(First published on Lifestyle Collective.)
Best known for leading The Kitchen at Bacchanalia in Singapore to its first-ever Michelin Star in 2016, Ivan Brehm is a celebrated chef. After working for renowned restaurants all over the globe like Hibiscus in London, Per Se in New York and Mugaritz in the Basque Country, Ivan joined Heston Blumenthal where he worked for four years. At Heston Blumenthal, he worked as a Development Chef in his experimental kitchen known as The Fat Duck.
Currently, he is the lead chef and owner of Nouri in Singapore. Recently listed in Asia’s Best 50, Nouri challenges the philosophy of cuisines. Coming from a mixed heritage of Italian, German, Russian, Spanish, Lebanese, Syrian and Brazilian, Ivan has developed a cuisine as eclectic as his own lineage.
This year Chef Ivan will be representing Singapore at the Western Australia Gourmet Escape- a 10-day culinary extravaganza running from 8-17 November where culinary icons from all over the world will get together to celebrate and discuss food.
Q. You have honed your craft over the years by working in kitchens all across the world. How have these experiences moulded you as a human being? How important do you think cultural exchange is when it comes to issues like racial harmony and becoming one true global village?
Chef Ivan: Incredibly. Cultural exchange is paramount for cultural development. The more one studies an isolated culture, the more one realises its standing is only made possible by a web of links that connect it to other cultures, with a degree of intensity that puts the entire notion of cultural identity as a separating marker in question.
Racial disharmony is a product of identification. When we believe cultural differences are so essential that they cannot be mitigated, the idea of superior and inferior cultures, or fear of differences causes friction. But the moment our own culture’s identity is put into question through investigation of its past and development, the space for dialogue and correspondence exists and we can appreciate differences in a creative and harmonious way.
Q. With a 10-day lineup spread across three different regions, Gourmet Escape is bigger this year. Tell us more about your engagement with the festival.
Chef Ivan: We are excited to bring ‘crossroads cooking’ to the festival where will be hosting a dinner with our good friends at Vasse Felix. We are also sharing the stage with chef friends for a talk. Currently, outside of our food, I believe that a cosmopolitan event like this is a great opportunity to share the culinary research that we do.
Q. What will be the main agenda of your talk at the symposium?
Chef Ivan: We would like to focus on the topic of cultural sustainability and globalisation. We have come to realise that the conversation of sustainability is all-encompassing and cannot be disassociated. Ecology and humanity are one and the same, but we seem to know more about the cultural behaviours of bacteria than we do of humans.
Q. For EATING AT THE CROSSROADS: NOURI COMES TO VASSE FELIX, you will be joining forces with Margaret River’s founding wine estate. Can you share more about this collaboration?
Chef Ivan: The menu is currently being developed but I can say we are very interested in applying our way of seeing food and collaboration to VF’s locale. Such a bountiful part of the world with such interesting ingredients will most certainly yield a brilliant dinner. The team at VF is also brilliant and incredibly professional and skilled so anything we throw at them will stick for certain.
Q. While people often equate food with physical health, do you think it can help us with mental health as well?
Chef Ivan: Mind and body are part of the same living systems. It’s irrelevant in what order they are connected like humans are to ecology, or the moon to tides. What you eat has a direct impact on your mental health. Not only that, “how” you eat it is of extreme significance.
Q. ‘Nouri’ is a Latin word for nourishment, in Korean it means ‘planet’, while in Persian, it means fire in the sense of consciousness. You have spoken about bringing mindfulness to people’s experience of eating.
Chef Ivan: Yes, it is an important part of any experience. Unfortunately, we are still at a place where mindfulness is seen as an esoteric, superfluous and mystical part of one’s existence when the reality is much simpler. We eat, drink, build, work and live better lives when we operate mindfully. Unchecked consumption, obesity, drug abuse, depression and a score of modern problems can be drastically helped by cultivating presence and awareness.
Q. Food/cooking is your passion, what are your hobbies other than that?
Chef Ivan: When I am not cooking, I enjoy music, arts, travelling, and cycling. I also love meeting new people and getting to know them.
Q. We know that you believe in the philosophy that food does not exist in isolation and you like to mix cuisines. But, if you had to pick one favourite cuisine, what would it be?
Chef Ivan: I enjoy a wide variety of mixed cuisines. I am a food lover and it is almost impossible for me to pick one favourite. I guess my favourite cuisine can be “deliciousness”.
Q. Do you watch cookery shows on TV? Why? Any favourites?
Chef Ivan: Nope. I hate them. Although, I have been meaning to see the Chef’s Table.
Q. Name one Singaporean dish that you absolutely love.
Chef Ivan: Laksa
Q. What’s your pet peeve?
Chef Ivan: Entitlement and lazy minded people.
Q. Are you a spicy, savoury or sweets kind of guy?
Chef Ivan: I’m a tasty food kind of guy!