Crossroads is an approach to systems thinking in food and domains beyond. At Restaurant Nouri, we consider cooking as part of a larger system of interrelated and interdependent parts, including but not limited to globalisation, critical culture, the environment, contemporary art, and literature.
We want to challenge the predominant trend in dining today of food that is technically innovative and environmentally conscious, but not much more.
At Nouri, we aspire to create food that is as much a cerebral and emotional experience as it is a gustatory one. We use food to analyse global culture and to produce new creative work.
We identify patterns that connect people and cultures from around the world. These nodes of connection serve as the starting point for new work. In every dish, we want to highlight universal human values that transcend national, racial, cultural, and otherwise circumstantial boundaries.
If we can cook food that is culturally responsible, intellectually stimulating, and artistically original, we can elevate food discourse beyond its current status as a craft. We want our work to encourage deep engagement with leading scholars and to challenge food’s outsider status in the fine arts.
To do so, we have built a team of more than just chefs.
At the heart of every output is a consideration of cultural association. We look for processes of interaction and integration in food traditions from around the world. The food we cook highlights shared cultural elements from seemingly different cultures; this approach problematises the identification of a single originating culture. Our hybrid cooking reflects the trans-cultural nature of globalisation.
We challenge the traditional definition of culture as nationally bound. We do not believe that cultures are geographically separate and distinct entities. Our food showcases the flow of people, ideas, and goods between and beyond state boundaries. National or regional markers of food may be relevant circumstantially but not in essence. We reject exclusive notions of authenticity in favour of a radical reconceptualisation of culture as relational, dialogic, and appropriative.
We treat cultural objects as dynamic and ever-changing, as opposed to static and in need of protection. We avoid cultural essentialism and understand that identity and culture are not temporally discrete. Time-bound notions of cultural heritage mummify the traditions of the past without allowing them to engage with contemporary practices; they also overlook the role of cross-cultural exchange in the continued development of a culture. Our approach is palimpsestic, creating food that is historically-informed but original at the same time.
We engage with the subject of cultural appropriation with respect and rigour. Many discussions of cultural exploitation treat culture as bounded, distinct, and singular. Crossroads cooking questions this framework while retaining the implications of unequal power of cultural dominance and oppression. We believe that appropriation describes more than just a relationship between cultures. In our postmodern, postcolonial, and globalised world, culture is appropriation.
We approach food as a cultural artefact that reflects the ideas and attitudes of societies across time. We borrow heavily from theories of material culture which suggest that objects give material form to beliefs that evolve over time and with new influences. Our mode of cultural investigation uses food as a symbol for cultural interconnectedness.
Vocational intuition is at the core of our research methodology. Unlike traditional academic research, we begin with taste not text. Our team of chefs use decades of culinary training and practice to recognise patterns in ingredients and techniques across food cultures. We partner with scholars to refine and test our hypotheses. This way, chefs and scholars work hand-in-hand to bridge the worlds of the the kitchen and the academy and produce food that honours our multicultural practice.
Our practice blurs the boundaries between applied arts and fine arts. Food has long been dismissed as craft because it serves a functional purpose— to feed— as opposed to an aesthetic purpose. Our research-driven approach elevates the discourse of food beyond its gustatory value. We work with contemporary artists to define our practice in the context of relational aesthetics, rasa-aesthetics, archival art, etc. We use meaning as an ingredient and leverage aesthetics to promote a new way of thinking about culture.
We believe that innovation without a study of history is impotent. We want to ask what it means to be culturally responsible and sustainable in a rapidly changing and connected world. We study the traditions of the past to create something new in the present.
Crossroads thinking extends beyond the domain of food. Although we began with food because it is our field of expertise, we designed our methodology to be inclusive, wide-ranging, and trans-disciplinary. Our interconnected approach to culture extends in time and space, as well as in discipline. We partner with architects, designers, and painters to apply crossroads thinking to practices including architecture, fashion, and visual art.
Ivan Brehm leads the team at Restaurant Nouri in Singapore. He has worked at some of the best restaurants in the world including Per Se in New York, Mugaritz in the Basque Country, and The Fat Duck in Bray as Development Chef in the Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen. With a mixed heritage of Italian, German, Russian, Spanish, Lebanese, Syrian and Brazilian, Ivan has developed a cuisine as eclectic as his own lineage.
Kaushik Swaminathan is the Head of Research and Special Projects at Nouri. Previously, he worked as a reporter at the New York Times and BBC and as a partner at tomato.fund, a consulting firm for food startups. He graduated from Yale-NUS College with concentrations in political science and philosophy.