Just a few months after clinching a Michelin star for The Kitchen at Bacchanalia last year, Ivan Brehm shocked the local dining scene when he announced that he was leaving the restaurant. With no finite plans straight after, he took the time to travel, to go back to his home country of Brazil; a welcomed break for the dedicated chef.
While he shares that there were different career possibilities he was considering (“something in Tokyo, something in Brazil, and even something really sweet in the Carribeans”), he always knew he was coming back to Singapore. “Yea, because I have two cats here,” he says only half-jokingly. What it took was a phone call earlier this year in January from Loh Lik Peng, the restauranteur behind Unlisted Collection, and Brehm grabbed the opportunity to open his own restaurant under the group―Nouri, which means ‘nourishment’ in Latin.
1 BRAZILIAN BARBEQUE
By March, Brehm was already putting the restaurant at Amoy Street into shape. “I’ve been carrying it (the idea for Nouri) for forever,” he notes, “It’s not really a new concept that I came up with in a few months. At Nouri, we present a cuisine that crosses cultural boundaries; creating a dining experience that allows for the discovery of new tastes and experiences while evoking a deep sense of familiarity, shared ancestry and appreciation.” Brehm comes from a multicultural family in Brazil―he boasts Russian, Syrian, Lebanese, German, Italian and Spanish blood, and his first food memories are inextricably tied to family. They’ve exposed him to many different cultural influences and ingredients. He notes: “Churrascos (grilled meats) were where I first saw my father cook and care for what he prepared”.
Brehm’s early exposure to kitchen work came in the form of assisting his grandmothers. One of his favourite snacks is quindim (a traditional Portuguese egg yolk custard tart) made by his grandmother, whom he describes as an exceptional pastry chef. He recounts how it would take her hours to make this laborious dessert: “She would crack a bunch of egg yolks and peel the protective layer that keeps it spherical, off every single egg yolk. Then she’d use an almost equal amount of sugar, beat them together to get a thick sauce, fold in some coconut slithers and steam or bake it. She’d end up with a custard that is super shiny, deep yellow in colour, and amazingly tasty. I grew up eating this stuff, though my grandmother didn’t make it all the time because it is proper difficult.” Watching his grandmother slave over the quindim inculcated in Brehm the importance of putting care and heart into food preparation.
3 FOIE GRAS SATAY
Brehm landed in Singapore in 2013 to head restaurant Bacchanalia and promptly caught local diners’ attention with his innovative and, at times, provocative dishes. His Foie Gras Satay melds together a premium Western ingredient and an everyday Southeast Asian street food; two seemingly disparate entities that work beautifully together because Brehm saw their shared sensibilities. According to him, the dish “marks the first time I saw the connections between my background and the new universe I came to know here in Singapore”. This was his first “crossroads” dish that helped paved the evolution to his current culinary direction.
4 BLACK PEPPER FISH
The inquisitive chef has always taken a liking to the anthropological stories behind food and produce. While still at Bacchanalia, he was intrigued by the usage of black pepper in the culinary world. “Even though the spice comes from this side of the planet, it was generally employed as a medicine and not food. The West used black pepper as food much earlier than the East, though our usage of it was limited to a flavouring,” he enthusiastically explains. Brehm’s Black Pepper Fish started as an interpretation of the local black pepper crab. Inspired by the Basque pil pil sauce, Brehm slow poaches a hybrid variety of grouper from a local fish farmer in an emulsion made from the fish’s bones. Accompanying it is a black pepper sauce that incorporates Tahitian vanilla. The result is an entirely original dish that harks back to various cuisine influences. And it’s this convergence of culinary techniques and food impressions across cultures that exemplifies Brehm’s “crossroad cooking” ethos at Nouri.
5 CEVICHE KINILAW
Take for example the ceviche and the kinilaw. While researching on ceviches, Brehm uncovered the notion that ceviche came about through the people from the Pacific, who migrated over to the Southern American continent. “The kinilaw (a raw seafood dish native to the Philippines) and ceviche are pretty much the same, except a ceviche these days uses citrus to cure their seafood while the kinilaw uses vinegar,” Brehm posits. “The history of both is murky but so much binds this corner of the globe to the Americas that I thought it was fitting to demonstrate it. Our kinilaw is cooked in fennel flower vinegar and finished with coconut oil, torch ginger, fried pork lard and vanilla-cultured Kampot green peppercorns.”
6 DANDELION CHICKEN
Bitterness is very much an acquired taste but across cultures, people have figured out how bitterness can work when connected with sweetness. Brehm cites the examples of bak kut teh and other Chinese dishes that are rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophies, “It is something herbal or tonic; when we eat it, we have a very invigorating, kind of empowering, healthy reaction to it. The food makes you feel good.” This Dandelion Chicken explores that role of bitterness. There was a period of time , during Nouri’s soft launch where Brehm was contemplating not putting it on the final menu. Because diners were not responding to it and didn’t seem to understand the first few renditions of the dish. It took a while for Brehm and his team to explain its story and gather feedback from diners to tweak and perfect the dish.
7 BREAD, BROTH, AND SILKEN CHEESE
At the beginning of every tasting menu at Nouri, diners are served the Bread, Broth, and Silken Cheese, encouraging them to break bread together. Made inhouse, the naturally leavened rye sourdough is served alongside a shot of vegetable broth. Featuring seven different kinds of vegetables―celery, onion, iceberg lettuce, celeraic, leek, fennel, and shiitake mushrooms (mainly sourced from an organic farm in the Cameron Highlands with the exception of the mushrooms), the broth is derived through steam extraction to obtain intense pure flavours and essence of the vegetables. The Silken Cheese is inspired by the shared appreciation across cultures of texture, technique and flavours. Made using milk flavoured with nutmeg and pepper, steamed and then garnished with pickled nutmeg, grated nutmeg, olive oil and 25-year-old balsamic vinegar, the cheese reminds one of Asian silken tofu and Italian panna cotta all at once.
Brehm elaborates on his idea of a globalised cuisine, “Your world is as finite or expansive as you allow it to be, so not saying no to things has help me a lot cooking wise. I feel to deem a cuisine as authentically French, Italian, Spanish etc., is an over simplification that excludes the fact that no cuisine, or culture for that matter, exists in isolation. It is also a dangerous simplification as it polarises people and prevents evolution. To identify with one style of cuisine more than others is to neglect the very path that cuisines had to travel to get to their current state.”
72 Amoy Street, Singapore 069891
Tel: +65 6221 4148
This story was first published in the Aug/Sep 2017 issue of our print magazine, the digital version of which can be downloaded here.