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Having the nous to start Nouri and November
IVAN Brehm is back in action, and ready to write a new chapter in his career and cooking philosophy when his new restaurant opens in Amoy Street next month.
Chef Brehm, who led The Kitchen at Bacchanalia to its first Michelin star in the guide's debut in Singapore last year, left the restaurant last December and has since teamed up with serial restaurateur Loh Lik Peng to open Nouri, which is currently under renovation and is scheduled to open in mid-to-late-April.
"Nouri will be both bar, private dining room and restaurant," says Chef Brehm of the compact shophouse space. "Dinner will initially be tasting menus only, and I aim to keep our lunch menu slightly simpler and efficient. We will have a diverse by-the-glass wine list, limited cocktails and comprehensive sake list. We're also going to introduce tea pairing with our dinner tasting menus."
Chef Brehm, who doesn't believe in pigeon-holing cuisine into convenient sound bites such as "product-driven seasonality" or "cutting edge progressive", says that his food is a reflection of the different cultures and countries he has encountered in his life, which have in turn shaped his world view.
"Nouri means a lot of good things to many cultures but the overarching theme is nourishment. In a sense, what we nourish, nourishes us, too. I wanted a name that showcases what I see as the most valuable thing in food and the act of eating."
He doesn't just mean physical but philosophical nourishment as well. For him, food is a powerful medium that can be used to unite people so in that sense, his aim is to cook food that can bridge cultures. "Crossroads food, with an emphasis on originality, provenance and research is what we will cook," he says.
While it may sound a little deep, the chef feels that diners shouldn't always fall back on familiar concepts. While not following the norm may make his food esoteric, it also makes it more interesting.
"Ivan is a chef's chef, and I like that," says Mr Loh, who heads the Unlisted Collection's stable of restaurants which include Restaurant Andre, Burnt Ends and Salted and Hung.
He adds: "His food is more inaccessible, but for me, that's okay. We are not trying to appeal to everyone. I think it's going to be a niche type of place, but still have a good loyal following. I think we are better at niche type restaurants than something with wide appeal."
In another case of serendipity, Mr Loh has also signed on Australian chef Jean-Paul Fiechtner and sommelier Sally Humble - who worked briefly at the restaurant Thirteen Duxton Hill - to re-open Restaurant Ember which he had originally planned to close.
Asked if he was on an expansion spree, Mr Loh laughs. "I'm not sure if anything I do is deliberate! Most of these things are opportunistic and we do them when the right chefs and right locations come along.
"Ivan and I have a good level of trust and chemistry. As for JP (Fiechtner) and Sally, Thirteen Duxton didn't work out for them. They spoke to me and Ember was empty, so that really worked out well."
Restaurant Ember had already been closed when Mr Loh met Chef Fiechtner and Ms Humble. "The restaurant had passed its time," he says. "It never quite recaptured the magic and the patronage of the old place; rather than struggle on we felt we needed to close it down and start again. We actually sold 1929 and leased it back for a few years, but that lease is coming to an end so we only have the space till the end of the year."
Hence, says Ms Humble, the new restaurant will be a "pop-up" of sorts that they have named November - partly as a nod to the original name "Ember" and also the date that the space will have to be given up.
Like Thirteen, November will continue to showcase Chef Fiechtner's breezy and refreshing way with produce that he sources locally. Says Ms Humble: "We are right next door to the Chinatown wet markets and will be buying food fresh every day."
As the November space is for a limited time only, "we are choosing to be budget-conscious in this project. Besides, I really feel restaurants are all about the people and the product, not necessarily the space. It's unpretentious, yet with uncompromised quality in the product".
She adds: "We literally ripped the carpet up ourselves. We painted chalkboards on the wall and I traded in existing furniture for second-hand pieces."
Although November is not a permanent gig, "we're so happy to be in Singapore and for Chef JP to be able to express his culinary creativity.
"He is a naturally intrepid spirit, having spent his career working in France, Middle East, Hong Kong and Australia. I feel like he is creating an album, playing out some of his hits until the end of the year, and searching for purpose in the new year. For sure, we will be cooking together somewhere in the world, and preferably it will be in Singapore."
As for Chef Brehm, coming from a Michelin-starred gig, he does feel a certain amount of pressure to perform. "I won't be able to control guests' expectations, but I can control the work we do and the path we've set ourselves on. I feel serene about it, so that shows we're off to a good start."
Ultimately, he says, "I cook food that is meaningful to me and hopefully to the people who eat it".