Michelin-star culinary creator takes diners on a magical mystery tour
Part of the culinary A-list elite, Chef Henrik Yde-Andersen is the Danish owner of Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen, one of only two Thai cuisine restaurants to earn a Michelin star; a modern-day kitchen maverick and consultant chef at one of the most incredible tables in Bangkok, Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin at the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok.
Forget eating out as simply gourmet dining. Diners are taken on an incredible culinary adventure through a rich and road-less-traveled landscape where the latest cooking techniques create stunning, contemporary dishes; destinations that are an expression of authentic Thai flavours through the lens of a master culinary wizard.
This conceptualized interpretation of Thai cuisine goes way beyond what you may expect from a fine-dining restaurant that looks-wise, at least, fits the image of an upscale hotel eatery. Instead, Henrik’s menu conjures up an edge-of-your-seat performance; a marvellous magic show and thrilling presentation of Asian-inspired food, modern art, culinary passion, and a mindful approach to the meaning of life that embraces the yin and yang of pure simplicity and indulgent complexity.
“We serve some very long tasting menus, so we have to choreograph dinner like a theatre play or film, with different acts,” explains Henrik. “And adding in some humour is essential. You also need science to make sure every dish is perfect, and you should have a sense of kitchen logistics. Many fine dining restaurants are like dining in a church, boring and stiff. I prefer a livelier experience.”
The eight-course set-dinner, named ‘The Journey’ (B2,900++), is not only lively; it is absolutely astonishing. The prologue is a cashew nut meringue that magically appears in a tableside magic trick, and tom yam flavoured nuts in a quirky edible pouch. This is followed by a fun street food menu which includes Chiang Mai sausage appearing in a smoking glass dome and tuna tartar served flamboyantly on a lotus flower floating in a glass vase, with seven different bites served—all before the eight courses even begin.
To reveal all would be a crime, as part of the unadulterated pleasure is the element of surprise and joyful glee at the cleverness of it all. Suffice to say that a soupçon of Laksa crab soup from Southern Thailand takes you on a seaside island holiday complete with a beach in a coconut shell and a crab ice-cream cone. Egg-yolk dips in ceramic eggs on straw come with a tableside BBQ of grilled squid sticks, while a red curry is given the liquid nitrogen treatment at the table, creating an incredible smoking illusion and transforming a classic hot dish into a chilled gelato style.
At the heart of his menu in Bangkok, Henrik creates dishes that are not simply deconstructed Thai classics, but reimagined in some way.
“I grew up in Scandinavia, so when I taste Thai food, I don’t have a childhood memory of how it should be,” he points out. “I’m not a masochist either, going through life thinking I can become a good Thai chef. I can interpret Thai food though, filter it through myself, and create new Thai pedigree dishes.”
Sra Bua is the sister restaurant to Kiin Kiin, with Henrik designing several menus a year in Bangkok after being approached to do so by the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok. A vacation in Thailand in 2000 led to Henrik spending five years in the country, learning the cuisine before opening one of the best Thai restaurants in the world in his native Denmark.
Whilst Henrik may view his discovery of Thai cuisine as destiny, his first foray into cooking was somewhat more precarious.
“At 14 I was a very fashion-conscious teenager, but my mother didn’t want to buy me the jeans I wanted, so I went to the local restaurant and asked for a job,” he recalls. “I had no interest in cooking but I liked the atmosphere and decided to take an apprenticeship at a famous hotel. After two weeks I was fired and the head chef told me I would never make it in the restaurant business, so the moral of the story is to never give up!”
The menu at Sra Bua includes written tales behind the creation of each dish; a food-journal brought to life by the waiting staff and the food itself. This narrative is more appealing to tourists visiting Thailand wide-eyed with wonder, than seasoned expats or native Thais though and more dramatic tales could add to the experience for those who live their own Thai story. However, diners from home and abroad are undoubtedly taken on a culinary journey that is unique, playful and unexpected; reflecting the intriguing cultural essence of Thailand for all who dine here.
For anyone jaded by the glut of gourmet food in Bangkok or who wants to feel genuinely excited by a dining experience, this unsuspecting high-end restaurant takes you through the looking-glass for a few hours into a whole other world.
Interview by Nadia Willan