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People 5 minutes 17 June 2019

Chef David Myers Of Adrift: Fuelling His Wanderlust

The globetrotting chef finds inspiration for his cuisine and time to meditate even as he travels around the world.

The MICHELIN Guide Insider Series video

Singapore, Dubai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney — American chef David Myers finds himself in a different city around the world every other week. The chef-founder of Adrift, a California-inspired izakaya restaurant in Marina Bay Sands, who also runs eight other restaurants in Japan and Dubai, hops on a plane as frequently as one would take the bus.

The self-professed “gypsy chef” says with a chuckle: “Sometimes, I’d wake up in a daze and lose track of what country or day it is. As a chef, travelling is my biggest inspiration for my cuisine. Having that insatiable curiosity to see what’s out there and get out of the norm keeps me excited and frees me up to try new things.”
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Speaking to the MICHELIN Guide Digital in Tokyo, he adds: “I like the saying ‘those who wander are not lost’. It is through wandering and exploration that exciting memories are created.”

That’s why it comes as a surprise that Myers only took his first flight at the grand old age of 21. Then, the Los Angeles native was relocating to France to work under the tutelage of renowned French chef Gerard Boyer of Les Crayeres, before honing his craft in restaurants such as Restaurant Daniel by Chef Daniel Boulud in New York and running his former flagship restaurant Sona, which received one MICHELIN Star.

He reflects: “As a child, travelling was somewhat of a mystery to me. But once I was in France, I started travelling and exploring around Europe, and that planted a bug in me that never left.”
Adrift's Tokyo outpost carries a Spanish theme, which is inspired by chef David Myers’ trips to the Basque Country and Barcelona. (Photo: Kenneth Goh)
Adrift's Tokyo outpost carries a Spanish theme, which is inspired by chef David Myers’ trips to the Basque Country and Barcelona. (Photo: Kenneth Goh)
Adrift Opens Its Tokyo Outpost  

Travel fuels much of Myers’ inspiration and creativity, as he proudly proclaims that the concept of every single restaurant that he has opened is created from his travels.

One of them is Adrift, which he says is the closest to his heart out of the seven restaurant brands that he runs. The restaurant first opened in Marina Bay Sands in 2015. Pointing out the “d” in the restaurant’s design of Adrift is purposely designed backwards, which evokes a sense of playfulness and exploration, be it through meeting new people, learning about new cultures or exposing himself to new experiences, that he translates and brings to the plate.

He shares: “Some of the best experiences of my travels are getting to know people better through food. I take these flavours and memories that move and strike me and find ways to incorporate them into dishes.”

Over the past four years, Adrift has been known for its inventive Japanese dishes with a Californian touch. Myers has taken his love for Japanese culture to the next level by opening Adrift’s first overseas outlet in Tokyo’s Marunouchi business district last November.
One of the signature dishes on Tokyo’s Adrift menu is the grilled octopus, which is sous vide with wine and herbs for eight hours, grilled and finished with olive oil, crushed garlic and thyme on a pan.
One of the signature dishes on Tokyo’s Adrift menu is the grilled octopus, which is sous vide with wine and herbs for eight hours, grilled and finished with olive oil, crushed garlic and thyme on a pan.

While Adrift in Singapore serves Japanese with a Californian edge, its Tokyo outpost carries a Spanish theme, which is inspired by Myers’ trips to the Basque Country and Barcelona. Influences include the liberal use of olive oil, sherry, saffron and paprika, and the art of cooking over an open fire. Dishes include Peri Peri Chicken, patatas bravas, shrimp ajillo and pintxos (small snacks) like pan con tomate and yuzu ikura toast.

He shares: “I wanted to bring about something that I thought would fit in very well in Japan, which is more of a Spanish influence. Tapas, izakaya, small plates and sharing go hand in hand.” 

One of the signature dishes on Tokyo’s Adrift menu is the grilled octopus, which is sourced from Tsukiji. It is sous vide with wine and herbs for eight hours, grilled and finished with olive oil, crushed garlic and thyme on a pan.

Some popular dishes from Adrift in Singapore also make an appearance at its Tokyo outpost. They include the New England Lobster Roll and Tomato Salad.
Some popular dishes from Adrift in Singapore also make an appearance at its Tokyo outpost. They include the New England Lobster Roll and Tomato Salad.
Some popular dishes from Adrift in Singapore also make an appearance its Tokyo outpost. They include the New England lobster roll, which has the crustacean sandwiched in sumi charcoal bun and topped with harissa, wasabi and shiso flower, and the tomato salad, which has momotaro tomatoes tossed with myoga (Japanese ginger), olive oil, fresh burrata and crispy quinoa.

Certain elements of the restaurant’s worldly interiors, such as the mismatched chairs and tables, antique adornments, chic lighting features, open kitchen and bar programme, are also brought over from the Singapore restaurant.
The worldly decor of Adrift in Marina Bay Sands is inspired by Myers' travels around the world. (Photo: Marina Bay Sands)
The worldly decor of Adrift in Marina Bay Sands is inspired by Myers' travels around the world. (Photo: Marina Bay Sands)
Finding Calm In The Storm  

Over the past 14 years, Myers has been a regular in Tokyo. He loves immersing himself in the city’s dynamic culture, from whetting his appetite in hole-in-the-wall eateries and bars to exploring craft shops.

One of his favourite neighbourhoods is Shibuya, a popular shopping and entertainment enclave that is famed for its bustling pedestrian scramble crossing and labyrinth of izakaya eateries and bars. He says: “Coming to Shibuya is like taking an elixir of youth as it has such an intense buzz with the shops and music.”

Amidst the frenzy, Myers also relishes the juxtaposition of pockets of serenity in shrines and parks that are nestled among the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. He says: “I always love to go out running to find these tranquil spots. It is like finding calm in the storm. You hear the rustling of the leaves and take in the moment to breathe.” Outside Tokyo, he counts the bamboo forest in Kamakura as one of his favourite nature spots.
Myers enjoys finding tranquil spots to meditate in Tokyo, which helps him find calmness and clarity.
Myers enjoys finding tranquil spots to meditate in Tokyo, which helps him find calmness and clarity.
Running a global empire of restaurants can be stressful and strenuous. Besides directing operations, Myers is constantly on the look-out for new food approaches and business opportunities, and anticipating what lies ahead. He says that reflecting during contemplative moments has been “absolutely critical to my success and creativity”. One way that he does it is through meditation — sitting very still and calmly anywhere, be it on a stone bench or in a shrine.

He shares: “Meditation has helped me to become more resilient and focused by taking the noise away. The best thing in life is once that you have found that moment of clarity, you are unstoppable and inspired. That’s when the magic begins.”
Myers looks at the arrival of spring time, which is marked by the blooming of sakura flowers, as a whole new clean slate to begin creating dishes again.
Myers looks at the arrival of spring time, which is marked by the blooming of sakura flowers, as a whole new clean slate to begin creating dishes again.
Inspired By Seasonal Flavours

Our trip with Myers to Tokyo coincides with the start of the blooming season of the sakura trees across Tokyo. Admiring the sea of pink flowers along the banks of the Meguro River, he waxes lyrical over how watching sakura flowers bloom is representative of life.

He says: “I love the fact that the sakura season clearly signifies spring time in Japan. It is exciting. As chefs, we know that so many products are coming to life, from asparagus to sweet peas, and I look at the shift in seasons as a whole new clean slate to begin creating again.”

Besides seasonal produce, Myers also finds inspiration from wagashi served in traditional Japanese sweets shop. One of his favourite haunts is Higashiya in Ginza, where he enjoys how traditional sweets flavours have been modernised and paired with sake and tea. Newfangled wagashi include Natsume Butter (dried dates, fermented butter and roasted walnut) paired with roasted green tea, and Koimurasaki (purple sweet potato and cashews) paired with a butterbur sprout drink.

“The flavour combinations in these wagashi are very chef-like, which pushes the boundaries, and are precise with delicate flavours,” he says. “I came up with five ideas for dishes while savouring the wagashi.”
Myers travels to the bamboo forest in Kamakura, which is south of Tokyo, to unwind and connect with nature.
Myers travels to the bamboo forest in Kamakura, which is south of Tokyo, to unwind and connect with nature.

Paring Down To The Essentials

While Myers is heavy on taking in inspiration during his travels, he travels light — only with a carry-on bag. He says: “Travel has forced me to pare down, simplify and be focused. When you are constantly on the road, you have to pare down to the essentials.”

This approach is similar to cooking too. He explains: “If we find that something is not needed in a dish, we have to remove it. The moment you remove everything, you get to the point where you cannot take away a single item or else the dish will no longer be a dish, it is where you’ve reached the perfect place.”

Moving forward, Myers is looking at launching Adrift in “fun and exciting countries that are off the beaten path” such as Vietnam, India and Morocco in the near future.

He says: “The beauty of Adrift is that it can go anywhere in the world. Regardless of the restaurant’s location, the food will always have a core Californian component that focuses on great ingredients. At the end of the day, it is about what moves and inspires us, and that is when the next trip comes in.”

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