New chef Luke Armstrong takes over the reins at The Kitchen at Bacchanalia

Australia-born Luke Armstrong (above) is replacing chef Ivan Brehm, who is returning to Brazil for a sabbatical.
Australia-born Luke Armstrong (above) is replacing chef Ivan Brehm, who is returning to Brazil for a sabbatical.ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN
Australia-born Luke Armstrong is replacing chef Ivan Brehm (above), who is returning to Brazil for a sabbatical.
Australia-born Luke Armstrong is replacing chef Ivan Brehm (above), who is returning to Brazil for a sabbatical.ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

Chef Ivan Brehm led the opening team of Bacchanalia in Coleman Street in 2013 and earned the restaurant's first Michelin star this year.

But tomorrow, the 32-year-old head chef will serve his last dinner at the restaurant's current premises at 39 Hongkong Street.

It reopened there as The Kitchen at Bacchanalia last year.

On Dec 20, he will return to his home in Brazil for a sabbatical.

He says solemnly: "I'm feeling emotional as this chapter comes to an end. I would like to spend time with my wife and family, but I don't want to stop for too long either."

To ensure a smooth transition, the restaurant's new head chef, Australia-born Luke Armstrong, 29, is already six days into the job and learning the ropes from Brehm and the team.

Born in Perth, Armstrong left school at the age of 17 for an apprenticeship in a restaurant and was encouraged by a chef-mentor to go to London to pursue his passion in cooking. At age 21, he joined one-Michelin-starred Pied a Terre and later worked at two-Michelin-starred The Ledbury - both in London - and the now-defunct three-Michelin-starred Oud Sluis in the Netherlands.

Most recently, he was head chef of London's Maze restaurant by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, which lost its Michelin star this year.

On working at Michelin-starred restaurants, he says: "It is a really big thing as a chef to work for the best people.

"Here, the cooking is the same, but I am serving a different clientele. It is about understanding and respecting them. I have been introducing myself and getting feedback on the food."

The Kitchen at Bacchanalia's owners Raj Datwani and Alex Chew started looking for a new head chef about four months ago.

Armstrong came to know of the position through a close friend. His Polish wife and their two-year-old daughter will move to Singapore in a few months. There will not be any big changes to the menu yet, says Armstrong, whose cooking style is largely influenced by the French restaurants he worked at.

He says: "The restaurant is not broken, it does not need to be fixed. I'll take the time to understand the day-to-day operations and get to know the suppliers, head to the markets and understand the local food."

On his first day in Singapore, he queued for what he calls the "best 2½-hour" for the one-Michelin- starred Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Complex Food Centre.

He is also looking to visit the other Michelin-starred hawker Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Crawford Lane, as well as restaurants such as Cure in Keong Saik Road, one-Michelin-starred Terra in Tras Street and his "must-visit" two- Michelin-starred Restaurant Andre in Bukit Pasoh Road.

The Kitchen at Bacchanalia's former chef de cuisine Mark Ebbels also left Singapore two weeks ago for Australia, where he is now a farmer, says Mr Datwani.

Both Brehm and Ebbels used to work at The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, England, by British chef Heston Blumenthal.

Mr Datwani says that Brehm's departure had been discussed previously and the chef had initially planned to stay for about two years. Brehm does not rule out returning to Singapore as he has applied to be a permanent resident here.

On Armstrong taking over, he says: "We have a good person at heart and with the knife, and that's really important to maintain the core of the restaurant.

"I'll obviously still cook, I'm not going to start selling shoes. With the restaurant, I've grown more mature and it's been brilliant, I couldn't ask for more."

• The Kitchen at Bacchanalia at 39 Hongkong Street opens from noon to 2.30pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), 6 to 10.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays).

• Follow Eunice Quek on Twitter @STEuniceQ.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2016, with the headline 'New head chef takes over Kitchen at Bacchanalia'. Print Edition | Subscribe