Sayan Isaksson of Michelin-starred Nour arrives in KL for a one week pop-up

His brand of cuisine fuses influences from all over the world, particularly Japanese, French and modern Scandinavian.

Isaksson also cooked for the Nobel Banquet (Photo: Sayan Isaksson/Nour)

Options: You last came to Malaysia six to seven years ago. What can excited gourmets expect from your upcoming week-long takeover of the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur’s Mandarin Grill?
Sayan Isaksson: Although I have been here before, I am still super excited to explore more of Malaysia’s food culture and regional produce. In addition, I am always eager to work with a new team and new talents!

What do you remember about Malaysia? Also, is there anything new you would like to discover in particular while here?
I vividly remember the vibrant street food scene and I would love to have a chance to explore that again. This is off-topic but I would also really like to play a game or two of badminton while here. It is a passion of mine and Malaysia is a superpower in that sport.

Tell us about the latest happenings in the world-class Nordic dining scene and your own restaurant, Nour, hailed as one of Stockholm’s finest.
This is a difficult question. I think the dogma in the Nordic culinary scene is breaking up a bit but the sustainable ideas are still there, with a clearer responsibility as to the future. For Nour, we are all about progress in both gastronomy and harmony. It is, of course, easier said than done, but we really do strive for a better work climate.


Nour's style of cooking is inspired by the shapes of nature (Photo: Nour)

You once mentioned wanting to take diners ‘back to the forest’ in a thoughtful and sustainable way. Does this still hold true?
I believe that we, as cooks, owe nature our respect. The style of our cooking [at Nour] is inspired by the shapes of nature. So, yes, it is true in that sense.

It has not been an easy journey for you, what with restaurants closing and then the added blow of Covid-19 to the industry. But you have always risen above the challenges. What advice would you give, based on your own life lessons and experiences, to young people who want to succeed in the world of F&B?
Make up a plan, follow your inspiration, get a mentor, make mistakes and learn from them. Always question and never stop learning. Also, stay humble but remain curious for the entirety of your career because that guarantees you a lifetime of learning.

What was your original childhood ambition?
Besides travelling to outer space or being a fi refighter, I actually wanted to be a cook from around the age of eight ... Maybe it was because I was always hungry. I loved to eat as a kid — and I still do!

Your daughter is 10. What is her favourite dish of yours and would you also want her to follow in your footsteps?
Her favourite dish is chicken curry. When I am home, I always make it for her and with lots of spices; so, she is quite used to it. If I look back at my career, the journey has been quite tough but also wonderful. I would want a diff erent path for my daughter if I could decide ... but I am not sure I can.


The restaurant's interior is also anchored by a Scandinavian theme

Tell us about the times you cooked for the Nobel Banquet and what the experience of cooking a feast to celebrate the year’s Nobel laureates was like.
In 2015, I was asked and, of course, I accepted immediately, as the Nobelfesten is a great honour and a fantastic adventure. You would have to plan a whole year in advance to cook for members of the Nobel committee. And when the day finally arrives, you would have maybe 35 chefs at your disposal. Remember, you are cooking for 1,350 prominent guests in the famous Blue Hall of Stockholm City Hall right after the Nobel Prize ceremony. This was truly a memory for life! And I was lucky enough to have been asked to cook again the year after.

Is there anyone you particularly dream of cooking for?
I was raised in Sweden but adopted [at the age of three months] from Thailand. So, to be able to cook my food for any close member of my biological family whom I have never met would be the greatest honour.

What do you like to eat when you are off-duty?
Most of the street food you would fi nd in Asia. That, or yakitori.

What is on your 2024 Eat List?
Asador Etxebarri in Spain’s Basque Country is my dream restaurant for food cooked over fi re and embers. Also, [to eat at] Sushi Saito in Tokyo would be a dream come true. I am also eager to try more local food in KL.

And what do you want people to feel and experience when they come to the Mandarin Grill this week? What can the curious diner expect?
Food inspired by Japan that is full of umami and premium produce, some of which will be locally sourced. There will also be a bit of Scandinavian form present and some elements of surprise, playfulness and deliciousness.

Sayan Isaksson x Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur will be held at the Mandarin Grill from Feb 26 to March 3. Call (603) 2380 8888 or click here to make reservations. 

This article first appeared on Feb 26, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.


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