Food As A Catalyst For Culture

Appetite, chef Ivan Brehm’s latest concept, aims to bring food, art and music together.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Appetite, chef Ivan Brehm’s latest concept, aims to bring food, art and music together.

There's a term in aesthetic theory: gesamtkunstwerk. It's a German loanword that translates as “total work of art”, and – at the risk of over-simplifying things – refers to a unifying work of art that combines multiple disciplines or philosophies into a coherent whole. It's not a term one often hears outside the art world, but if all intentions materialise for chef Ivan Brehm's latest multi-concept space, Appetite, the unwieldy noun might be an apt way to define this project. 

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(Above and thumbnail) Located on the top floor of Appetite is one of Singapore's largest private record collection with over 3,000 vinyls spanning various cultural and sonic spheres – from classic rock to 90s R&B and Afro-Cuban jazz. In charge of the programming is in-house music lead Aryan Clarke, who curates a weekly playlist and is usually on DJ duty at the record player console.

Saying “multi-concept space”, however, is the lazy way out. The 2,000 sq ft space is part restaurant and part art gallery with a listening room that houses a massive record collection. There are ticketed dinners that cost $350 per person as well as relatively affordable a la carte snacks and wines by the glass. 

Designed by Akira Kita, also responsible for Brehm's restaurant Nouri, Appetite is built like an exclusive member's club, but everyone is welcome. It's Brehm's crystallisation of a focal point where people would go to not only partake in but create culture. Like a modern-day Les Deux Magot, a famous cafe in Paris, France, Appetite will host thinkers and the curious, all fuelled by food and drink – except that instead of absinthe and a steak, patrons might be having uni arancini and orange wine from Japan.

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While Brehm will be cooking some of the themed ticketed dinners, Ashlee Malligan, head of culinary R&D and Nouri's sous chef, manages the day-to-day operations. The a la carte snack menu at Appetite is a distilled version of Nouri's Crossroads cooking – formed from extensive research and hard to pin down to a specific cuisine, but always with flavour in mind. Think an open-faced sandwich with creamy burrata cut with Sichuan flavours or a bhel puri luxed-up with king crab. Appetite's dining room though is where the culinary deep-diving happens. On the cards are specific-ingredient dinners, food and art explorations, and even residency programmes for other chefs. 

Even though Appetite stems from Brehm's background in food, he's gathered a group of similarly-minded people, each with their speciality, and put them in charge of curating a section of the space. 

Of particular focus is its art programming, where curated exhibits run periodically, with artworks displayed around the establishment. 

Anyone can come in to eat and drink, and enjoy and connect with the works, offering gallerists and artists a place where food is experienced in a setting that's more accessible and comfortable than, say, a gallery or a museum. 

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Just like every other element at Appetite, the drinks programme focuses on exploration. Instead of traditional selections, beverage director Matthew Chan has assembled a list – from wine to whisky and non-alcoholic options – that focuses on particular producers and offers a large selection from their range. This means there'll be something from everyone as both the producer's entry-level and premium labels will be available. Expect a left-leaning collection that includes an impressive gamut of bottles from cult Italian independent whisky bottler Samaroli and some of the biggest names in natural wine.

“We're at the stage where people feel bad about being in a place that's too nice because they feel like they don't belong there. That's how bad it is. Suddenly, normal folk can't experience things that are beautiful because they self-censor. But the reality should be that it's for everyone – this lady did not paint this $35,000 painting because it's worth that amount. She painted it because it's beautiful, and she wants to say something,” explains Brehm. 

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Mastermind chef Ivan Brehm.

We're at the stage where people feel bad about being in a place that's too nice because they feel like they don't belong there.

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Music lead Aryan Clarke mans the decks at Appetite, spinning everything from New Wave to Singaporean rock from the 60s.

Also in the pipeline is a series of masterclasses and workshops where no topic is off-limits, including “accounting and bondage”. A considerable roster has already been lined up to make sure the space is diverse. The idea is to keep drawing people, whether they are lawyers, accountants, artists or musicians, back to Appetite. Conversations might happen at a stairwell or over a particular record – and eventually, ideas are born in the space.

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Appetite's curiosity-driven beverage programme includes uncommon drinks like craft Tequila and forward thinking non-alcoholic options like NON from Australia.

The idea is to keep drawing people, whether they are lawyers, accountants, artists or musicians, back to Appetite.

“We want the experience to be as close to a house party as we can,” says Brehm.

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A project as complex as Appetite doesn't just manifest out of nothing. Much of it – from the food to the art – is the result of extensive research done by Kaushik Swaminathan, head of research and special projects at Nouri and art lead Jean Hui Ng. The team also works with about 14 contributing researchers from around the world, who write papers exploring everything from the origins of nasi lemak to the authenticity in food. Art also plays a significant role in the Appetite experience. The current exhibit, She/Her, brings together four regional artists from STPI Creative Gallery and Workshop as well as Yavuz Gallery to showcase different representations on the female form.

This egalitarian vision might seem at odds with what is outwardly a spin-off of a fine dining restaurant. Still, the $350 dinners and bottles of 50-year-old single cask whisky help to pay for everything that makes the experience possible, including the gorgeous furnishing and sound system, a full-time curator and a music director. 

As with all art, good stuff happens at the points of tension – and hospitality is no exception. So, come and whet your mental and gastronomical appetite.