat at. If we had a bad meal, we were all bummed!
4. What inspires your cooking? Tell us about why you're called "The Gypsy Chef".
What inspires my cooking is my travel. As a chef, I am inspired by the people that I work with, stuff that we've read, and stuff that we've eaten. But for me, it's really the travel, the cultures, the experiences that I get. I literally come alive when I'm in another country and learning something about their cuisine! It's not like I'm trying to bring in that cuisine into my own. I feel inspired by it, and want to find a way to do something with it in a way that I love my kitchen. It's like a painter would see a colour somewhere and think, "How can I use this in my painting?"
As for "gypsy chef", the name came up as I was talking to a friend. I had this idea and I was sharing it with him. He said he hadn't talked to me in a while, I said I was in Tokyo and before that I was in Sri Lanka. He said, "Man I can't keep up with you and your travels. You're a gypsy. Gypsy chef!" And the name stuck and I loved it. I didn't come up with it, it was very natural and it just works. Because it's actually, authentically me!
5. How was the feeling of earning a Michelin star for your first restaurant 'Sona'? Was there pressure later to live up to those expectations?
Yeah, there's always pressure. It never goes away. First of all, it's not about their expectations, but more about my own. I've opened great restaurants, I have amazing chefs and people around me. I owe it to my chefs and my team who took a chance to come work with me to deliver the best experience. We wanted to win the best accolades, but Michelin was never our only focus. Our mission was, hands down, to blow away every guest that comes to our restaurant.
Every single person working at my restaurants wants to be the best for you as they actually, genuinely care about you. And you can't teach that. You hire for that, but you can't teach that. Otherwise, don't do the job if you don't care enough. It's too hard. I wouldn't want to do it. It's not just about being passionate, that's the bare minimum. You have to be obsessed if you want to be great.
6. With ADRIFT Kaya, you have brought the flavours of Japan to India. What is it about Japanese cuisine that fascinates you?
What I love is the level of commitment, focus and dedication to their craft - I've never seen anything like it. Secondly, I love the simplicity of their food. It's really simple but it's actually really complex. It's centered around seasonal ingredients that are at their peak. And letting those ingredients shine, and be the star. I really respect that. I love the fact that this is a cuisine that's very old. Every sushi chef wants to be better tomorrow than he was today. And I have nothing but respect for that.
7. What is the Indian food or Indian cooking technique you are most fond of?
I love anything that's coming out of the tandoori oven. I love grilling, cooking over a live-wood fire and I love how they marinate everything. I also love how they do the bread on the inside. And that's just the start! I've been to Mumbai's spice market and I got to see all those spice blends to make a certain kind of curry. They were making thousands of different types of curries - I was in awe. It would take a lifetime to really dive into cooking Indian food!
8. Tell us about the Indian food or travel experience that you relished recently. Any restaurant or eatery you liked in particular?
I am just dipping my toes right now into all that India offers because you guys have such a vibrant, amazing cuisine and it's so varied everywhere. There are so many different styles and I've had some really great experiences. I can't even name the dishes but I know that I have never experienced them before. One I had was at Comorin in Gurgaon. They did this seared lamb brains with an unbelievably delicious curry and spicy and I loved it. Last night, I was at Indian Accent. Been there a lot, I love all of their styles and their food style is about exploration through all of India. I can't eat Indian outside of India now, that's the problem. You've spoiled me!
9. Rapid Fire Round:
- One childhood comfort food that continues to be a favourite?
- Corn on the cob.
- What would you have been if not a chef?
- An actor.
- What's the modern kitchen gadget you couldn't live without?
- My Japanese chef knife. It's old-school, but without a great knife you can't do anything
- Three things you would take with you to a deserted island? Could be kitchen tools, spices or any food.
-Red wine, as much as I could possibly have. A chef's knife as I would need it for butchering and cutting the fish. And an endless supply of matches to make fires every night!
10. What's next for Chef David Myers? Tell us about your future plans.
We're launching a new ADRIFT Mare in Miami in two months. That's our next big project. We want to have another record-breaking year in India. The next city on my list has got to be Bombay. I'd love to do Goa and Jaipur would be great too, but Bombay is next for sure.