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Chef-owner Ivan Brehm on what to expect from “crossroads cuisine” at the new Nouri

Ivan Brehm, chef-owner of the new Nouri restaurant talks about his original concept, menu and inspirations.

It took Ivan Brehm, formerly of Bacchanalia, two months to set up the highly anticipated Nouri. In this light-filled shophouse along Amoy Street, a long communal table takes centre stage. This is where all the action happens. Here, the chefs plate and serve a procession of dishes as well as mingle with guests.

Nouri’s cuisine is described as “crossroads cooking” or “food that takes influence from around the globe by showcasing the similarities and connections shared across cultures”. What does that mean exactly? According to Brehm, the epitome of a ‘crossroads’ dish is the Acarajé and Vatapá. A golden brown Afro-Brazilian fritter made with white pinto beans, served atop a South-east Asian inspired turmeric and coconut curry sauce, and creamy Brazilian salted prawn vatapá (a blend of bread and dried shrimps and oil).  Along with the well thought-out flavours and textures, the combination of elements offers a sense of familiarity.

Many of the dishes are woven with a range of Asian ingredients. For instance, buah keluak is used to jazz up the “A1” steak sauce that’s served with the juicy grilled wagyu rump cap. Koo chye (Chinese chives) is blended into an emulsion and married with poached king crab, grilled kai lan stem, lardo and fresh soy milk. Nouri also gets its supply of vegetables and herbs from an organic farm in Cameron Highlands. For the ‘tomato and oat’ dish, a melange of fresh or fermented tomatillos, cape gooseberries and cherry tomatoes shares plate space with creamy burrata from Puglia and a mellow oat broth.

To find out more about Brehm’s concept and philosophy behind Nouri, we caught up with the innovative chef just after he launched the restaurant:

What can first-timers at Nouri expect when they dine at the restaurant? And what should they be expecting in the upcoming months?
From food to design, Nouri’s aim is to establish connection and celebrate people. The food here is what we call for lack of a better term “Crossroads cooking”; food which varies in cultural influence but which highlights the similarities and universal touchpoints we all share, regardless of our background. Food is a means to explore our shared traditions and history. First timers will be introduced to an original style of cuisine that is still rooted in familiar flavours. So, if you find yourself eating something that appears to be different yet strangely familiar at the same time, that is the magic of Nouri. We wanted to create a space where chefs and diners were active participants in this experience and a place where chefs could interact and connect with guests and where guests could similarly connect with each other. I think we have managed to create that with a Chef’s table that sits at the heart of the restaurant and which serves as the stage for where interaction, elaboration, plating and consumption can take place. In the coming months, guests can expect the space to develop visually with a showcase of artwork that puts the spotlight on talented local artists and a menu that is ever evolving with new dishes to come.

How does Nouri set itself apart from other restaurants in Singapore?
All I can say is that we are committed to a core set of beliefs, that they guide everything we do and that we hope people to find value in this. The restaurant was made out of the deep-rooted belief that we are all united somehow, and that food is a great way of showcasing these touch points. If that sets us apart as a concept it is only because we are today associated too much with form, categories, styles or trends. Somewhere down the line we started confusing the difference between experiencing and having an experience.

Could you share some of the unique ingredients or any new techniques that you are using?
Outside of the age old tradition of fermentation (suddenly so popular these days) we are trying to explore how different flavours can be created as a byproduct of ferments using combined ingredients… for example celeriac and fennel when fermented together create something similar to geraniol and nerol (both rose scented molecules). Local and endemic products, foraged fruits and herbs, wild Chinese mushrooms… these all make an appearance, but ultimately we are focusing on making food that tastes ”beautiful” to the palate. The idea here is to focus most of the R+D and creative process in extracting out of a dish, things that could bridge the gap between people from all walks of life and backgrounds.

How have your recent travels inspired you so far in your latest menu ?
It has certainly made me increasingly aware of the similarities we share, across cultures, as people. Food from the North-Eastern part of Brazil is so similar in taste to the Thai food I experienced from my travels, with common cooking techniques, shared ingredients and very connected history. Also, traveling made me realise that to deem a cuisine as authentically French, Italian, Spanish etc., is really to simplify it and to strip it of its capacity to evolve and continue to develop. Somewhere down the line we forgot that food is made by humans. Culture plays a part in as much as it offers a specific set of constraints that help direct the creative process, but they were themselves a byproduct of other interactions and exchanges. To subscribe to a “style”, 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.

How has your cuisine/repertoire evolved over the last few years?
I like to think that my cuisine is constantly evolving and is really a product of almost 20 years of learning and observation. I went from cooking the food of my mentors (i.e. that of Heston Blumenthal, Andoni Luis Aduriz’s, Claude Bosi) to exploring a voice of my own.  Singapore has certainly taught me a lot and I continue to be inspired by the people I meet and the produce I work with, but it helps that we are looking, interacting with the environment and allowing it to change us as we attempt to interpret it.