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Chef To Watch: Bacchanalia’s Ivan Brehm Is A Star in His Own Right

He might be commonly remembered as ‘that chef who worked at Fat Duck’, but the Brazilian-born chef shines on his own.

There is no piece of information that is of no value.

For Ivan Brehm, executive head chef at Bacchanalia, this motto has guided him since his four-year training stint with renowned chef-scientist Heston Blumenthal.

From the temperature of the doorknob (“in cold seasons, a warm doorknob is a welcome touch; in the face of exhausting heat, a cool one”) to the seasoning of a dish, Brehm believes they are all part of the dining experience.

Bacchanalia's Thai coconut risotto to be infused with flavour via a rotary evaporator

Bacchanalia’s Thai coconut risotto to be infused with flavour via a rotary evaporator

“You can impact a guest’s experience massively before he even tries your food. People think it’s a gimmick, but these things all come together, whether the person knows it or not,” states the 31-year-old.

Where he once harboured thoughts of being a lawyer, Brehm closed that door gladly at the age of 18, when his first experience working in the kitchen of a fine-dining Turkish restaurant in Brazil cemented his love of cooking. He would go on to work under Thomas Keller at Per Se and David Shea at Applewood in New York City, before ending up at The Fat Duck.

Brehm was touted as Blumenthal’s prodigy when he moved to Singapore two years back. But his thirst for knowledge and excellence is proof that he is nobody’s shadow. In 2014, Bacchanalia won Best Restaurant of the Year (Western) in this magazine’s annual G Restaurant Awards.

Now, Brehm is making headlines with his plans to start a laboratory kitchen. He is looking for a shophouse to set this up.

With the kitchen lab in the works, the young chef shares his plans to take on consultancy projects for food groups like Unilever, and how it will be easier to put new dishes on the menu and tweak current dishes to make them better.

Take a Thai coconut risotto, for instance. Brehm is looking to amp up flavours with big toys like a rotary evaporator and rocket concentrator. “There’s something magical about having intense sparks of flavour from minuscule specks scattered around, instead of diffusing flavour throughout the dish,” he says.

“You can impact a guest’s experience massively before he even tries your food.”
– Ivan Brehm, on how little touches like the doorknob’s temperature can make a difference.

Another trick up his sleeve is Bacchanalia’s collaboration with the National Parks Board, a project born of his innate curiosity. The herb garden in Bacchanalia occupies just a small space now, but Brehm is enjoying fiddling around with new greens like the toothache plant (Acmella oleracea). “The plant actually comes from Brazil, and I used to eat the leaves in a stew growing up. It numbs the tongue and distorts your perception of sourness and acidity. Try drinking water after you have eaten it, and it would seem like sparkling water,” says the chef gleefully.

Creating magic in new dishes is chef’s play for Brehm, but throw interpersonal relations and daily crop-ups into the mix, and that’s where the challenge comes in. “It’s like saying let’s open a door now and see what’s behind it, every day,” says Brehm.

Still, challenging as it may be, it looks like Brehm will only be opening more doors in 2015. He shares that Bacchanalia is looking to expand overseas, and will be opening a new restaurant in Singapore in the first quarter of 2015. It will be a casual concept this time, located in the central district and offering a taste of Bacchanalia’s know-how at an affordable price.

If the colour scheme of his next restaurant is any indication, Brehm’s future looks set to be bright like neon.

(RELATED: A year on, it seems like we were right – Brehm’s The Kitchen at Bacchanalia clinched an Award of Excellence during the recent G Restaurant Awards.)

Check out our other Chefs to Watch: Kirk Westaway | Han Li Guang | Andrew WalshBryan Chia & Petrina Loh

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