For Chef Steven Skelly, his love affair with food and kitchen life begins after the time he helped out as a dishwasher in his friend’s dad’s restaurant in the UK. However, his chef career really took off when he worked at the iconic Bondi restaurant Hugo’s in Sydney for three years before he came over to Bali and opened the popular Urchin restaurant that serves Australian-style seafood fare.
In 2016, Chef Steven was invited to walk through the kitchen at Motel Mexicola and quickly snatched the opportunity to become Executive Chef of the popular Mexican eatery. Not stopping there, Chef Steven also helmed the newly-opened Da Maria, which that serves authentic Italian dishes.
With many things on his many plates, Chef Steven Skelly took time out to talk with Indonesia Tatler about his culinary journey, the experience in handling two successful eateries in Bali and shared two quick Italian and Mexican recipes. Trust us: you don’t want to miss this one.
Has your culinary style changed throughout the years?
Yes, immensely. My training was in classical French fine dining, in which seafood played a very small part. Later, I learned about the discipline of handling seafood dishes from two of the best seafood cooks in Australia.
What is your fondest memory from the kitchen?
Probably the time when I cooked an entire meal for my family using all the new tricks that I had learned. I was 17 years old and thought I was brilliant. [Laughs]
What made you decide to helm Motel Mexicola and Da Maria?
Frankly, I like to think that the role found me; you couldn’t dream up my current role. The responsibilities are huge, but I have so much freedom, which makes it all worthwhile.
How do you strategise in terms of menus and food preparations for both Motel Mexicola and Da Maria?
I am so lucky to have the support that I do. I nurtured a small group of talented chefs from Urchin and added them to an amazing crew at Mexicola. I have to plan my day meticulously as I have a sourdough bakery to run, too. I always leave a few hours free each day in case something goes awry. If nothing does, then that becomes my own time.
How do you stay true to the authentic tastes at both establishments?
I conducted a lot of research and development as well as dining at both venues. Elsewhere, I study more menus and read cookery books.
What are the challenges you face in handling two restaurants at Da Maria and Motel Mexicola, and how do you cope up with them?
The challenges are enormous at Mexicola. For example, supply is always an issue, particularly if you’re cooking cuisine with specific ingredients that you just cannot swap out easily. And to overcome that we have had to make our own Recado Rojo (Mexican Achiote paste) and tajín as well as to smoke and dry our own chilies at the restaurant. I think the challenge is smaller with Da Maria: Italian food is much easier!
What’s your take on the dining scene in Bali?
I feel like the level is getting higher every year. There are some great chefs on the island creating delicious things.
What are the food trends for 2017?
I think the raw and healthy movement will continue to grow bigger.
What’s your all-time favourite dish and why?
Chargrilled octopus in Greece, or a steak pie at a football match. However, I think that much of it depends on where you are, and who you are eating with.
Last but not least, can you share with our readers two quick Mexican and Italian recipes that they can make at home?
Italian Recipe: Cacio Pepe
6 oz. pasta (such as egg tagliolini, bucatini, or spaghetti)
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed, divided
1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
3/4 cup finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino
Bring 3 quarts of water to the boil in a 5qt pot. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stir occasionally, until about 2 minutes before it is tender. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup of pasta-cooking water. Meanwhile, melt 2 tbsp. butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and cook, swirling pan, until toasted, for about 1 minute.
Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water to the skillet and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and remaining butter. Reduce the heat to low, and add Grana Padano—stir and toss with tongs until it’s melted. Remove pan from heat; add Pecorino, stir and toss until the cheese melts, sauce coats the pasta, and pasta is al dente (add more pasta water if the sauce seems dry). Transfer the pasta to warm bowls and serve.
Mexican recipe: Pollo en Barbacoa Comiteca
6 chicken breasts
2 ancho chilies, grilled until fragrant, soaked in hot water, and squeezed of excess
180g tomatoes, chopped roughly
250g chopped white onions
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
4 black peppercorns, toasted, crushed
2 whole cloves, toasted, crushed
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf, crushed
1 tsp. dried oregano
125g roughly chopped parsley
65g slivered almonds
12 green olives, halved
Banana leaf for baking
Puree the tomatoes well in a jug blender; add the chilies, onion, garlic and spices, and some salt and pepper. Pour over the chicken and leave for at least four hours. Turn the chicken over in the dressing, and scatter over the raisins and almonds. Wrap individually in a banana leaf and bake for 35 minutes. Serve immediately with rice, tortilla and salsas.