As part of our Optimal season (22 July-2 August), we’ll be running everything from a micro exhibition at The Space | 3FA to interactive events, a supper club and an experiment featuring three Broadgate-based volunteers to explore how food, nutrition and mindfulness can help to support the cognitive agility, critical thinking and creativity (the 3 Cs cited by the World Economic Forum as essential for the future workplace).
Optimal features the talents of chef and nutritionist Nurdin Topham who worked with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons for 10 years. He earned a Michelin star in October 2014 for his restaurant NUR in Hong Kong and worked several stints at the Nordic Food Lab, Copenhagen. He’s currently setting up a new food lab and kitchen in London. Inspired by how food can nourish both our bodies and minds, Nurdin spoke to Broadgate about this exciting season of events.
How did you get involved in this project?
I’m passionate about nutrition and was really lucky to be supported by Raymond [Blanc] in my studies – I don’t think a lot of chefs get the opportunity to study to that level. After all, that is why we eat: to nourish our bodies. It’s particularly important in an urban environment where we face challenges such as stress and pollution. There’s definitely a wave that’s building towards that to inspire people to eat well, improving the quality of our food and access to it.
Can you tell us a bit about the Broadgate project with three volunteers who are following a food plan aimed to support the 3 Cs?
On the whole they’re switched on in terms of wanting to lead a healthy lifestyle. My job was to formulate an “eating pyramid” which is there to be a guide and also a 10-day plan to give inspiration and recipes to them.
So what do we need to think about when it comes to nutrition and brain function?
A lot of what we know comes from an understanding of what happens to the brain when it goes wrong; it’s a subject that’s very close to my heart as unfortunately my father – who’s a musician and an artist – was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year. So looking at how these conditions evolve is fascinating to me.
My interest in Hong Kong was fermented foods, live bacteria ecology and making my own condiments and since then there’s been an explosion in that area. Those foods have particular importance because they offer nourishment to the gut and there’s a very close connection between the gut and what happens in the brain. They now think that a lot of those dementia conditions originate in the gut.
And, as a rule, we don’t look after our guts – we inhale food watching screens and the content of that food often doesn’t nourish us.
So what foods are good for us?
Healthy fats: omega 3s in oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, herring and organic salmon are a high priority because of their positive effect on the inflammatory pathways. We encourage a high consumption of lower GI index fruits such as seasonal berries (great for flavonoids) and stone fruits (which are delicious and full of nutrients) alongside leafy green vegetables. We also need more plant materials that are good quality.
Wholegrains and legumes for fibre intake (nourishing the gut, regulating sugar levels, micronutrients, B vitamins which are crucial in hormone production and neurotransmitter synthesis). A couple of cubes of dark chocolate with minimum 70% cocoa solids is rich in flavonoids which offer specific support to neurons in our brains. Green tea and coffee in moderation along with a glass (140ml) of red wine a day.
If someone is feeling a bit rundown and their brain is having an off day – what meal would you recommend?
One of the things we often overlook is a 3-4% reduction in your hydration levels can have a drastic impact on your cognitive agility. From a gastronomic point of view, I’d take a mackerel, gently salt and grill it. I’d eat that with some brassicas like a fun jen or komatsuna alongside fresh pulses such as borlotti beans. I’d add lots of garlic and herbs such as rosemary which has a close relationship with memory along with some lemon balm and lemon basil.
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Main photo by Louis Hansel