A Taste of Elevated Dude Food at Artichoke
11 Oct 2018 10:04AM

A Taste of Elevated Dude Food at Artichoke

A taste of “elevated dude food” at Artichoke

 

Bjorn Shen

 

From his baseball cap to his laid-back demeanour, Bjorn Shen, chef-owner of popular Middle Eastern-inspired eatery Artichoke, is an unabashed dude.

He labels his style of cooking “dudestronomy” – a combination of “dude” and “gastronomy” – but that doesn’t mean he’s dishing out frat-boy cuisine (think: cheeseburgers and Mac & Cheese).

Instead, you’ll get what the MasterChef Singapore judge calls “elevated dude food”.

“What we do at Artichoke is elevate the idea of lowbrow, which is why we constantly make  tongue-in-cheek references to McDonald’s or KFC. For example, we drew inspiration from Macs’ seasonal chocolate pie and created an elevated version of it. Ours just looks more expensive and is made more beautifully, but it still originates from ‘lowbrow’ roots,” Shen explained.

This distinctive philosophy is what allows him to encapsulate Artichoke’s offerings in five unconventional words: Soul, Heart, Street, OG (Original Gangster), and Mash-up.

 

Soul food made from scratch

 

More than just cooking with passion, soul is about cooking with honesty and self-assurance, said Shen.

“When a chef is comfortable with himself and his style of cooking, it shows in his food. What we put out at Artichoke is always authentic and sincere – we never try to do anything other than dudestronomy, and we’re not afraid to dive into lowbrow stuff.”

He added that the expression “soul food”, commonly associated with Southern comfort food, is food that’s humble, simple, and makes you feel good. Like when you’re sinking your teeth into their crunchy, juicy Artichoke Fried Chicken.

 

Artichoke crew at work

 

“The biggest compliment you can give us is not that our food is good, but that it has soul. In my eight-year career, I’ve heard it three times, and that’s good enough for me,” he remarked.

Aside from the food itself, what also matters when you’re eating out is hospitable service. And Shen guarantees that when you eat at Artichoke, you’ll always leave with your heart full.

The restaurant prides itself on having a dedicated service manager whose sole job is to welcome customers and chat with them so they feel at home.

He continued: “We also encourage our staff to address customers in an informal, relaxed manner, such as referring to them as “guys”. Some people hate it, preferring the more professional “sir” or “madam”. But for us, it’s about approaching our customers at a ‘bro’ level and introducing our food to you as a friend.”

When asked about where he gets his inspiration from, the answer came unhesitatingly: “Food from the street”.

The affable chef makes it a point to sample all kinds of street food whenever he travels, and that’s what gets his creative juices flowing.

 

Serving up delights from the kitchen

 

In fact, the idea behind one of the signature dishes at Artichoke was conceived on one such trip, when Shen was blown away by a street-style Israeli sandwich.

“It was simply exploding with flavour, and so generously packed with ingredients, like grilled eggplant, tomatoes, Israeli salad, hummus, and three different sauces. When I came back, I converted it into a plated dish, and that’s how our Fried Cauliflower Salad came about.”

These days, according to Shen, a good restaurant not only needs to put out tasty food, but it also needs to be original.

“That’s actually very hard to do because even if you think you’ve come up with something original, somebody else probably thought of it as well. But if, to the best of your knowledge, you came up with a dish yourself and didn’t plagiarise another chef, then you’re value-adding to the industry. That’s why our Chinatown Special pizza is what I associate with going about my own path, like an Original Gangster back in the day doing his own thing.”

 

Brunch highlights at Artichoke

 

For the innovative chef, whipping up food with a creative twist isn’t something new.

For instance, Shen has taken two concepts – a traditional parma ham and rocket pizza, and Lebanese ingredients – and turned it into a Middle Eastern-inspired version of the Neapolitan favourite.

“I wanted to cross two ideas I thought would work well together, using Lebanese za’atar (a mountain thyme) and Neapolitan-style pizza dough, rolling it out, then baking it in a traditional pizza oven. The result: our mash-up Croque Manoushe.”

Looking around Artichoke at the satisfied faces, it’s clear that when you pop by Shen’s establishment, you can count on this dude and his crew to make sure you leave with a happy heart and tummy.