Part of Artichoke’s success lies in its timing. When we opened in 2010, Middle Eastern cuisine in Singapore was confined to mom-and-pop joints on Arab Street. To make our food easier to understand, we applied Middle Eastern touches to café classics, creating dishes like baklava French toast and lamb burgers.
It wasn’t till 2014 that we put the “dudestronomy” spin on our cuisine. I don’t find my style by dining at other Middle Eastern restaurants. My culinary inspiration comes from grubby kebab shops and Lebanese charcoal chicken shacks that are littered across Sydney’s western suburbs. I asked myself: Since I enjoy eating instant noodles with cheese, why don’t I take inspiration from that? Why not glaze a lamb rib in root beer sauce? The menu became an extension of my identity.
“Every culinary trend has its place… it keeps things exciting and gives us something to talk about”
Dude food is comfort food, the kind of food that you’d eat when you’re in college. Dudestronomy is an elevation of dude food by using good ingredients, cheffing skills and creativity – taking inspiration from those familiar flavours and transforming a trashy idea into a restaurant-quality dish.
For me, it’s about pairing highbrow with lowbrow. Like London’s Bubbledogs, where you have Champagne with hot dogs or Sydney’s Belles Hot Chicken – think fried chicken that ain’t KFC with natural wines in a nice restaurant setting. Though they don’t call their food dudestronomy, chefs like David Chang of Momofuku, Dan Hong of Ms G’s and Martin Picard of Au Pied de Cochon bear the torch around the world.
About half of Artichoke’s menu actually consists of vegetable dishes like mezzes and salads, while the meaty dishes make up only 30%. We are vegetarian friendly; we don’t run against today’s global trend for healthy dining or veganism. For a long time, we had a vegetarian platter, but took it off the menu as people weren’t ordering it.
There may be a trend for healthy food now, and I would like to open a vegetarian restaurant, but the local market isn’t big enough for it; not yet at least. Some concepts are not sustainable here. We tried to embrace locavorism for a year and a half before giving it up. We spent thousands of dollars to upkeep a kitchen garden for four years – but 80% of the greens were getting destroyed by bugs and bad weather.
The interest in healthy dining today won’t stop fast-food chains from expanding or people from patronising ice cream parlours. There is space for anything on the healthy-to-unhealthy spectrum. Every culinary trend has its place. While I think some are quite annoying, it keeps things exciting and gives us something to talk about.
This article was originally published in the July 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine.