The Kitchen at Bacchanalia

An intimate kitchen inspired by the world

The Kitchen at Bacchanalia

Slow Food

Years ago, while still living in Italy, I helped an American friend to pour wine at an event in Piedmonte, Italy. The event was organised by the Italian non-for-profit organization Slow Food and symbolised the revival of a traditional Piemontese festival called cante y’euv. People from all over the world gathered on the hills of Piedmonte to celebrate the harvest, touring by foot through vineyards, eating, drinking and singing the night away in the patios of the region’s wineries. The festival is inspired byan ancient tradition created by local musicians who would barter songs wishing farmers a good agricultural year over a hazelnut tart, a bit of cheese or a basket of eggs; the name cante y’euv comes from Piemontese dialect and means sing for eggs or sing to the egg. I had a blast, and so did the attendees. 

As we talked ate and danced well into the evening, a genuine sense of conviviality and humanity could be felt. For a moment, food, drink and relationships seemed to be intrinsically connected by each person and their participation. 

Photo Credit: @yerimyeri

Fast forward almost ten years and I once again encounter Slow Food, this time in South Korea for the Asio Gusto, a group gathering organised bi-annually to promote heritage and heirloom food products, craftsman and food artisans from around the globe. One cannot deny, as a chef, the good that the organization has done to protect dying traditions, ingredients and food preparations. A great number of Slow Food members are formidable producers of cheese, wine, kimchi and olive oil. They are fruit farmers, chicken farmers, pig farmers. They share a view of the world that is not dictated by competition or profit, but by love of craft, of people and human relations. Saying that the food offered there was good would be an understatement.

Slow Food champions a collaborative of chefs around the world called Chef’s Alliance whose purpose is to explore the very real issues regarding growing, cooking and serving food. Contrary to most chef gatherings around the globe, the Alliance spends less time discussing technique, marketing or restaurant concepts, as more time is devoted to real issues of sustainability or the promotion and documentation of heirloom ingredients, and traditional artisanal products. 

A photo posted by @hyeinmong on

Relevant as it may be, the discussion I was a part of failed to see, in my view, the real potential for innovation and transformation carried by chefs today. For all its worth, the tone of the discussion forwarded by Slow Food, reduces the role of a chef to one of a middle man, standing between producer and consumer and I feel until this is re-looked at, alliances like the one promoted during Asio Gusto will be more about a collective of like minded people then generating meaningful change on a larger scale. More then anyone, chefs have the power to translate and communicate the importance of these issues to a larger demographic in a way that is both delicious, but also creative and up to date. 

This short week has reminded me that no matter how hard we work to forget some of these things, a chef cannot escape the reality of being connected to the incredible process which is to grow, transport, cook, serve and eat food. 

I am reminded that as it is inescapable, I rather live this connection aware of its existence and accountable for my participation in its links, as this chain is, at its most most basic level, what makes life as a human so tasty! 

 

Ivan Brehm

Our Bread & Broth

The history of modern day restaurants is intrinsically connected to that of these two elemental kitchen preparations. Bread and Broth. 

Throughout history, inns and open air food stalls were reported to serve several cultures with food on the go, but it wasn’t until pre-french revolution, Paris, that establishments were created with the aim of comforting its patrons with a limited selection of reinvigorating broths and hardier stews and braises.

The word "Restaurant", comes from the latin verb to "restore or refresh” and was first used as a descriptor to advertise the type of food a restaurant provided, not the place. A restaurant was a soup, a food item; something to comfort and restore life back into customers after a hard day's work. It is important to highlight that the history of the household kitchen is quite modern, with urban communities across the globe generally sharing hearths, ovens and stoves between them. Restaurants aimed at catering tothe absence of good, clean and nutritious food, but also cater to an emerging demographic that did not or could not eat at home. Because of that it is fair to say the history of restaurants is directly associated to that of a middle class. 

Our goal with “Bread & Broth” looked to the past for inspiration. A reinvigorating broth that aims at providing people with a comforting welcome and prepare them for the meal that is to come. I feel that without this symbolic start, guests never really find the right state of mind to really connect with their meal and the people that are part of it.

The Bread is meant to be broken and shared and with it a special communion is produced. Our broth is obtained through steam juicing. The process, which is simple and in loads of ways reminds us of a still extraction, leaves us with a broth that is concentrated, fast to obtain and that can be chilled as it is extracted, preserving nuances in vegetables that are generally lost through longer cooking processes. 

 

Too often, eating is just a distraction.
We want to help people reconnect; to be there for every bite. 

 

Ivan Brehm

 

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The Bali Bhairawa Fleur de Sel

Every morning, a farmer makes a short walk from his hut in South Bali to the beach to fetch buckets of mineral rich ocean water. He then proceeds to spill the sea water over the black volcanic soil that makes up his small plot of land. Although for some, watering bare soil may look like madness, he does this because he is a salt farmer. South Bali’s volcanic soil is rich in minerals, and the farmer wants to extract its goodness to add to his salt.

A salt farmer fetching buckets of mineral rich ocean water which he will spill over the volcanic soil


The next day, after baking in the sun, the volcanic soil he has watered has formed a 1-2 cm crust. The farmer transfers this crust to a basin carved out of coconut tree trunks from the area and adds more sea water to the mix. This solution is left to distil. Once distilled, this brine solution is transferred into pans and the solar evaporation process begins. Crystals that form on the surface become the Bali Bhairawa Fleur de Sel; crystals carefully scooped up and put aside. Over the next 5 days, the brine will evaporate and these will become the Slow Food Foundation boarded Kusamba Coarse Salt.

Among other unique properties, Kusamba Coarse Salt is chemical-free and mineral and heritage-rich. 

When asked how long this community has been harvesting salt this way, the salt farmer only knows his father-in-law before was doing so. Beyond that generation, no one knows. One clue can be found in the basins carved out of coconut tree trunks; the oldest in Kusamba village is believed to be 200 years old.

Salt crystals forming on the surface

The Kusamba village produces around 10 tonnes of salt a month; but unable to compete with mass produced and iodine fortified salts- which cost a fraction of Kusamba, it is a dying tradition. It is so unique it is noted by the Slow Food Foundation’s Ark of Taste, a unique collection of endemic products around the world.

So there we have it. When Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819, someone's father-in-law on a southern beach in Bali was going through the curious motions of watering beach sand.

 

Perry Ho
Salt Grammar by The Indiana Supply Co


A note on Perry:

When we first met Perry and the Indiana Supply Company, we spoke about his salt products from both Pakistan and Bali. It was clear from the beginning our interests aligned. Perry Ho, owns a company specialised in distributing amazing salt products, but it's his interest in connecting people through product and stories that has truly brought us together. Bacchanalia’s underpinning commitment has always been to foster positive actions in whatever field we can, Perry shares that belief.

As a chef you are very quickly taught of the importance of salt in cooking. Seasoning as a skill is elusive for a young chef; not only is it the mark of a good restaurant, but also that of a talented and promising cook. At Bacchanalia, we constantly talk to our chefs about stress’ impact on ones ability to perceive seasoning, how to tweak our seasoning in new dishes as acidity levels are inversely related to salt, and how our use of Umami lowers the need for salt in food drastically. These bits of information constantly remind us of how to moderate the use of this pervasive and significant ingredient

It makes me happy to say that in our search for sustainable, quality endemic product with a positive print, we couldn’t be making a greater statement.

The Reunion dinner: Kim Öhman

I first met Kim Öhman while working at the Fat Duck in the UK. We first worked in the restaurant’s kitchen together and then later in research and development – Kim for Heston Blumenthal’s then soon-to-open Dinner in London and me for the Fat Duck.

Research and Development showed us how to further what we learned first as cooks, to seek for deeper product and technical understanding. Our tenures at restaurants like Quay, in Sydney and Chez Dominique for Kim and for myself at Mugaritz and Per Se, started a loop that only truly began to make sense after R+D.

Mark, Kim and I – 2012

Chefs are always talking about “intuition” and tapping into their souls to develop a dish or a technique. Working with R+D meant “Soul” could be replicated, food made consistent. We learned to rely on research, trying to understand the technique and the process, what is happening to product on an elemental level. It made our food better and expression easier.

It was through this research that a shared passion for  the study of food traditions across the globe became relevant to us. We both respect the need to understand tradition; we also agree that just because something has been done a certain way for hundreds of years, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon with sensitive understanding. It’s this understanding that we both try to communicate in our restaurants- Kim reinterpreting Southeast Asian dishes for a Swedish audience at Farang, me using unusual Southeast Asian ingredients with global techniques at Bacchanalia. 

It was uncanny that we opened our respective restaurants, Farang in Stockholm, and Bacchanalia in Singapore, almost simultaneously, and had a chance to share the good and the bad stories that came with such endeavours. 

It’s just great luck that now- almost three years later- we will get to share Bacchanalia’s kitchen for two nights. It’s going to be an awesome two nights, and I’m glad we are able to share that with our guests.

Ivan Brehm

Nature’s own cooking tricks

A year ago, a quick peak inside Bacchanalia’s larder would have revealed a large range of modern thickening, emulsifying, and stabilising powders that have become the hallmark of many contemporary restaurants. Although the brand names don’t resemble their natural origins, these products represent an evolution from early days when cooks used wheat flour, corn starch, sea weed or even leafy greens as texture modifier, but more refined and processed to create more standardized results. Pectins, for example, are extracted from citrus pulp; starches from wheat, corn, several types of tubers and pulses; other gelling agents are derived from seaweed, legumes, natural fermentation.

Taking this same perspective, we at Bacchanalia recently decided to start substituting the refined, branded products to obtain similar thickening, emulsifying and stabilising properties. Although less calculable and trickier to use, the appeal to create food that is both delicious, innovative, and importantly, natural, is an obvious one.

Overworking cooked potatoes, for example, can result in gluey mash, but if utilised correctly, it can also make potato foam silky and stable. I believe if we chefs “listen” to an ingredient, we can learn how to harness its full potential. 

Photo credit: Hilary Dahl

Photo credit: Hilary Dahl

Let’s take a carrot. Rich in pectin, if you cook it with a bit of acid and at a high enough temperature and you are left with a product that can be dried to a most interesting fruit leather consistency, a “twizzler” of the natural world. By harnessing the starch in unripe bananas, one can obtain a sweet puree with good emulsifying properties. Melon jellies without any added gelling agent; clean citrus emulsions without any stabilisers; puffed scallop or prawn crackers without the addition of any starch. 

Our database and experience with these products continues to grow. Such a list represents to us the belief that only through the honest quest to learn what we know about an ingredient, that we can stumble upon work that is truly novel and in many ways as modern as it is timeless. 

Though our commitment to the curiosity and understanding about products like gums, gels and stabilisers is still there, and you will occasionally find them in our dishes, I must say our pantry looks very different now. And our food is much better for it!

So stay tuned as we soon start sharing some of this work as it develops.

 

Ivan Brehm