Helping to join the dots between different cuisines is sous chef Ashlee Malligan’s major contribution to Nouri’s crossroads cooking.
Born in Sydney, Ashlee Malligan has been living in Singapore since she was 10. An opportunity to go to New York saw her finishing her culinary studies there, and working at restaurants such as Nougatine at Jean-Georges. Landing a a job at Bacchanalia upon her return, she followed chef Ivan when he left to start Nouri. The one-Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant explores Crossroads Cooking, a philosophy that cinches global cuisines on one plate.
Says chef Ivan of his first impression of Ashlee, “It’s easy to get burdened by work load and stress. But she has always had a positive outlook and was proactive in resolving things. Even picking up stuff from the ground and doing things that didn’t concern her area of responsibilities.”
As the head of R&D culinary, she analyses that in Nouri’s first menus, a lot of the dishes came about from having an understanding of what they wanted in the menu, finding crossroads ties between dishes, then improving them. In their new menu, they are “cooking with purpose”, doing a lot more research about the heritage ties of each dish, connecting them to other dishes, and creating new dishes from there.
It’s a different process of cooking but it has sparked off plenty of great ideas which may or may not work fully well at first. For instance, they experimented with making a dish inspired by the local pork rib soup dish Bak Kut Teh and the French beef stew pot-au-feu. “Three months we tried to make it, but it was still very average. It’s taking something…not necessarily too local or one other culture and trying to really match it, and bring both dishes together.” Such challenges only bring her and Ivan back to the drawing board, where they work harder on ironing out the kinks before putting the dish on the menu.
Since becoming sous chef at Nouri, the managerial role that comes with it has been another learning experience. Once she started looking, her eyes opened to the many things that could go wrong and she set about getting others to notice and work together to nip problems in the bud. In many ways, her time at Ivan’s side has helped to shape the culture and environment of Nouri. “It’s a place that’s super friendly, positive, and we don’t tear people down,” she says.
Her deep connection with the ethos of the restaurant is perhaps the reason why her friends never ask her why she is still with one chef after so long. They know that she gets to work in a “cool environment” she has helped shape and work on “awesome dishes” on a daily basis. At the heart of her working relationship with chef Ivan is honesty, understanding and communication.
“I would say Ivan and I work very well together. We are on the same wavelength. He may be thinking of something and I already have it. This helps us brainstorm and come up with something when it comes to development and planning the menus. We communicate really well. It’s cheesy but we can finish each other’s sentences. We’re good friends apart from professional relationship. We joke around and have fun and don’t take things too seriously.”
From chef Ivan’s perspective, there’s still a lot he wants to impart to Ashlee and his other mentees. “I’d like to empower them to understand how important it is to be present and aware all the time. Techniques come later. And its also important that they not leave things to chance too much when it comes to their responsibilities. They have to execute their tasks with a certain degree of clarity and thorough activity, to make sure all deals are closed. That’s when they stop being a cook and become a chef.”
He used to take it personally when people leave, but now he has come round to thinking that it’s best to empower them, rather than limit their horizons. “Everyone is replaceable. But there are people you don’t want to replace.”
Ashlee doesn’t know what the future holds but she’s loving the free reign she has in exploring ideas. It could be the 25kg of nutmeg their suppliers drop off one day that they need to make use of. “We’d make them into lollies, pickle them, fry them. We just end up making some really awesome dishes.” In short, she’s never bored and never stops learning. For now, that’s what keeps her tethered to Nouri and always on her toes.