A Dazzling Debut

By Julia Sam

Singapore’s Michelin Guide Young Chef Award winner, Louis Han of Nae:um, recounts his culinary journey, his recent win and plans for the future.

At just 32 years old, chef-founder Louis Han of the newly minted one-Michelin-starred Nae:um was crowned winner of the Michelin Guide Young Chef Award 2022. It is an accolade given to a chef under 36 years of age who is working in a Michelin-starred restaurant and displays exceptional talent and great potential.

“My team and I are putting ourselves under a lot of pressure to keep up with the standard expected of a Michelin-recognised establishment,” shares Han. “While we continue to take pride in what we do, we now feel a deeper sense of responsibility to deliver a memorable experience to our guests.”

The Young Chef Award is by no means a simple honour. It is supported by Swiss luxury watchmaker Blancpain which believes that haute horlogerie shares the same values – an attention to detail, creativity and discipline, among others – as the world of nouvelle cuisines. The Young Chef Award propels the Singapore food industry and drives young chefs to push their culinary limits. When probed for his thoughts about his admittedly huge debut year, Han elaborates that he hesitates to call it a “success” given that Nae:um is only a year old. 

“When I was a young boy, I could only dream of working in France – the home of the Michelin Guide,” reminisces Han. “I made it a lifetime goal to receive a Michelin recognition, so it feels extra special to have won the Young Chef Award in the same year my restaurant received its first star.” 

Han’s interest in cooking was honed as a bright-eyed teen when, without his family’s knowledge, he applied for culinary school and passed the entrance exams. Needless to say, his choice was met with protests by his Asian family. Everyone had teemed with hopes for Han, the only son of the household, to become a scientist. 

“I’ve loved science since I was young. The process of creating and inventing things have always fascinated me. One day, as I was watching a cooking show on television where the chef was creating a new dish, I realised the similarities between cooking and inventing. It’s really all about science—measurements and innovations. I grew interested ever since,” shares Han. 

Now, through the 28-seater Nae:um in Telok Ayer, Han is proclaiming a heartfelt ode to the gastronomy of his home city. His grandmother’s secret recipe for gochujang, his favourite somyeon dish from his childhood, and the different types of kimchi that he makes all form his nostalgic episodic menus. “Anything and everything inspire me. Nae:um is all about memories,” says Han. “Sharing more about fine Korean cuisine was what drove me to open the restaurant, and I am happy that more people are becoming aware of our cuisine.” 

And perhaps his boundless zest is what makes Han so worthy of prestige. “I’m very restless in life. I do my best because I don’t want to regret anything in case something happens to me tomorrow. I’m always aggressive in achieving my goals, and I’m constantly in competition with my past self.” 

The future is more than bright for Han as he continues to plan, dream and do. For now, though, Han says with a laugh, “The next big thing is to get through my wedding in Seoul this October!”

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