Behind The Apron: Ivan Brehm (Bacchanalia Singapore)

From Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York, to working under Claude Bosi at Hibiscus in London and joining Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, Chef Ivan Brehm’s resume reads like a Michelin guide. The 29-year-old Brazilian native is currently the executive chef of Bacchanalia. Together with sous chef Mark Ebbels and desserts whiz Kostas Papathanasiou, the trio is known for their experimental approach in the execution of dishes. It is not hard to see why with all three chefs hailing from Heston Blumenthal’s highly acclaimed The Fat Duck. We speak to Chef Ivan about his love for reinventing classic dishes and the inspiration behind it.

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How has growing up in Brazil influenced your approach towards food?

Growing up in Brazil was instrumental. I’m part Russian, Syrian, Lebanese, German, Italian and Spanish so I’m exposed to so many different influences and ingredients. I also grew up with big family reunions and everything happened around the dining table. Since my mother was working, the only time we spent together was at the dining table.

I never really made the jump between spending a lot of time in the kitchen with my family and becoming a chef. For me, that was never really obvious. Whenever I ate out, I thought food magically came out of the door. I didn’t realise that people were behind the scenes preparing it.

How would you describe your culinary style?

It is quite feminine and light. It is not very laden with butter and not very heavy in salt. We make sensible food. Sensible means everything is there for a particular reason. We don’t blast out and make dishes that fly. The whole idea is to make food that looks approachable and perks people’s curiosity. We want you to participate.

When we first opened, my sous chef and myself were in constant dialogue about what this place needed. The most important thing for us was the massive disconnect that existed between customers and chefs of fine dining restaurants. If you go out to eat, you are generally imposed an idea or concept. Your level of participation is just taking the food and putting into your mouth. The plating is beautiful but the dish is completely exposed to you already. There is very little mystery. Nobody is curious anymore because they don’t have to do any work.

You’ve worked in restaurants that emphasize on scientific precision. What sets this method apart from other culinary methods?

The difference is tremendous and you can tell visually. You can replicate the dish over and over again. One of the biggest problems with restaurants today is the lack of consistency. You can go to a restaurant with a talented chef behind the stove and have a brilliant meal one day but turns out not so brilliant the next. There are very few things that are worse than having your expectations let down. Just in terms of consistency, it already sets you apart massively.

And the minute you study the components in that much detail, the amount of control you have over what you produce is huge.

Who was your greatest mentor and what did you learn from him?

It was my grandfather who told me not to forget to make food tasty. I cooked him a meal once when I was younger and he didn’t like it. It was sweet and sour. He is Syrian and he didn’t like it. It happened a long time ago before I left Brazil. I revisited that conversation with him when we were opening and it really changed my outlook. I spent a good six years of my professional career trying to make food look good and not really thinking too much about taste and texture and how they harmonise.

There have been many others as well including Heston Blumenthal and Andoni Aduriz. Heston, for example, has been a great manager and motivator. He is an unbelievable person who would give anybody his time. His restaurant was the first one that I’ve worked at where you didn’t have to abuse people to get them to do their job. Heston used to say all the time that if you treat people like humans, they would give you their best.

You are pretty slim for a chef, what do you do to keep fit?

I am a nervous person so I walk really fast. I do a lot of yoga and eat very healthy. I have been practicing yoga since I was 21.

I also try to keep a good balance. There is no point obsessing. We talk about inspiration all the time and you need a sound mind to be inspired. Inspiration comes when you take five minutes off and walk down the stairs and talk to the guy that is painting the wall or whatever. I try to get everybody out of here as early as possible and give them proper rest days. I try to do that myself too because that is important.

Read more about our Bacchanalia experience HERE!

Interview, Singapore

3 Responses to Behind The Apron: Ivan Brehm (Bacchanalia Singapore)

  1. Keep in up, love the Behind The Apron section of this blog. Well done!

  2. Jacob says:

    Great interview! I’m always curious to find out more about the chefs behind the kitchens. I’m glad that someone is making the effort to do something more than just food reviews in the local food blog scene!

  3. […] To find out more about the young 29 year old Executive Chef Ivan Brehm and his culinary direction for Bacchanalia, do check out our interview with him HERE! […]

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