Ivan Brehm is no stranger to big names or awards.
His resume shines with names of highly regarded restaurants — Per Se by Thomas Keller and The Fat Duck by Heston Blumenthal. When he opened Bacchanalia here in 2013, he was known as the quirky Brazilian chef who trained under Blumenthal and entertained dreams of opening a kitchen lab with big toys like rotary evaporators.
“Working at The Duck gave me a better understanding of new techniques. It was good grounding,” says Brehm. “There was always this push to try something new, break the grounds, and be number one.”
“I thought creativity was how one person could make something new from his own brilliance,” shares Brehm.
“But I started to realise that to be ‘groundbreaking’ was more connected to fads than it was to the actual food created.” Brehm left Singapore at the end of 2016 to take a break and reinvent himself. He returned a few months later in partnership with Unlisted Collections’ founder Loh Lik Peng.
Nouri is Ivan Brehm 2.0.
“I started to see creativity as a discovery journey and an annihilation of your own ego.”
– Ivan Brehm, chef-owner of Nouri
There are no fancy gadgets here. No starched linens or formal service. It’s a place where walls come down, replaced with familiar memories.
“My biggest beef with fine-dining is no matter how striking the food is, it cannot deliver the same appreciation someone has for their mum’s hokkien mee (fried prawn noodles) or pork knuckle soup,” says Brehm.
Nouri finds a way to satisfy that craving. It’s a fine-dining formula that uses precision and techniques to produce comfort food that consistently soothes. Bread and broth, for instance, answers a primitive need for warmth and comfort. You get both with the crusty sourdough bread and silken cheese — steamed milk layered with aged balsamic and pickled nutmeg.
Depending on where you’re from, the silky cheese could be panna cotta, chawanmushi, or soft tofu. It is what Brehm means by ‘Crossroads Cooking’: different cultures can share similar reference points.
“Over time, we’ve been taught that this is French, that is Italian, and this is Japanese. We try to stick an entire culture to a particular pattern.”
“But I believe food goes beyond culture. Every human has an appreciation for a particular thing. Creamy textures or biting into a soft jelly. What I want to explore are these crossroads moments.”
This is Brehm’s question: Imagine a man in a foreign land making a dish representative of his country. But this dish he’s making requires onions, and this new country has none. What would he use as a substitute?
“I daresay anyone put into the same situation will come up with a similar solution. I tend to see that with exploration, over time, we’ll come up with very similar results. For me, that’s where we become more human and less of a cultural product,” shares Brehm.
It’s a deep conversation. But at the heart of it, Brehm is simply looking to connect with each and every one of his diners.
“Innovation is not necessarily to create new things, but to renew things. And you first need to understand what needs new life breathed into,” says Brehm. “It’s no longer about creating a dish that is Instagram-able.
“What I want is to make dishes that talk to as many people as humanly possible.”