The 2018 Nordic Countries Michelin guide covers Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. Representing an innovative, personal take on Thai cuisine and flavours is Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen, a restaurant that has earned a Michelin star every year since 2008 and one of the very few Thai restaurants with Michelin star honours outside of Thailand.
We caught up with Henrik Yde-Andersen, chef and owner of Kiin Kiin Copenhagen and co-founder and consulting chef of Bangkok’s own one Michelin Star Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin at the Siam Kempinski Hotel, to get his thoughts on Thai cuisine and where it is headed.
Q. How did you discover Thai food and what were your first impressions?
Chef Henrik: I first discovered Thai food when I was on holiday in Krabi many years ago. I saw some people cooking on the street and decided to give it a try. Just remember I come from a potatoes-and-cabbages country in Northern Europe where the flavours are usually more subdued.
When I tasted Thai food for the first time, I remember crying my eyes out on the beach from the chillies and the excitement on my palate. After that I just had to keep trying more.
Q. How did you learn to cook Thai cuisine?
Chef Henrik: I worked in Thailand for 5 years, I had some tough teachers at the beginning and I was lucky to learn from chefs who made their own curry pastes and sauces.
When I returned to Europe, I more or less worked out my version of Thai cuisine by trial and error. Being away from Thailand gave me the flexibility to play around with Thai ingredients a bit more. Luckily for me the Thais are a very forgiving people!
Q. Why did you decide to take Thai flavours back to Copenhagen and do you consider yourself as one of the early pioneers?
Chef Henrik: I had travelled the world so I saw many different cooking styles. If I am a pioneer, it's mostly due to the fact that I find it plain silly to fly ingredients 8000 kilometres. We had to use local vegetables. I am not Thai so I am free from the many traditions and ways of cooking. I as a foreigner I had the freedom to play around.
Q. What role has Thai cuisine played at Kiin Kiin?
Chef Henrik: As I said before in Northern Europe, it is pork and cabbages country and what Thai ingredients have done is added electricity and excitement to European palates.
Q. How is Thai cuisine evolving in Copenhagen and in Europe?
Chef Henrik: When I got back to Denmark in 2004 the Thai and Chinese cuisine was produced by hard-working immigrants cooking the best they could. But still it was considered a cheap, deep-fried food only good enough for buffets and take away. Now with the huge importance of umami and fermented flavours a lot of leading chefs are looking to Southeast Asia for that perfect balance.
Q. Why did you decide to help open Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin at the Siam Kempinski?
Chef Henrik: It gives me a great chance to show my version of Thai cooking for the hardest judges in the world: the Thai people. I love Thailand and it was a great opportunity.
Q. How would you describe the Bangkok dining scene?
Chef Henrik: The thing that’s cool about Bangkok’s dining scene is the fact it’s a melting pot. There are Indian influences from the south, Chinese techniques from the north and you add spices and Thai ingredients to that and you get dishes with flavours that run on forever.
Another cool thing that’s happening locally is that Thai chefs have discovered their own produce and are trying a lot more things with it.
I’ve been coming to Thailand for 20 years and what I like most today is seeing young Thai chefs taking the challenge and opening their own places. This generation of Thai chefs is not afraid to try new things. They’re embracing their own produce and putting that on the table rather than looking at Americans or the French.
Q. What messages do you have for young Thai chefs?
Chef Henrik: It’s tough and long hours but you will succeed if you try hard. Leave and go around the world to get influences and techniques. You don’t have to be a superstar at 24. I didn’t open my restaurant till I was in my 30s. So just go and soak everything up.
Q. Did you train any chefs that have gone on to open Thai restaurants in Europe?
Chef Henrik: Yes, and I am always sad when a talented chef leaves my restaurant but also very proud when they succeed.
Q. Tell us about the new projects you’re working on, including the food truck and the vegetarian restaurant – are there any Thai influences in these projects?
Chef Henrik: The most important lesson I learned in Thailand was to balance my food. Whether I cook Michelin Thai food or out of my food truck, the ingredients, the freshness and the flavour are what's important. Our new vegetarian restaurant has also inspired us to cook less meat while maintaining higher quality.
Here’s what our inspectors said about Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen (One Michelin Star)
A charming restaurant, whose name means 'come and eat'. Start with refined versions of street food in the moody lounge, then head for the tasteful dining room decorated with golden Buddhas and fresh flowers. Menus offer modern, personal interpretations of Thai dishes, which have vibrant flavour combinations.
Here’s what our inspectors said about Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin at the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok (One Michelin Star)
There is a burgeoning love affair between Bangkok foodies and envelope-pushing cuisine, and this beautiful restaurant is one of the original purveyors of modern and innovative Thai cuisine. Order 'The Journey', a ten-course menu-to see the kitchen's full repertoire that respects traditional Thai flavours and ingredients but flips the script to produce something creative and original. Copenhagen's Kiin Kiin was the inspiration for the food and cooking techniques.