When does a chef turn researcher of cultural phenomena that can be both translated into Michelin-starred cuisine and developed into a think tank for deeper discussions about the state of the world?
When that chef is Ivan Brehm of Nouri, who has earned acclaim for what he calls Crossroads cuisine – where similarities in cooking cultures are explored and translated into unique edible creations.
Since opening in 2017, Chef Brehm and his team have conducted extensive research into the links between cultures through their food – as seen through the likes of his ‘silken cheese’ bread accompaniment which has links to pannacotta, or tofu, depending on what you’re more familiar with.
Since last year, Chef Brehm decided to ‘formalise’ all the restaurant’s past work into a research arm that was officially launched recently in the form of the website Appetite, which is managed by a full-time researcher under his direction.
Chef Brehm, who spent years doing historical research as part of the R&D team at The Fat Duck, says that while Nouri is focused on creating tasty food, Crossroads cuisine can extend into Crossroads thinking,“to discuss the impact of globalization and cultural exchange” and lead to greater “knowledge and product creation in forms more accurate and relevant to our time.”
The idea that people in the world might be a lot more similar than we think may frighten neo-fascists, but Chef Brehm – himself a multi-hyphenate cultural product – feels his work is more topical now than ever before.
Our local laksa, for example, has its origins in a Persian dish of Laksha, with similarity to a Cape Town noodle called Laxa. “Murtabak has Yemeni origins, coming from the Arabic word ‘mutabbaq’ which means ‘to fold’,” he explains. “And Japanese sushi is Southeast Asian in origin.” While you witness all these influences in a meal at Nouri, Chef Brehm aims to go beyond food and push for more thought and research, not just by him, but in academia as well.
“Wherever food across the world ‘felt’ similar, that’s where we focused our research,” he says. But while those similarities direct their cuisine, getting their research “verified or discussed by leading researchers and academics in their own fields
is of utmost importance”. Chef Brehm has taken part in overseas symposiums, and “universities, artists, architects – all showed great support, egging us to take this further”. After all,
Crossroads doesn’t apply only to food but to architecture, fashion and myriad disciplines.
“Our work is grounded in the desire to understand more about the world, and let that understanding inform our creative decisions.” Which would in turn lead to making new products and achievements in these fields.
For someone who loves cooking and can also do a dissertation on Complexity Theory just for fun, it’s clear that Chef Brehm sees food as more than just eating for comfort or luxury.
“It comforts our shared sense of humanity, and also makes us question cultural superiority, borders or nationalities. And it’s about looking at our shared ancestry as something to learn from, rather than be stifled by.”
In other words, like the name of his website, he wants to whet our appetite for more dialogue.
Nouri, 72 Amoy Street. Tel: 6221-4148
This article was originally published in The Business Times