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How travelling shapes celebrity chef David Myers' restaurants

The chef and entrepreneur runs multiple restaurants around the world—including Delhi—that reflect his love for exploring new places

Chef David Myers.
Chef David Myers.

A globally acclaimed chef, restaurateur and TV personality, David Myers, popular as The Gypsy Chef, is well known for having blended his two greatest passions—food and travel. His now-shuttered Los Angeles restaurant Sona was honoured with Michelin Stars for three consecutive years. He runs a chain of restaurants and cafes in gastronomic hotspots, including Delhi, around the world.

In each of his restaurants—ADRIFT, Poppy, Salt Water, David Myers Café and 72 Degrees Juicery & Café—in Asia, USA and the Middle East, Myers draws upon indigenous flavours and ingredients uncovered through his travels to formulate a collection of engaging concepts. For instance, ADRIFT Tokyo is inspired by the flavours and culture of north-eastern Spain.

Last week, Myers was in Delhi to celebrate the first anniversary of ADRIFT Kaya. Located at JW Marriott Aerocity, it is considered to be the first Japanese Izakaya restaurant in the city.

Lounge caught up with the globe-trotting chef to talk about how travel influenced his restaurant concepts.

Edited excerpts:

Your brand ADRIFT has Italian, Japanese and even a burger bar. What is the philosophy that unifies them all?

This brand is the heartbeat of the group and is meant to represent our lifestyle and philosophy. It is about letting travel be your inspiration for life. It is about constant exploration through new places and absorbing that creatively through food, drinks, service and even the way we style a restaurant. All of these influences that we capture as snippets are almost like photographs that help us create something unique and distinct.

What is the Japanese experience you offer for diners in Delhi?

It is a unique restaurant for us. It is one of the few designed by Timothy Oulton, a renowned eponymous British furniture and interior design brand. The Japanese experience we want to bring to our diners is our modern take on authentic Japanese flavours with dishes like the Fried Chicken Karaage, Karashi Mustard, Spicy Tonkatsu Sauce and the Crispy Fried Rock Shrimp, Spicy Yuzu Aioli. It has a buzzy vibe, and unbelievable cocktails like you will find in the top bars of Tokyo such as Aliviar. Here, the bartender stirs a Martini for three whole minutes with his eyes closed, just feeling the pull of the glass to know when it’s truly ready.

Your food always has the Californian touch of your home town. How does that manifest in your creations?

It has more to do with philosophy than ingredients. In California, we have access to the best ingredients. There’s a farmer's market every day throughout different parts of Los Angeles, we live and eat according to seasons. For example, peas signify springtime. I like to make it ADRIFT-style with some crab, lime pickle, fresh peas and mustard oil. Or a simple salad with heirloom tomatoes, with some fresh turmeric and poached Halibut tossed with a light vinaigrette.

I try to bring the seasonal experience into my restaurant in Delhi too. For example, the chutoro (fatty tuna) coming from Hokkaido in Northern Japan in winter is fattier. Fresh wasabi changes in intensity and heat throughout the year. In certain parts of Shizuoka and around Izu, the wasabi has an intense note, as spring sets in. We try to get our uni (edible parts of sea urchins) from Kyushu in June where it is available only for two weeks during the year. It is different from the Hokkaido uni which is rich and creamy. The uni from Kyushu is salty and briny, with an intense flavour.

You bring inspiration from your travel to your menus. How do you plan a food itinerary when you travel?

Travel is the biggest part of my life and I receive inspiration from it for everything in life not just food. When I travel I am usually in the moment. I may jot down a few points on my phone but I am focused on absorbing every detail of the experience and that stays with me. I typically change the itinerary spontaneously.

We also love to take our leadership team on an inspiration trip before we launch a restaurant. It an annual practice to bring fresh ideas to what we do. It is a great time for the team to bond and connect with the style of food that we are doing, and is the single best thing we have done over the years. For these trips, I research with my team to identify some of the coolest and most unique places that have a strong point of view and we check them out. Occasionally we also just go with the flow and are open to discovering something that blows our mind.

You speak frequently on social media about work-life balance. In the high-paced commercial kitchen, how do you encourage your staff to take this approach?

It is tough to get everybody onboard with this lifestyle; which is having a keyword for the year, focussed on fitness and meditation. I try to get the teams to work out with me when I am in town by inviting them to yoga or meditation sessions. I have been on some trips with the team, and we have done yoga, gone to the gym and had dinner together. It is all about that bonding experience and I will explore a lot more in the coming years.

What is the perfect burger for you?

Our DM Burger (described in the menu as having lettuce, onion, secret sauce, aged Vermont cheddar and brioche bun) at the ADRIFT Burger Bar is the perfect one for me. It has been named the perfect burger by the New York Times. My mom used to make this burger for me in my childhood.

A recent memorable food experience you would like to share?

I have had some amazing experiences eating out in Bali. There is a classic Indonesian restaurant, Warung Sika, that has the best barbecue chicken. The chicken has an unbelievable Indonesian marinade and is rolled over a live wood fire. I love visiting this place after surfing in the morning. By 9 am, I am already there eating their barbecue chicken, with steamed red rice and water lettuce with chilli and a little bit of fish sauce. I never imagined that at a street side, open-air little restaurant everything could be that good. It has inspired me to open a barbecue chicken restaurant.

What keeps you motivated to go on in this fast-paced, highly competitive industry?

I love this industry, and it is something I was born to do. I love food, great cocktails and wine. In essence, I enjoy the whole experience of crafting a memorable night-out for people. I relish the creativity that comes with it and savour new experiences. I never regret dropping out of an international business school to focus on being a chef because, at the end of the day, I have come full circle with having an international business and still doing what I love—which is the most important thing in the world.

Also read | Chef Mythrayie Iyer references Indian history to create a winning dish

Ruth Dsouza Prabhu is a features journalist based in Bengaluru.

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