Situated within the Siam Kempinski hotel, Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin boasts a traditional Thai aesthetic with an undeniable sense of unpretentious panache. In many ways, one reason for that is Henrik Yde Andersen of Copenhagen, a chef and co-owner who has brought his vision of Thai food to life and translated Thai culinary traditions to something more experimental.
Trained as a classical French chef in Denmark, chef Henrik deviated from the yelling and yapping of European kitchens – something that’s found to be quite commonplace – and flew on a whim to the Southern part of Thailand, Krabi, where he discovered his true calling for cooking and eating. Starstruck by the Thai way of dining and the true tastes of Thai food — think full-on spicy red curry and som tum – chef Henrik decided to put himself on a short apprenticeship in a local restaurant he found down south. As weeks breezed into years, chef Henrik was able to learn all the tricks and tips he never would have imagined receiving in the classroom, after five years of living and cooking in Thailand.
Back home, the Copenhagen-native chef found himself leaning more towards Thai cooking habits, molecular gastronomy techniques, and the urge to combine the two together. Needing to find an outlet for his new culinary obsession, chef Henrik began by opening a little takeaway haunt in the middle-class area of Copenhagen where he sold traditional Thai street food. With the concept of maintaining the familiar flavours of classic Thai dishes in every bite but cooking and presenting them in a modern manner, what appeared to be just a takeaway shop turned into what today is prized as the prestigious restaurant, Kiin Kiin. Kiin Kiin, which translates to “eat eat,” (reminiscent of how Thai kids are called when dinner is ready) turned to be Copenhagen’s first Michelin-awarded Asian restaurant and the only Thai restaurant outside Thailand with the honoured star.
Chef Henrik now splits his time between Copenhagen – where he owns 17 restaurants – and Bangkok, where his Thailand flagship dwells. So when he got to the city to visit his restaurant and work on the new winter journey menu, we got a chance to sit down with Chef Henrik to learn more about the guy who has set Thai fare on fire on the world stage. Read all about his inspirations and find out how he has modernised Thai food, bring together the glossy Oriental and European cuisines in the best possible ways.
I love to cook with Thai ingredients. So I would say my style of cooking has a lot to do with what Thailand has to offer. During my first five years of learning how to cook Thai food, I remember my head chef would always say “do not change the recipe.” But in my head, I was always questioning it. There was a lot of fusion food at the time but there was also a lot of confusion inside my head when it came to cooking. But towards the end, I decided to embrace Thai cuisine in my own way and that really led the travelling journeys here in Thailand that inspired my cooking.
After quitting a job as a chef in Europe, I came to Krabi, Thailand. And as I was sitting by the beach, I remember seeing these lines of food coming out and being served on our table in a sharing-style. There was sugar in the main course and there was salt in the desserts. In Denmark, we eat things in order. It is never sweet before salty. And people eat separately. There’s no sharing. But clearly, the rules don’t apply here. At that time it was so strange. So I just sat there, kind of shocked. And I remember starting to cry because the food was so spicy but it was just so good that I also had to keep eating. The next day I woke up and I told myself I needed to learn how to cook this food! So I asked to work in the restaurants for two weeks and then those two weeks turned into five years.
There’s a big Thai community in Copenhagen so you can easily find a lot of Thai restaurants there. But in Denmark, the food is very bland – think potato and cabbage – people are just so afraid of spices. So in that case, Thai food has to be done with a lot of adjustment to make it fit the Danish palate. Hence, it’s never easy to find authentic Thai food. Even at Kiin Kiin Copenhagen, we always try to see how far we can push Thai food that would also not be too far beyond people’s tastes. But we also want to give people the real Thai taste so we have the back door where we do Thai classic street food just to offer the best of both worlds to our customers.
Fun. That’s something we always try to portray through our food and service. When we opened in Copenhagen, we opened in a very poor area so it was hard for us to keep that luxury fine-dining atmosphere. So what we did was serve the best quality food but with the service that was down-to-earth and friendly. Right away, people felt at home. Since then, we always stay humble and fun.
I still want people to have fun. Recently, we got a food truck and we got the kitchen installed and the plan was to roll it around, serving Thai food at music festivals and private dinner parties. Kiin Kiin has always been known for its complex dishes. So this time we are trying to keep it more relaxing and fun. So we are doing these things Thai people love but also something that we don’t really get to see in Europe.
Yes, absolutely. At the restaurants, we always have to create and produce something people have never seen before. It’s always hard trying to create those “ooh” moments. Sometimes weeks pass by and I can’t even come up with anything. Then suddenly, I’ll go out and ideas will just come flooding in. Sometimes things come from a really weird place. I remember doing Master Chef for one season. I would be at the studio early in the morning and then later do a dinner service at the restaurant until very late at night. I was so tired and my brain just shut down. I didn’t create any new dishes for that whole year. So in the process of creating, you can never predict anything. If you had asked me this a month ago, I would say I had no ideas. My mind was just blank. What I learned is that you should always keep your mind open because as a chef, you can never be narrow-minded. You will always learn something from somewhere. And during the process, allow yourself also to laugh at whatever happens.
Oh yes. People had a lot of opinions. But I fought hard. Food, to me, is not static and is constantly changing. You simply can’t glue it to one place. What people do not know is that Thai food got a lot of influences from other cuisines. Like the desserts are from the Portuguese and the noodles are also influenced by the Chinese. So really, there’s no such thing as stability. Thai food today is not the same as it was a hundred years ago. So I had to prove myself by learning the tradition and I went really deep into the histories, the details of each dish I tasted every day. It is easy now than before with the Michelin star and all the awards. And people are very open-minded when it comes to food nowadays, too. But back then it was definitely really hard.
- Frozen Red Curry — I turned red curry into an ice cream and then served it with lobster. People were shocked and they really fell for the dish. It has become one of our classic dishes.
- Oyster sauce — When Siam Kempinski did the hotel opening, there were 4,000 oysters left from the party. So instead of throwing them out, I asked if I could have them in my kitchen. Then I googled the oyster sauce recipe but there was absolutely none. It was pretty funny to me because oyster sauce is something you can find in every household of Thailand but no recipe could be found online. Then I tried to find the history of oyster sauce and found that it was first created by one Chinese family. They were cooking oysters but the heat was so strong that the oysters got burnt a little. So they added sugar and some soy sauce just to help to enhance the flavours. Then they let it ferment for a bit. And that is how the oyster sauce was first made. However, if you look at the bottle of oyster sauce today, you can see that the recipe is no longer comes from oyster. The sauce itself is made with mussel extract and a lot of food colouring and MSG because oysters are just way too expensive. So I started to make my own oyster sauce and we use it heavily in all of our dishes.
- Banana Cake, Salted Ice Cream and Caramelized Milk — I really like Thai mangoes and sticky rice. It has a good blend of coconut milk and salt. So when I first opened Kiin Kiin, we did this dessert tasting and I just came up with an ice cream made from coconut milk, dark brown sugar, and salt. Then we paired it with steamed banana cake. It was absolutely stunning. It has become our signature dessert ever since. I tried to come up with other dessert recipes but none of them has ever beaten the banana cake.
Work hard. Don’t be afraid to learn and also don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. Stay curious and remember, there’re no shortcuts.