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Damian D’Silva in the lobby of Straits Clan.

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Ivan Brehm at work in Nouri.

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A scallop dish from the Crossroads menu.

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Founder Harry Grover.

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Bio-active honey comb and honey products at the Rare Honey Company.

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Bio-active honey comb and honey products at the Rare Honey Company.

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The honey tasting bar.

Damian D'Silva's Heritage Cuisine comes to Straits Clan

Damian D'Silva, Ivan Brehm and Harry Grover are three F&B names taking on new challenges
Aug 30, 2019 5:50 AM

DAMIAN D’SILVA - KIN, STRAITS CLAN

LIKE THE ETERNAL romantic always looking for “the one”, Damian D’Silva has had a string of broken kitchen relationships in his life. His true love is heritage cuisine, but instead of settling down happily ever after with it, he’s been on an eternal seesaw between hopeful idealism and crushing reality.

After his last stint at Folklore restaurant - where he tried but eventually failed to balance being a hotel employee and bastion of his grandfather’s rich Eurasian-PeranakanChinese culinary history - Chef D’Silva was like someone fresh from a conscious uncoupling. Frustrated, lost - a man clinging fiercely to his uncompromising cooking traditions, but steadily demoralised by how so few seemed to appreciate it.

But that was a couple of months ago. Chef D’Silva is in love again because - fingers crossed - he’s found the partner he’s been looking for all his life.

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By end-October, he will open his new restaurant Kin at the hip local members’ club Straits Clan, founded by Lo & Behold’s Wee Teng Wen.

Kin is an apt name for the restaurant,which evokes images of family, hearth, warmth and community. That’s exactly what he wants his food to be, but with a modern aesthetic that will appeal to both purists and the Instagram crowd.

“I’ve been doing a lot of R&D,” says the 63-year-old chef with newfound enthusiasm.

The food will still be communal style, but now I’ve got the support (that he didn’t get before) to push my cuisine to a level that can be seen as eloquent.” Eloquent in the sense of presentation, plateware, even food-styling to a certain extent. “They have one person here whose job is to make sure that whatever plateware goes on the table matches the dish,” he marvels.

But more important, he feels that he finally has the support of someone - namely Mr Wee, who brought him on board after finding out he was available – who shares his vision.

“Our mission has always been to create experiences that tell a unique Singaporean story, (so) we’re honoured to support our leading local culinary icon, Damian, to showcase his take on heritage cuisine,” says Mr Wee.

For that, Chef D’Silva is grateful.  “I’ve reached an age where I have to be 99 per cent sure of who I’m going to work with. I want heritage food to be appreciated and put on the map. Why can’t our heritage food be appreciated by the rest of the world?”

Although plans for him to start a cooking school after Folklore didn’t pan out, he believes he can achieve his goal of teaching the younger generation about the food from their grandparents’ time.

Interestingly enough, he’s seeing more young chefs keen to learn from him, and has already recruited two, including one from a Michelin-starred restaurant who wanted to learn more about his roots. “I want to bring (my food) to the level that students out there will say, ‘I want to work with Damian. He’s the one who will take me back to the time of my grandparents when I wasn’t there and he can show me.’”

He certainly has a lot planned. This time, it’s not just Eurasian and Peranakan because his grandfather covered practically all styles including Chinese, Malay and Indian. So you’ll find his version of chi pao kai (paperwrapped chicken) and steamed fish using artisanal Teochew and Cantonese soya sauce from small local operators his mother used to buy from.

“I want to do my pickles and gulai, nasi ulam, daun pegaga (a hard to find vegetable) salad which is Indonesian-Peranakan and other recipes that have disappeared,” he rattles off.

But wait. Straits Clan is a members-only club. However, part of his deal is that some tables are reserved for the public, as he wants as many people as possible to enjoy his cuisine. “I’ve had so many ideas but I never had the opportunity or platform until now.”

And on top of that, Kin may well bring him the validation that he seeks, hopefully from the likes of Asia’s 50 Best or even Michelin, assuming Kin qualifies given it’s part of a club.

If so, then we’re pretty sure that, after a long line of breakups, Kin could finally be the one.

Kin, Straits Clan, 31 Bukit Pasoh Road. For details, email enquiries@restaurant-kin.com


IVAN BREHM - NOURI 

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


HARRY GROVER - THE RARE HONEY COMPANY

Can you tell your Jarrah honey from  Redgum? Harry Grover can. The Western Australian native has drizzled it on crumpets or stirred it into his tea since he was a
child and he thinks now is a good time for

Singaporeans to know the differences. Honey is a new direction for Mr Grover, the man who helped spawn the local artisanal coffee movement with Forty Hands and Common Man Coffee Roasters. (The idea for which came about after learning about sustainable coffee farming in Asia.)

As an entrepreneur, he is constantly on the lookout for new ideas, and honey is one that’s close to home.

“My family has a farm a half hour away from Margaret River. There are old jarrah and red gum trees on the property but we never thought much of it,” says Mr Grover. “Jarrah trees were thought of more as a hardwood tree for furniture or floorboards.

But a neighbouring farmer would come by to park his hives during flowering season, walk away with boxes dripping with honey and sell it to the local market.”

According to him, the world’s honey industry is rife with scandal. Samples of honey, including boutique brands, have been found to be fake. In Australia alone, a scientific team led by one professor Mark Taylor at Macquarie University detected one adulterated sample in every five.

Which is why Mr Grover stands behind new-gen beekeepers Steve and Ryan, who “combine passion with pragmatic business sense”.

While small and family-owned, the duo has invested in buying strategically located land; experimenting with manuka seedlings and drone technology to scale up the business for an international audience. The honey is unprocessed and packaged straight from the hives.

But being pure isn’t enough to stand out in Singapore’s oversaturated market, with prestige still attached to manuka.

“What people don’t know is that these eucalyptus species – Jarrah, Redgum and Karri – are just as bioactive,” says Mr Grover. The measurement for antimicrobial activity used here is known as total activity or the TA+ scale, and is similar to the Unique Manuka Factor endorsed by the New Zealand government.

Their range includes the mono-floral Super Jarrah at TA20+ (S$42/260g) as tested by ChemCentre. It has a heavy-bodied, toffeelike flavour that’s absolutely delicious when slathered onto toast, yogurt and the like.

(The active antibacterial methylglyoxal in manuka honey gives it its distinctive bitter flavour.)

“Ultimately, it is all about education.

When you see the honey online or on the shelves, it’s hard to understand. There are similar honeys in the market but not all are chemically certified for the TA+,” he adds.

“Price may be an issue, but that dissipates once they understand all the work that goes into it.”

The Rare Honey Company will hold popups and tasting sessions at its new honey bar, in addition to collaborating with like-minded bartenders, bakers and brands. It will also be on the menu at his cafes, so you can indulge in both his passions - coffee and honey - at one go. - by Jessica Chan
 

#01-01, Tan Boon Liat Building, 315 Outram Road. www.therarehoneycompany.com