The Streetfood Chef with a global attitude – that’s Will Meyrick. Will is happiest when he’s out at the street stalls and kitchens of local warungs cajoling the local cooks to part their culinary tips and secrets.
Sometimes you can catch Will in the kitchens of his own restaurants, creating, cooking or generally just “seeing to things”. So, it was in the kitchen of Mama San Kuala Lumpur that I met Chef Will Meyrick while he was meticulously putting the finishing touches to some dishes.
While waiting for Will to join me, I took in the beautiful setting of Mama San. I couldn’t help but be mesmerised by that familiar signature painting of the Mama San. This same painting, done by a Russian artist, also graces the walls of Mama San Bali and Mama San Hong Kong.
The design concept in all 3 restaurants is the same – expounding the colonial charm of Shanghai in the 1920s. The retro-inspired wall mural wallpaper, together with the old-style photographs (taken by Will – his other love being photography) enhanced the “old world” ambience.
Mama San is an incredibly photogenic venue!
Will’s love for Asian cuisines is apparent in the menu choices of Mama San. Throughout his extensive travels in Asia and his in-depth research of traditional recipes and culinary heritage, Will loves combining flavours and textures, coming up with new refreshed recipes. In the menu of Mama San, there is a good mixture of traditional Asian/Malaysian favourites, some infused with western influences as well.
A typical example was the luscious Durian Pannacotta which I was happily enjoying while waiting for Will. It’s a great way to start my day – a hearty dessert with my favourite fruit and there were also two mounds of sweetened white sticky rice and vanilla ice-cream for good measure.
When Will finally came and sat down, I was just about to dig into the Softshell Crab Rujak Salad – Mama San’s version of our Fruits Rojak. It’s a big serving of the usual cucumber, pineapples and jived up with green mango, rose apples, mint, peanuts and a kickass chilli tamarind sauce.
So how do you relate to Mama San, that persona in the painting?
Will: Well, you know how I started by learning all kinds of food preparations from the local women in Asia and these are all very precious and valuable to me. I see myself as a “mama san” safe-keeping all that’s been taught to me, maintaining the authenticity of the cuisine culture which had been so willingly passed on to me.
Having dived deep into street food stalls from India to Indonesia, Vietnam to Thailand and Myanmar to Malaysia, how much further do you think you can take Asian street food?
Will: As long as my wanderlust is ignited, there’s no saying where or when I’ll stop. Asian food culture has always fascinated me and as for how much further, that all depends on how much more I can pillage and plunder from the poor makciks in the food stalls! *followed by loud guffaws!
What inspires you nowadays?
Will: You know, as I grow older and as I see my kids growing up fast, I realise I need to take a step back and spend more time with the family. I don’t want to miss any significant part of their lives. So what inspires me these days are my family and we are always trying to do stuff that benefit the community around us. Food is the one thing that harmonises people across all regions. We will still continue to explore the culinary landscape of uncharted regions in Asia but perhaps at a more relaxed pace.
What’s the next step in Kuala Lumpur – will you be opening more Mama Sans around here?
Will: Frankly, we are taking it easy this year. As you know, the economic climate for this region in 2016 is not that strong, so we are focusing on stabilising and growing our existing outlet.
What else do you enjoy doing besides cooking and developing new recipes?
Will: I enjoy photography. In fact, all the photos you see hanging on these walls here were taken by me *beaming with pride
What’s your favourite dish in the Mama San KL menu?
Will: What you are having now – the Fish Curry cooked with home-blended spices, okra and tomatoes! It goes well with either plain white rice or some naans.
Well, I tend to agree with Will as the curry was really good. The spices tasted mildly Indian and there’s a stronger hint of tamarind in it, the tartness working well with the naan we had. We even ordered a super-crispy Roti Canai to go with the curry!
At this point, Will took his leave to attend to more orders in the kitchen. It had been an enjoyable chat with the affable chef – he’s so friendly, down-to-earth and perfectly chatty! His parting words to me were “come look us up when you next visit Bali!” Sure, Will, we will certainly take you up on your offer.
And if you are heading to Indonesia, check out Will’s restaurants there. In Bali, there’s the fine-dining Sarong, Hujan Locale in Ubud and Tiger Palm in Seminyak Village and of course, Mama San. Don’t forget the regional Thai-style E&O in Jakarta and the glamorous Mama San Hong Kong.
MAMA SAN KUALA LUMPUR
Lot G46 Ground Floor
50088 Kuala Lumpur