Motel Mexicola, in hip Seminyak, will always be a place for a fiesta, but with the changing menu it is now becoming a place to dine on mouth-watering Mexican food. Here we chat to the chef behind the revamped menu.
Born and bred in the UK, Steven Skelly started his career in his home town before making the move overseas to Sydney where he worked in a number of high profile restaurants like Hugo’s and Bilson’s. Island life soon came a-calling though, and soon enough Steve was living in the surfer ‘hood of Canggu and had opened seafood restaurant Urchin, in trendy Seminyak. After two and a half years of success at Urchin, Steven got poached by the iconic brand Motel Mexicola and came on board as Executive Chef to revamp their menu. We caught up with him to find out more about the new dishes putting Motel Mexicola on the map as one of the best places in Bali to get Mexican food, his exciting new culinary project in the pipeline, and his food allergies [yes, we were shocked too!].
Hi Steven. So, where did your passion for cooking start?
Well, it didn’t start from home! Mum wasn’t a fabulous cook; we still joke about the fact that no matter what it was she was cooking it would always take about 4 hours. Food wasn’t a big thing in our house, so there was nothing romantic about how I got started into cooking I’m afraid. I was trying to find ways to not go to school and to earn some money, so I started washing dishes at my mate’s dad’s restaurant at 15. I really enjoyed it and so I applied for a chef’s position at a restaurant in my home town of Guildford, in England. I remember being sat in the car with my mum before the interview looking through the menu and being confused by all the fancy words like ‘scallop’ and I nearly didn’t go in, but I did and got the job! The hours were incredibly long, but I stuck at it, and then something just clicked. I loved it.
After 6 months, the chef told me it was time to get serious, so he started spending time teaching me and giving me a huge insight into cooking. I spent 4 years in this old school kitchen, where everything was made in-house, and so I learnt a lot. Then I got my Australia visa granted, and moved to Sydney.
You have worked in kitchens in both the UK and Australia, so how does Bali’s culinary scene compare?
For me, Bali is a little behind on the cutting-edge foods – you can’t really expect avant-garde restaurants to be busy. But the general level of food is good, and definitely improving. It is good value, well executed, and consistent.
What is the atmosphere like in your kitchen?
Very calm! Bali has had a huge influence in the way my kitchen works actually. The Indonesian employers don’t take well to conflict, and they all stick together, so you have to maintain a calm environment. So I have learnt a lot from them, and they have learnt about different cuisines and cooking techniques from me.
You are now Executive Chef of Motel Mexicola, how did this come about?
Well I had never been to Motel Mexicola, let alone Mexico, but the enthusiasm from the Mexicola team was too hard to say no to. They took me on a trip to Mexico to help me understand the food more, and after that I was sold. The two-week trip was all about the food [and the tequila!], and I learnt about flavours and cooking techniques, which I have now been using to improve the Mexicola menu.
What do you hope to achieve with the revamped menu at Motel Mexicola?
I really want people to understand the journey that I have been on with Mexican food. The food in Mexico is amazing, and I want to bring those flavours and authenticity here. We started tweaking the menu about 3 months ago, and introducing much more traditional dishes. Like for instance, the pork ribs dish was risky to change, as it was the most popular choice on the menu, but we revamped it to the pork belly, and I’m happy to say it’s gone down very well [and us Honeycombers can vouch for that, it is truly delicious!].
We have seen the design of new restaurant, Da Maria – it’s very eye-catching and different! Tell us about the cuisine.
Da Maria will be serving Italian food, and will hopefully be pizza and porchetta led. We have a wood fire brick oven and two Pizzaiola’s from Italy whose passion is pizza, so we’re confident the pizzas will be popular! We will also be roasting a whole pig every day too.
Who is the team behind this new Italian restaurant, De Maria?
I became incredibly close with the crew that I started Urchin with – we spent 6 days working together in this small kitchen, so it’s no wonder really. And when I left Urchin, the team came with me to Motel Mexicola. So now with the opening of Da Maria we are splitting the team up, and I feel confident in knowing I can trust my staff to run any kitchen.
We heard you used to work for world famous chef Marco Pierre White, how was that?
Intense! Not many people know this, but I actually have a raw carrot allergy [we can’t help but laugh…]. Yeh, I get the same reaction to cats as I do with carrots. Anyway, I was shaving carrots as part of the job – and we are talking a huge bag of carrots – so I’m in the kitchen with this world-renowned chef, with a rash all over my hand. I swiftly got moved departments…
Which chefs inspire you?
I’ve got a lot of mates on the island who are doing a similar thing to me – coming to Bali and reinventing themselves as a chef, and they definitely inspire me. There are also chefs worldwide that I follow, such as Enrique Olvera – a Mexican chef, and Ben Shewry – a Melbourne chef. These guys are really inspirational, and good people too.
And finally, if you could cook a meal for one person in the world, who would it be?
Well I spent a lot of time in the kitchen and working on all these projects, so it’s got to be the family. It would be nice to cook for my wife and kiddies more!
Da Maria will be opening in November, so watch this space and keep an eye out for more details coming soon! In the meantime, we strongly suggest getting yourselves down to Motel Mexicola to sample the food – tantalise those taste buds with the fresh ceviche mixto, crab tostada and the sublime pork belly [with crispy crackling!]. And if you have a sweet tooth do not leave the building without trying the pinguino chocolate mousse!
For more information, contact Motel Mexicola, Jalan Kayu Jati No. 9X, Seminyak, p.+62 (0) 361 736 688.