Interview with David Vella on his Food Journey across Southeast Asia, Chef
Less than a year ago, Chef David Vella took the bold decision to leave his culinary profession and embark on a one way ticket journey across Southeast Asia. His decision raised many eyebrows and concerns among his family and friends. Yet, this was a journey he mulled over many months before and was determined to experience it alone. Over the past months David walked through the busy streets and remote areas of amazing countries including Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand; breathing in the warm, sticky air tinted with the scent of food spices, car exhaust, and opportunities that each corner of the region offers. VIDA caught up with David in Australia where he has settled down for the time being, to discuss with him his experience with so many cultures, religions, food and above all, the essence of what makes Southeast Asia a must-try destination.
How did it all start?
It all started when I was young and got a summer job as a waiter to make some pocket money. One day I had the chance to work a shift in the kitchen because we were short of staff. This experience triggered my passion for food and my hunger to learn.
How would you define your approach in the kitchen?
I like to say it’s somehow very Mediterranean influenced but with a French approach since a lot of my training was in classic French cuisine. I say this because even though I’m trained in French cuisine, I prefer to keep my dishes light and fresh. Last year you decided to book a one way ticket to Asia.
What encouraged you to take such a bold decision?
Various reasons to be honest. The main reason is I believe that you have to stop and take a break once in a while, to try new things, to learn as much as possible about anything in life and find new inspirations from other cultures and ways of thinking.
How has such a journey enriched you from a gastronomic point of view?
Asia is somehow special in its gastronomy, even though fine dining isn’t common everywhere. The ingredients they have available are amazing due to their exotic climates with warm weather and wet seasons. Their fruits and vegetables, although sometimes strange, are very flavourful. The spice combinations they use and the fact they use every
little thing from any plant or animal, is something that is sometimes forgotten in the western world. For anyone who loves food, Asia is the perfect destination. It’s cheap,
cheerful and flavourful.
Do you find any similarities between Western cuisine and Asian cuisine?
It’s hard to say at this stage, as Asia is becoming increasingly influenced by the western world. You see a lot of western businesses that manage to merge both cuisines and create a good product. But in a nutshell, I’d say that Asian cuisine as it was before, would have
been very different from our western cuisine. However, I believe that back in the old days, where Europeans still dried fish and vegetables in the sun and cooked more on open fires, there might have been similarities in the methods used for cooking and preserving food.
What was the strangest food experience you came across?
Some of the strange food I experienced myself were bugs, like crickets and lake water bugs, tarantulas and silk worms; which, to my surprise, the silk worms and crickets make for a very nice snack. Crocodile eggs are something else I tried and chicken feet are commonly used for stews there. Furthermore, they also have a few kinds of jellyfish that are edible.
You have now settled in Australia. How come?
Australia provides good opportunities for chefs, even though people here don’t have an old and well established food culture. It is something that’s still evolving. People afford to go out on a regular basis for lunch or dinner so new places are always opening, opportunities throughout the country are endless and it’s easy to communicate because it’s an English speaking country. The produce is amazing, especially when it comes to fish. Fish grows differently here. They are much more meaty and robust as they’re always swimming in
open oceans with a lot of currents, and they are always on the run from predators. Furthermore, wild ingredients are infinite with such a vast land.
Would you recommend such an experience to others?
I think in a world like gastronomy, where everything is evolving all time, if one has good knowledge and training in classical cooking, the next step should be to travel and work in as many different cultures as possible. The more new things you know, taste and come across with, the more you can express yourself in your cooking. So yes, I would suggest that everyone should leave his comfort zone and go out to explore other cultures.
To what extent is an open mind necessary for such an adventure?
Well, an open mind is necessary to do something like this. The cultures one comes across are completely different than what we are used to. One has to keep in mind that you are in
a completely different mindset than that at home. Religion is different, beliefs are different and one must always respect that and the land one’s in. You are there to visit, see, teach and learn, not to change what they know or do.
What are your plans for the future?
What’s next is not clear at this time. I have some commitments here in Australia since I’m a head chef in a restaurant just outside of Sydney which I cannot leave just yet. But, I am certain that my travelling and will to discover new cultures and taste new, unknown flavours from different countries, will continue.
© 2019 – VIDA Magazine