Ideas, Innovation and Inspiration in Indigenous Cuisine

Ideas, Innovation and Inspiration in Indigenous Cuisine

Welcome to the world of Will Meyrick, renown “Street food Chef” and restauranteur. Executive chef of internationally awarded Mamasan, Sarong and Hujan Locale as well as Som Chai and Billy Ho the latest of Will’s creations. Impressive as this all sounds none of it was an overnight success and today, at the beginning of 2019, he stands once more on a new threshold and is about to share yet another exciting journey.

NOW Bali took the opportunity to sit down with Will and his partner in this innovation, David Metcalf, of David Metcalf Photography, to discover what new wonders lie in store for us here on the island of Bali.

Will and David met through their passion for the visual image, David is an acclaimed international photographer with many years of experience in using the power of photography to bring about understanding of environmental issues.

Through his tours he creates pathways for sustainable, positive change in the indigenous communities he visits, specifically in the legendary lands of the Dayak Tribes of Borneo.  In 2018 David curated, with Dayak run Ranu Welum’s Young Indigenous Film Maker Project, the very first Indigenous Film Festival in Bali, an event that will run again in May this year, and has showcased International films made by Indigenous groups from as far away as Peru and as close as Papua.

Determined and dedicated in their own fields to the support and promotion of Indigenous culture Will and David recognised during a recent trip to the far North West of Vietnam that between them they could create experiences that allowed for more than a visual introduction to the deeply rooted, essential communities that form the basis for the true meaning of society.

As Will explained the continued existence of communities that lie beyond the reach of ‘modern living’ are vital to the survival of all cultures and globally, while under threat from all kinds of pressure including here in Indonesia the proliferation of Palm Oil plantations, there is a growing awareness of the urgency with which sustainable support of and authentic connections to Indigenous cultures need to be promoted and preserved.

“When I first brought the concept of Asian Street Food into the fine dining scene I did it, not because the food was great, although it is, but because I wanted to tell the stories of the cuisine culture. Asian Street food has always been about the migratory stories, the tribal stories, the journeys that took place from the great explorations of the Silk Routes, land and sea, and the journeys of colonial powers and their slaves.

Communities arriving in strange places created food for themselves that reflected their origins, and eventually, as we see so clearly across Indonesia, the blending of cuisine cultures creates a fusion. From the Tamils of Medan to the Afghans of Denpasar, the Chinese diaspora and the Portuguese brought Africans food of the “homelands” infiltrated and adapted to their new environments.

And, when a modern economic model, including ‘Transmigrasi’, imposed itself on the indigenous of Indonesia, the Batak, the Dayak, the Sasak and the Madurese, and drew them into cities and townships their food soon followed.

So here you have in the streets of the cities the genesis of an Indigenous food culture, but sadly now many of these cultures at their roots are facing an extinction moment of their own.

No longer is it enough to preserve and show, I feel David and I are at this point where we can join a growing wave of commitment to actually, in partnership with the people of the communities, empower global Indigenous cultures to build stronger futures.”

David was keen to point out that while the ideas of sharing the impactful images of the cultures was a good one, and the idea of instructive introduction was important, people really need to connect to the purity and beauty that is Indigenous culture, and beyond what is seen in magazines and maybe on tv what does the average person actually know about Indigenous Culture?

Discovery of what Indigenous culture is means two things, either going to visit or learning about it in other ways and it is through this approach that Will and David have come up with an ingenious innovation that they are enthusiastic to share.

Will continues: “The thing here is that this is not actually about me, or David, what we are planning is to be a kind of invisible bridge. Sure we will have our images, David’s connections, my restaurant but what people will engage with and enjoy are the incredible Indigenous stories and dishes prepared by guest chefs, experts in their fields, with deep and practical knowledge of indigenous cuisine. We invite and encourage attendance through the resonance people have with the Sarong Group, with the knowledge of David’s expertise, our bridge, but once here the journey becomes their own, and who knows they may leave having had a great meal, contributed to the support of two indigenous projects Handep Haruei  and Mother Jungle  that currently offer practical support to the indigenous Dayak women of Borneo, but also quite possibly they may leave thinking ‘What’s next, Lombok is not so far away, Toraja has great tourism opportunities and why not get into Borneo’s Dayak Culture before it disappears?’ These events are designed to open up all sorts of possibilities that may lead who knows where.”
So starting with an event every two months, held at the exquisite and atmospheric Som Chai Will and David will curate unique immersive culinary experiences, enhanced by visual media in the form of photography and film footage in the hope that all involved will come closer to the essence of what exactly what it means to be Indigenous. It maybe just what we have all been looking for, the ability to begin our reconnection to the multitude of real world cultures where, as Joseph Conrad wrote in Heart of Darkness “What thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity – like yours – the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. “ This article was written for NOW! Bali, and originally published in February 2018
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The Hmong | A Culinary Journey Through Tribal Lands

The Hmong | A Culinary Journey Through Tribal Lands

The renowned Chef Will Meyrick kicked off his first collaboration with Ben McRae on 8th December 2018 show casing unique hill tribe of northern Thailand, Vietnam, Yunnan and Laos. It has has been a longtime passion of Will Meyrick to understand how to preserve this culture. Everlasting passion starting in 1998 that he keeps by going there as often as he can. These stories and recipes are testifying the importance of preserving people and the culture. About the event: Som Chai, Will Meyrick’s restaurant, introduced a series of cuisine culture collaborations in 2018: “A culinary journey through tribal lands”. As they say: “to embrace the future you must learn from the past”.