The kitchen comes out from behind closed doors. That’s the original concept driving Tables Grill, the fine dining jewel of the Grand Hyatt Erawan. A sort of Westernized teppanyaki, the restaurant borders on theatrical performance—or culinary circus—in which cooks have to showcase their daredevil talents live.
“It’s very interactive, a playground every meal,” says head chef Kevin Kristensen, a close-cropped, iconoclastic native of Denmark who exudes a confidence well beyond his 30 years. “Working here can be a little intimidating, because you can’t drop anything. You have to stay focused.” Supervising a team of around 15 Thai chefs who rotate from the back room to tableside stations, he insists, “I put full trust in my staff to adjust to customers’ request while producing dishes you might call high-speed gourmet.”
This could mean a heavy emphasis on meats and fish simply plopped on the grill. But Kristensen has transformed a formerly staid French menu into proof that trend-setter Rene Redzepi isn’t the only Dane reaching for new culinary expression. Kristensen even spent two years as an intern at Redzepi’s feted NOMA in Copenhagen to pick up on its forest-foraging fare. “I would spend 18 hours a day picking herbs, another 18 butchering,” he says. “But he showed me a mind-blowing approach to food.”
A dishwasher at 13, then a barista, Kristensen found his passion for cooking through watching Jamie Oliver on TV. “He just made it so cool,” he explains. By 17, he had left his native land to move up the culinary ladder in seven countries. He met his Malaysian-born wife while working in mainland China, but decided he “didn’t want to raise [his] son there.” After a stint as an executive chef of a large Kuala Lumpur hotel, he jumped at the chance to come to Thailand and return to hands-on cooking.
At one exposed island, the chef whips up several of his latest innovations. His “duck liver parfait” makes heavenly harmony of a foie gras hot dog with a sweet hazelnut sauce, roasted apples, and brioche crumbs. More remarkable in a restaurant centred on charred protein is the complexity of the desserts. Kristensen pairs fresh strawberries, broken chunks of frozen strawberry meringue, actual rose petals, and a unique rosewater ice cream with anise-like sprigs of chervil, a beet purée, and pickled beets to add an earthy undertone.
“That’s the Nordic touch: our pickling and preserving for long winters,” Kristensen points out. “And it’s very minimalist, with little braising and such, which is perfect for Tables Grill.” Where diners choose their own sauces and side dishes, and even instruct cooks to add spice, the chef points out, “Here, we’re all about surprises.”
A pleasant surprise is the mere B650 price tag for three-course lunches, and B1399 for popular Sunday brunches featuring even more chefs exposing their magic, whipping up risotto next to crêpes Suzettes, champagne soup, and fresh-carved Ibérico ham. But Kristensen takes special pride in sourcing locally-grown organic produce. And he scrupulously lists the suppliers of every cut of fish, claiming, “We’re 80 per cent sustainable, and on our way to 100.”
The young chef extends the casual free-for-all of Tables Grill to behind-the-scenes. “Under me, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll kitchen,” Kristensen says with pride. “We blast the music and have fun. The main watchword of my cooking is freedom.”
And the best part of his nightly act is that the food remains the star of the show.
Level M, Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok | 0 2254 6250 | bangkok.grand.hyatt.com | Every Sunday 11am-3pm
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