Chefs Pantry | Bacchanalia

17 Jan 2016
3 min read
Executive head chef Ivan Brehm cuisine is inspired by childhood memories, a multicultural upbringing and rich culinary experiences at his restaurant Bacchanalia in Singapore. He tells FOUR about his favourite ingredients…
Southeast Asiansustenance

The first time I ever saw a nutmeg fruit was a few months ago. Moments like that are quite magical for a chef; when everything you know about a product coalesces into a first real experience that’s so exciting you have to do something with it. The nutmeg I knew before no longer exists in my mind!

We use its sparkling wine as a palate cleanser, in purées and preserves to complement game, duck or desserts. What we are left to use is both mace (the exterior around the seed) and the seed itself (what we traditionally know as nutmeg). Incredibly perfumed, complex and lasting, they both confer a deeply woody and sweet aroma to any preparation, with mace being slightly more floral.

We get our nutmeg from Greenacre Farms’ heirloom trees, taken to Penang more than 150 years ago by the British in an effort to dispute the powerful Dutch spice trade. Among other things, the farm also grows stellar pineapples, seasonal rambutan and several varieties of bananas.

We have been toying with the idea of aging fish for a while now. The expectation of a product more intense in flavour, tender and denser was always met with mixed and disappointing results. That changed when we met IT executive-turned-fish farmer, Raymond Sng and his incredible Barramundi. Tiberias Harvest supplies fish reared sustainably, free of antibiotics, and killed in a process that renders it clean of blood and viscera that would eventually compromise its aging potential. It arrives to the restaurant before rigor sets in. Beautiful, and beautifully fresh! We age our Barramundi for 10-15 days, depending on size. The result is something incredibly rich, somewhat gamey and very savoury.

It was love at first sight really when we first tasted Coulisse’s cold pressed rape seed oil. Mostly used as a finishing oil, it is deeply flavoured with green and nutty undertones and a very thick mouth feel. It works incredibly well with savoury dishes where we use it as a refined alternative to mustard oil, providing textural density and added complexity to dishes like our Aged Barramundi. Cullisse’s owner, Robert Mackenzie, comes from a long line of Scottish farmers, heavily committed to their sound and sustainable practises, and their quality product. They also sport several charitable efforts in Africa giving the product do-good feel much aligned with that of our own here at Bacchanalia.

Banana Flowers have been widely used around the tropics as a food staple in more rural communities. Back home, they were traditionally used in Afro-Brazilian preparations as accompaniments to braised pork dishes, whereas here in South East Asia they’re added to curries, gravies or salads. The heart of the flower is tender, densely packed, with a bitterness akin to that of a violet artichoke. We cook our banana hearts in a court bouillon, which helps to preserve its beautifully white appearance while lowering the perceived bitterness to a very pleasant, almost sweet taste. Our hearts come from a Natural-organic farm in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia called Hatiku (which coincidentally translates to ‘my heart’ in Bahasa). They are from banana plants that live deep in jungle and in complete ecological harmony with their surroundings. The farm also supplies us with 40% of our vegetables in an eight hour drive from Singapore.

We started growing our own herbs in an effort to reconnect our urban chefs to product and the work involved in growing it. Singapore is a country increasingly stifled by urban development and the thought of creating a garden where we could harvest most of our garnishing herbs seemed surreal…until we built it! Our Thai basil thrives in this humid tropical weather and its leaves and flowers are used to add a clove, cinnamon floral aroma to both desserts and savoury dishes, highlighting and uplifting certain dishes like our different vegetable salad or our duck and carrots.

Find out more about Ivan Brehm