We chat with the chef-owner about food trends, new dishes, how to stay relevant and his new venture. Hint: It’s a pizza experience you don’t want to miss.
In the midst of countless Christmas feasts we encountered back in December, it’s safe to say our trip to Artichoke was a breath of fresh air. No Xmas or Valentine’s Day specials here (though we’d totally hit up the place nonetheless) – just the least authentic Middle Eastern food you can find in Singapore.
Artichoke celebrates nine amazing years in the scene and it’s here to tell us that it’s #stillnotdead. Instead, chef-owner Bjorn Shen presents nine new dishes – from brunch specials to mezze to desserts. On our visit, he unabashedly quips about his journey, the power of good vibes and his geeky new venture: The world’s smallest pizza bar. We got an exclusive first look and all we can say is we can’t wait to go back…
Hi Bjorn! Congrats on nine years in the biz! What’s your secret?
Thanks! I have no frickin’ idea… I wish I knew so I could repeat it. I guess when you approach it from the angle of not trying to make money, but instead just putting on a good show, then it’ll all work out? I don’t know for sure, so don’t take my word for it.
Tell us, what inspired you to come up with these new creations?
We are always creating new dishes. In fact, our menu changes every other month. We have a video sharing session every other Friday where two of our staff, on a rotational basis, play inspiration-worthy food videos for everyone to watch.
Thereafter, it’s our chance to try and make something from the videos happen. Our new brunch dishes like the crispy lamb floss ($28) and cauliflower kushari ($24) were from such videos shared during a session.
Which new dish did you have the most fun creating?
Definitely the house-made hashbrown ($14). It’s such a simple dish, as you know, simple is hard to pull off. It’s got to be perfect. We serve it as a perfect square hunk, so the
internal engineering (what type of flour to use to bind, duration of cooking, how much weight to use when pressing it, how long to press it for, etc) had to be fussed over for weeks. Previous unsuccessful versions were too mealy, fell apart too easily or didn’t have that typical hash brown look and feel. It was a very rewarding feeling to finally nail it.
What’s something you want patrons to take away from Artichoke (apart from full tummies and satisfied faces)?
Definitely good vibes. I’m a sucker for vibes. I can feel up a place and its vibes from the get-go. It’s easy to pump in lots of cash into a restaurant, engage the best designers, hire the best staff, use the most premium ingredients, etc. What you’ll get with that is a good restaurant. But a good restaurant doesn’t automatically equate to good vibes.
Good vibes come from lots of happy people and their collective energy at that point in time. It’s quite intangible; you can’t really engineer it. And we’re mad blessed that we got that going on most days of the week. It just happens.
We’d love to know more about your new little project, Small’s.
Small’s is a two- by two-metre, tiny ass room connected to my kitchen at Artichoke. It’s essentially a four-seat chef’s table with a kitchenette. I plan to make pizzas at Small’s and serve them omakase-style, something not done before.
It’ll be an experience that people will need to book ahead in groups of four; strictly four, no more, no less. I’ll be running it three nights a week and cooking up an eight-course menu – three snacks, four pizzas and a dessert. The pizza will be Neapolitan style, with a well-charred, puffy crust and a soft, soggy middle. The focus of this style of pizza is the depth of flavour and texture in the crust, not the toppings; so people who love lots of meat and cheese on their pizzas are definitely gonna hate Small’s.
Anyway, I’m using it for R&D right now, and I plan to open for booking in late January 2020.
Speaking of 2020, what’s one food trend from 2019 that everyone should leave behind?
I was about to say boba pearls on everything, then I suddenly remembered a cheese sauce + boba mud crab dish I had in Sydney that was really good. So I’ll give boba a pass on this one.
Moving on, I wish people would stop putting sous vide eggs on stuff. It’s been a thing for a few years now, not just 2019. Perhaps it’s just a personal bias, but I think the jiggly whites of sous vide eggs are really gross.
Looking ahead, what are your food trend predictions for 2020?
I’m probably the worst person to ask. I’m an old dude who’s not hip and in the know. I can’t really predict anything, but I suppose I can hope that Middle Eastern food will finally trend here in Singapore? It’s already trended massively in the US, UK and Australia in the last four years. It’s just never really popped up here in Singapore.
However, I’m starting to see small signs that it might happen. Artichoke had a stall at Neon Lights and out of 10 food vendors, three of us did Middle Eastern stuff – us, plus our friends Fat Prince and Kult Kafe. It gives me that glimmer of hope that it’ll happen someday soon. We need more good chefs and restaurant owners taking on this great cuisine!
Finally, tell us three New Year resolutions you may (or may not) keep?
I suck at keeping resolutions, so I stopped making them long ago. Please ask someone else.