The Nomadic Chef
The prayer bowl at the entrance is a sign that Adrift by acclaimed US chef David Myers isn’t simply an American restaurant. A glance at the menu brings confirmation: the dishes and ingredients are part Californian and part Asian with a leaning towards Japanese. The eagle eyed may also spot a robata grill in the open kitchen but more of that later.
With his ponytail, beard and pendants, Myers looks both LA surfer (he lives in Los Angeles where he previously ran several renowned restaurants) and Southeast Asian traveller. The prayer bowl is a nod to the fact that he likes to meditate and the menu’s trip around the South Pacific reflects his love of travel – especially to this part of the world.
Sitting in Adrift, in the lobby of Marina Bay Sands hotel, Myers tells me about the new menu: “People ask me, ‘what kind of cuisine is this?!’” While it’s tricky to neatly label his food what he doesn’t call it is fusion, a word he dislikes. “As chefs we take from what we know,” he explains. “Where we’ve worked, where we eat, where we’ve travelled. All that has an influence.”
When Myers ventured to Japan on one of his Asian trips he immediately fell in love with the country and now has a few eateries in Tokyo including a new brasserie. He says his passion for and experience of Japanese ingredients and cooking is impacting on the Adrift menu in Singapore.
“At the beginning we had a Southeast Asian edge, now we’re going more into a Japanese feel,” he says. “We call the cuisine at Adrift ‘California izayaka’ but we mean it in the loose sense of the word. It’s the spirit of izayaka with small, multiple tasting plates, drinking and being with your friends.”
Dishes include a crunchy Wing Beans and Okra salad topped with smoky shaved bonito; Big Eye Tuna marinated in ginger, mirin and sake with a tofu puree; and the prettiest looking Lobster Rolls with shiso flower on a seaweed bun, copious amounts of lobster and a hint of wasabi in the mayo; Another addition is the Warm Duck Salad assembled with mango, mizuna and nam jim.
“I try to make food that is bright and vibrant that makes you feel good the next day,” says Meyers. A lot of the produce at Adrift is from California as well as from Japan, Australia and France. “We are also trying to be as local as possible. And by that I mean a plane ride away – Indonesia and Malaysia. There are some wonderful baby potatoes from Indonesia that we serve with seaweed and parmesan. I’d like to get more from Bali where there are some small farms growing for chefs there.”
The kitchen has a robata grill – based on a centuries old style of Japanese cooking over hot charcoal and often found in isakayas in Japan. Myers says there will be more of this style of cooking to come on the menu. Added to items such as the Wagyu Cheeseburger with ajwain tomato jam and pickled jalapeno. “This is becoming a classic for us,” says Myers. “I was known for burgers at Comme Ca (his second restaurant in LA). I created one based on my mother’s recipe and we jazzed it up. The New York Times called it a perfect burger and people went nuts for it.”
The menu has also been restructured for easier reading with Cold, Hot and Robata sections. All the dishes in Cold and Hot come in two sizes depending on your appetite or how many people are sharing and there’s also an Omasake “as it comes” option where head chef William Gumport will decide upon six courses for the table.
Myers says he “fell into cooking” having always wanted to study international business: “I knew I wanted to travel but I wasn’t sure about the international business side of it,” he laughs. In his first year at college he discovered a passion for cooking. “Instead of studying I was reading cook books and cooking for friends, I was obsessed. A friend told me I’d missed an exam and I said, “yes, but look what I’ve cooked!” For the record it was a jambalaya and Cajun chicken.
He went on to train with the US greats Charlie Trotter and Daniel Boulud. “Daniel taught me how to be a chef and Charlie taught me how to lead and never give up the good fight,” he says. Myers likens the Trotter experience with a boot camp. “It was six months of hell but nothing has ever phased me again,” he says. “You feel you can accomplish anything after that because you’ve been taken to your limits and you didn’t quit.”
Now that Myers has a restaurant in the same location as one of his mentors, Boulud, he says: “I still pinch myself. I never imagined I’d be here next to Daniel and Wolfgang Puck and Tetsuya.”
Though he still lives in LA Myers spends two weeks of every month in Singapore with trips to Tokyo on top. In fact his first trip to Asia was to Singapore some 15 years ago. “On my first morning I had barbeque pork buns and dumplings for breakfast and I remember thinking this is heaven,” he recalls. From Singapore Myers travelled to Cambodia to carry out research for a restaurant he’d been asked to open in LA – one with a French background and Southeast Asian influences. From that venture he was inspired to open Sona, his first restaurant under his own steam, which won a Michelin star. Through Sona and his subsequent openings he won a string of awards including Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef.
Having sold his LA restaurant Myers is currently concentrating on Singapore and Japan. “I never lost the wanderlust and Asia is my favourite place to be. I love the different styles of food and the cultures,” he says. “Adrift is about travel, it’s an ode to wanderlust.”
Another key component is cocktails with the drinks programme overseen by top New York bar consultant Sam Ross. His renowned Penicillin creation – which Time magazine described as the most significant modern cocktail – is on the list. For cocktail purists, all the classics are there (including an extremely good Singapore Sling) plus some east west hybrids. Like the food menu, the cocktail list has a Japan influence with a variety of Japanese whiskeys – as well as the rest of the globe.
A new recipe is the Adrift Rhum Old Fashioned (nicknamed by the bar staff as the Smokey Whisper on account of its smoke maple syrup addition. To accompany them are bar snacks like King Crab Melt made with Alaskan king crab, pimento cheese, jalapenos and butter pickles on house made bread.
“It’s our spin on the crab melt,” says Meyers. “We wanted to create food that’s playful – fun little bits that go with the drinks.” Not only can he describe every dish in passionate detail but also the plates and cutlery; the interior design, the staff uniforms and even the music play list. He seems the opposite of a figurehead chef. “Customers seem surprised when they see me here,” he says.
Just don’t expect to see this nomadic gourmet every time you visit: “I still love to travel,” he says. “I don’t mind getting on a plane for a great travel experience or a great meal. I flew to Tokyo just for a dinner once and flew back to LA the next day.” Catch him if you can.