Mimi Wu sits down with Chef Davy Eek to talk about his culinary journey, from the Philippines and Holland, all the way to the kitchens of Myanmar.

I have had the privilege of tasting Chef Davy Eek’s food at both Le Planteur and Shwe Sa Bwe and have always been delighted. Despite having dined at one of Asia’s top 25 restaurants in early March, it is Chef Davy’s Valentine’s Day chocolate cigar, filled with mint cream alongside mint chocolate chip ice cream, which still lingers in my mind. When I applauded his skill, he quickly corrected me, “It isn’t just me, it is a team. It’s always about who you work with. If you have great people to work with, you come up with great results.”

That’s how Chef Davy is, extremely humble, and uncomfortable being in the spotlight.  It was quite difficult to get Chef Davy to open up about himself; he prefers talking about his colleagues and mentors. He grew up in Holland and the Philippines with origins from both countries. Food was always in the picture. “My mom was a cook in the Philippines.

She owned a canteen-type place with local food. I’ve always liked cooking; it was a hobby of mine.”Chef Davy didn’t take his interest further than his own kitchen, choosing instead to teach English in Taiwan. It was not until a serious accident that left him hospitalised for three months that he put his life into focus. He returned to the Philippines to become a chef.

While studying at culinary school, he met Mr. Edward Hoogewegen, who would become an important mentor and Chef Davy’s ticket to Myanmar. “Mr. Hoogewegen came up to me, and said ‘Do you want to work in Myanmar?’ I replied,

‘OK.’  I didn’t hear from the guy for six months. I graduated from school and thought, what am I going to do? I was thinking that I’d just go back to Holland and find a job in a kitchen there. I was already in Holland, and then I went to the Philippines again, and then I get a phone call, ‘Hey, I have your contract ready.’ I was signing up to be Chef de Partie (third chef in the kitchen), but he said, ‘You’re a sous chef unfortunately (second chef in the kitchen).’ I said, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready for that. I don’t know if I’m responsible enough.’ He’s like, ‘Well, do you want the job or not?’”

“Everything changed when I came to Myanmar. Before being here, I had no direction; I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I was really lucky to meet Mr. Hoogewegen because this guy taught me about hospitality. He was a big part of what I needed to learn to be part of this industry.”

Mr. Hoogewegen settled Chef Davy down at the Pristine Lotus Spa Resort in Inle Lake, a prime location to learn the trade. Of course, it didn’t come without stress, “When I first came to Myanmar, I couldn’t speak the language. It was really difficult for me to communicate with the people. But at the same time, it was a fun challenge and really great experience, and I learned a lot.”

After two years at the resort, Chef Davy was offered a position with Chef Felix Eppisser and his wife Lucia at Le Planteur. This is where he learned about fine dining. He has now taken those skills to Shwe Sa Bwe, whose kitchen he has made home for the last eight months.

“I thought it was time for a change. What really attracted me was the concept of helping unprivileged young people in Myanmar to give them a future. I’m proud to be a part of Shwe Sa Bwe. It’s a very special atmosphere.”

As head chef, Chef Davy ensures that the kitchen is running properly, with correct stock and good financial accounting.

In addition, Shwe Sa Bwe boasts an 11-month training program that he oversees, “which is the fun part because it’s great to work with students that are motivated to learn. Every two weeks we change the dinner menu, and the students learn those menus. Then, every Sunday we have a class where we talk about the menu, how to prepare it. It’s not a one-man effort, it’s really a team effort. Everyone has a different taste; finding the combination is the challenge.”

As the French restaurant’s lunch and dinner menus change frequently, his kitchen’s creativity has soared. “I’ve been privileged by my boss, Francois Stoupan. He’s given me freedom of the kitchen to try whatever I want, to do whatever I want. As long as it tastes good, he’s happy. We just did an anchovy ice cream for a deconstructed Niçoise salad. Anchovies we turned into ice cream, the French beans we turned into a tartare, and black olives we made as a mousse.”

Chef Davy is also taking an interest in molecular gastronomy. “I just ordered my tools, like the spherification equipment,” he said quite giddily. “I’ve always read about it but never tried it.”

Inspired by great culinary artists like the Roca brothers, David Chang, and René Redzepi, Chef Davy is constantly expanding his own skills and studying what separates certain chefs from the rest. One obvious trait I noticed is his lack of ego. “It’s more about who you work with, not who you are. A lot of people get this conception that a 3-star chef in Myanmar will make the best restaurant. How you adjust yourself to the people and give respect to your staff, that’s what makes a successful restaurant.”

Chef Davy has a long future ahead of him, and there is still much he wants to achieve. “I don’t have my own restaurant yet. But honestly, I don’t know if I want to do that. I see the stress and pressure; I can only imagine what it’d be like to be a restaurant manager. What I really want to do is have the street food in whatever country I’m in and serve it in a fine dining restaurant. That would be really special.”

He seems to want to leave his future to where the wind takes him, but I hope the winds won’t stir for some time. Luckily for Yangon diners he is content for the moment to stay in Myanmar, “I’m very happy where I am right now, and I go wherever I am happy. Shwe Sa Bwe has a very special atmosphere. We work here more with our hearts rather than our minds.”

In a parting humble gesture, Chef Davy honored me with an invitation to teach his students a dish or two. I know he was merely being polite, but how could I possibly resist the opportunity to work in his kitchen and discover the secrets to being such a fine chef.

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Mimi Wu
Mimi originally hails from the Washington, DC area. Having lived on four continents, she recently moved from Uganda to Myanmar to work as an entrepreneur, consultant, zumba instructor, education trainer, and editor. A dangerously excitable foodie, Mimi also loves dancing and has a debilitating weakness for (black) cats.

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