The art of ‘fusion’ has best been illustrated in the world of cooking. But blending flavour profiles from different cultures is no longer just about food.
June 1st, 2014
In Singapore’s bustling retail precinct, a bright gastronomic oasis awaits. Nouri – one of the city’s most sought-after restaurant destinations – takes up the mantle of contemporary hospitality to deliver a truly international experience. Behind the watershed restaurant, the self-proclaimed ‘crossroads cooking’ master – Ivan Brehm – creates “food that takes influence from around the globe by showcasing the similarities and connections shared across culture.”
And while his creations continue to surprise the tastebuds of cosmopolitan epicures, it comes as little surprise that the interface of cultural conversations has informed more than the menu at Nouri. Beyond the dishes themselves, Nouri offers a distinctly fresh take on the international dining situation. Every day, Nouri’s staff corral hordes of hungry diners, all vying for the best seat in the joint: the chef’s table. Here, in the middle of the restaurant’s warm, light-filled space, a svelte marble table is the final station that many of Nouri’s dishes will visit before being placed in front of diners. As the stage on which Nouri’s brigade of chefs add the final, painstaking touches, the table also acts as the lodestar around which twelve lucky diners can observe (with watering mouths of anticipation!) the meticulous orchestration of Nouri’s food and philosophy. Connecting with diners in very real terms in this manner, according to Brehm this table is the perfect synthesis of the restaurant itself – fostering interpersonal engagement through the shared delight in food. “Our menu, staff decisions and design,” he says, “were all carefully thought out to promote meaningful exchanges between guests and staff.”
It would seem, then, that part of Nouri’s genius lies in its love of ‘fusion’ in all of its forms: the fusion of international flavour profiles in as advanced a degree as the fusion of patrons and practitioners. Everyone is brought into the process of the food’s preparation, establishing connections and celebrating the diversity of experience, personalities, legacies and loves of people from quite literally all walks of life.
We caught up with chef Ivan Brehm recently to find out how his approach to ‘fusion’ is not simply a cookery technique, but the avenue through which he brings often disparate communities together for one common goal: the enjoyment of one another’s company.
Can you tell us briefly about Nouri and its unique philosophy?
Before being the Head Chef of Nouri, in Singapore I formerly ran Bacchanalia – and before that, I was the Development Chef at the Fat Duck in the United Kingdom. I’ve also worked from Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York City, at Mugaritz in the Basque Country, and several traditional osterias in Piedmonte in Italy. So an international perspective has always influenced my work. I wanted to bring my perspective from cooking in all of these corners from around the world to Nouri. It’s a small restaurant in the old part of Singapore, focused on creating dishes that highlight common threads in different cultures and cuisines. We call this style of cooking ‘crossroads cooking’, and with it I explore the touchpoints that unify distinct food cultures around the world.
Does this also affect your life outside of Nouri? When it comes to designing your own personal kitchen, what are the most important elements you simply must have?
For me, a space that makes sense is paramount for a successful kitchen design. Although this might shock many, I believe that too much space is actually detrimental to good cooking and serving. Spaces that feature natural light are obviously paramount in this, as these conditions elevate the dining experience. But beyond that, and looking mainly at the functional requirements of these spaces, intelligent storage solutions and good storage capacities are definitely ‘make or break’ in kitchen spaces – they might even assist you in becoming a better, more confident and more creative chef too! Ultimately having a clear idea of what you want out of your kitchen before you start (a convivial place, a practical work horse, a show kitchen) is the first element to focus on. After that, it’s all personality.
But why are these elements important for you? Or, put better, how do they inform your work?
Well, let’s look at just layout. Frequently, people underestimate the importance of layout. Simple things like types of doors (open or sliding), hinge direction for fridges create the conditions of efficiency in workflow. They contribute to the important understanding that – even though these elements don’t directly impact the taste of food – over time, they make the cookery work easier to perform. Ultimately, they make the whole process more enjoyable. For me – and I believe, for many – this is a prerequisite for wanting to spend time cooking. Well considered storage solutions with easy to access and simplicity of cleaning or management are very important. Cooking is all about connecting skill to intuition and a space that looks great but interferes too much with the actual cooking is a disappointment for a chef.
On that note, skill and intuition is becoming increasingly confluent within the world of cooking. Many have drawn correlations to the influence of cooking television shows, and even the greater importance of nutrition and cookery education in primary through to tertiary education. But how this affects our home kitchens is often overlooked. I’m interested to find out what your thoughts are on this changing role of the kitchen in the home?
I think kitchens and dining rooms are no longer being considered as separate. A convivial space that blurs the lines between kitchen and dining room is a great way to host guests but also incentivise home cooks to want to spend time cooking for their loved ones. In this, there is definitely a performative aspect to modern cooking – where savouring the end result is just as important as savouring the journey along the way.
That, to me, seems like something very much at the heart of one of the appliance brands you continuously work with – Gaggenau. For them, this ‘enjoyment’ aspect to both the consumption of food and its preparation, are at the forefront of their entire design process. So, I’m interested to know what draws you to working with Gaggenau appliances?
Well, for me, in the simplest of terms possible: Gaggenau‘s, seamless, slick and intelligent design performs incredibly well under most conditions and allows for a convivial, space that unifies cooking to serving and eating. It really is that simple! Gaggenau just get the ideal, the dream and the reality of the modern cook – and they work hard to ensure that the idea of ‘slaving away in the kitchen’ is a long-lost memory.
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