Phuket has been endowed with a new restaurant by an adept chef who brings with him his Swedish roots as well as strong influence from the internationally oriented Californian cuisine, serving culinary surprises and clever wine pairings at his discreet dining outlet Surin Gate Kitchen.
From 18-hour shifts seven days a week on board one of the most luxurious cruise ships on the planet and creating private dinners for Hollywood superstars, to opening up a restaurant in Marbella and serving as private chef to Polish actress Kasia Figura, the Swedish chef Daniel Isberg, aged 39, has landed on Phuket. Literally. Time to leave the international world of glam and celebrities behind, slightly.
He has come to settle down and continue his life as a chef from here and continue working on his own ideas for new culinary concepts. After some hectic recent years in California it was time to take a breather. This is not to say he as taken time out though – to the delight of gourmet diners and food lovers living on or visiting Phuket.
“Of course there’s a lot of work to open a new restaurant the first season, I am aware of that. Eventually my goal is to get a quality life here in Thailand, and I know one does not become a millionaire but my goal is to build a business that works well over here,” says Daniel when introducing himself.
“This restaurant here has only sixty seats, and I chose to come in low season in order to start up in my style. I started from scratch, building step by step, so it’s a lot of work but I like that; it’s my life. To be a chef is not a job, it’s a lifestyle.”
With his style he is bringing something new to the island and has already gained a reputation for serving excellent cuisine.
And he stands out slightly with his unusual flavour combinations and taste sensations. Daniel says that this has even caught the attention of some of the islands sommeliers who have come as dinner guests, curious on his different takes on dishes along with just as striking wine pairings.
“My style usually has a lot to do with unique tastes and combinations. I have worked with food and wine pairing so many years, including more than ten with The California Wine Institute, so I have the knowledge,” he says with apparent self-confidence.
He is enthusiastic about the opportunities on the island that he knows well from before, since he is a good friend with the Swedes behind Twinpalms Phuket
“I know many people here, including many restaurateurs and hotel owners, so I know the area! It’s perfect up here in Surin! I like it a lot here. I think it’s brilliant and that it will work out well. I already have many followers coming when I do events here in the restaurant. I knew there’s a market for food guests if one wants to venture into the kind of food I do.”
Previously Daniel used to come to Thailand nearly once a year.
“My first visit was around 15 years ago and I started practising Thai boxing. I returned here 2-3 months every year, but my vacation consisted in a Thai boxing camp, only eating healthy and feeling good – no cigarettes or alcohol. After such a cure you are so clear in your mind and feel incredibly good. One works a lot in restaurants and it’s one of the most stressful sectors in the world,” he explains the reason for such yearly “retreats”.
“And during the years I have always said that one day I would like to move here. I love Thailand: the weather is superb; all these fresh spices, herbs and vegetables; and the people and the whole atmosphere. I have travelled the world and seen it all basically but Thailand remains close to my heart and means something special to me,” thinks the chef.
So eventually the Swedish owner of Surin Gate Hotel, at the foot of the hill just before Surin beach, could persuade him to open a restaurant there. Daniel has also been asked to offer something for the twenty-two Swedish apartment owners within the property. Thus there are some Swedish classics on the menu.
“Other than that I do a bit of fusion style – unique combinations – and nicely presented.”
Overall Daniel describes his cuisine as a mix of Sweden, California and Asia.
“And Californian food means a bit French, Mexican, Asian and American.“
Chef on über-luxury yacht
To summarize his up to now far-reaching international career only a few mile stones can be mentioned here.
Having spent his childhood summer with his grandparents he quickly learned to appreciate food, fishing and making jam and juices. He started cooking together with his grandmother at the age of four. This lead to attending restaurant school and soon enough he was accepted to the kitchen of Vau De Ville, back then Restaurant of the Year in Stockholm.
But then things took a different turn. The curiosity around Daniel and his cuisine probably also has to do with his background which clearly deviates somewhat from the usual chef career. One restaurant wall is decorated with various photos and news clips of chef Daniel together with various celebrities and film stars.
Soon enough he left Sweden for the seven seas and basically won the lottery by getting a chance to work on that über-luxury cruiser, much thanks to recommendations (several hundred skilled chefs want to get the chance on such cruise ships).
“I had always loved to travel and cook, and the ingredients used there I had not seen before in my whole life.”
“It was more like a large over-the-top yacht travelling around the world, flying in lobster via helicopter etc.,” he describes it. And for a young chef – the ultimate challenge.
But thanks to very strong self-discipline he did not give up and kept on going. And it went very well; eventually he became Sous de Chef.
Since then he has worked around in the world; in Greece, and L.A and San Francisco in California – you name it.
Making it in Hollywood
His Californian adventure started when he became a member of the California Mercenary Chefs invited over for training in 2000. There he discovered the region’s abundance of market-fresh ingredients, the West-Coast style with its Mediterranean and Asian influences and the vineyards, all which has influenced his own gourmet cuisine.
Catering has been big business for him over there, cooking at private events for a long list of Hollywood actors and artists. His business partner was part of the film industry and Daniel explains that his own style connects well with celebrities. He may not be a ‘celebrity chef’ himself but he is by now certainly known to many stars.
So, being successful in such glamorous surroundings, what is he bringing to Phuket? In fact a very laid-back, style, believe it or not!
Being casual and offering affordable dinners (except for of course the highly taxed imported wines) are important elements for Daniel.
“I don’t do the white tablecloths. It’s casual, come as you are. I’m like that, I like that style.”
“And I will do fun things, starting with a Saturday Pool Party Brunch in December with a brunch, bottomless Bloody Marys and Bellinis, a DJ or troubadour and sexy ladies in the pool.“
He promises to come up with many new events including cooking classes for the housewives in the area. In addition to that he will cater to many weddings so now he is in a rush to build a skilled chefs team in order to be able to handle it all.
There is enthusiasm at Surin Gate Kitchen ahead of its first high season.