With a philosophy of nourishing gastronomy, chef Nurdin Topham creates beautiful dishes that blend what we should eat with what we want to eat. We visit his kitchen to find out what makes him tick.
Text by Mandy Li, photos by Samantha Sin
I met biomedical engineer Martin Vogel when I was in Copenhagen and I invited him to join us on an essential oils project. We just got a steam distillation apparatus and are testing the possibilities – Vogel is experimenting with ginger, Chinese cinnamon, coriander, cardamom and red pepper. We are producing some hydrosols and trying to use them in dishes. Of course, we stay on the very safe side on the dosage and evaluate every oil with safety books. I find merging science and cooking is always interesting and new.
Fermentation is age-old, used by our ancestors as a way to survive during seasons that had no harvest. It interests me as a way to naturally preserve food and as a new frontier in the culinary world that lets microorganisms do the cooking. The fermentation process not only unfolds the flavours, but also increases the nutritional level, which aligns with my belief that food should be tasty as well as nourishing. At the moment, we are working with kombucha, vinegar, miso, soya sauce, wine and kvass, but it’s a broad subject and we are just at the beginning.
My father, Top Topham, has been a professional blues guitarist since the 1960s. We grew up with that, and music and food are my two biggest passions. Every weekend, I play music as a break and a creative release, and I aspire to make a musical. This Dobro guitar is new from a guitar maker in Hong Kong who is designing a few guitars for my dad to take back to Britain.
My grandmother grows geraniums and their lemony fragrance reminds me of her. In our restaurant garden, we grow lemon palm, lemon thyme, lemongrass, lemon basil, lemon marigolds and geraniums. I love their freshness. When used raw, these herbs and flowers add a different layer to the dish. I have used them in many of my creations, including the crabmeat and pomelo salad we served when we first opened.