Thai Star

In the ul­tra-in­no­va­tive culi­nary world of Copen­hagen, Kiin Kiin stands out for its modern take on her­itage Thai cook­ing. Head chef Dak Lad­da­porn shares with Destin Tay how they’ve re­tained their Miche­lin star for over a decade.

Epicure - - TOP TOQUE -

Pic­ture this sce­nario: you’ve been in­vited to a blind tast­ing at one of Copen­hagen’s many Miche­lin starred restau­rants. Be­ing in the cap­i­tal of New Nordic cui­sine (spear­headed by heavy­weights such as Noma and Gera­nium), you’d be in­clined to think that you would be served dishes like René Redzepi’s Rein­deer Moss and Cep and Cele­riac Shawarma, or Ras­mus Ko­foed’s Edi­ble Ra­zor Clam and Salted Hake.

In­stead, you are pre­sented with frozen lan­gous­tine curry and an aereated Tom Ka soup.

Launched in 2006, Kiin Kiin is a stal­wart of el­e­vated Thai cui­sine. Owner Hen­rik Yde-an­der­son started the restau­rant out of his pas­sion for Thai food. The then 17-year-old Dak Lad­da­porn chanced upon an ar­ti­cle about Yde-an­der­son’s restau­rant and quickly re­served a seat for her­self. She was blown away by the au­then­tic flavours that were served at her din­ner and more in­trigued by the fact that it was a Dan­ish na­tional who was lead­ing the kitchen. It kick­started a pas­sion for cook­ing within Lad­da­porn, and af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the culi­nary school at Silke­borg Tech­ni­cal School, she joined Kiin Kiin in 2013.

The now 32-year-old has been head chef of Kiin Kiin for the past seven years and her Isaan her­itage has her dou­bling down on the restau­rant’s fo­cus on Isaan dishes. Even when she uses sea­sonal Scan­di­na­vian pro­duce to re­place hard-to-find Thai in­gre­di­ents, the food at Kiin Kiin re­tains its culi­nary in­tegrity.

Why do you think you have found suc­cess in Den­mark?

I moved here when I was seven; my mother mar­ried my Dan­ish step­fa­ther. I had an equally Thai and Dan­ish up­bring­ing; my mother al­ways made it a point to re­mind me of my roots. For ex­am­ple, we might have medis­ter­pølse (Dan­ish sausages) with pota­toes for lunch but a pip­ing hot bowl of tom yum goong for din­ner. In that sense I’ve been fa­mil­iar with the Dan­ish palate since a young age, which makes it eas­ier for me to un­der­stand how best to present au­then­tic Thai food to the peo­ple here.

What are the key tenets of Isaan cook­ing?

Bal­ance. Like all the re­gional Thai cuisines, our flavours stem from a del­i­cate mix be­tween acid­ity, salti­ness and sweet­ness. Grow­ing up in the coun­try­side of Nong Khai, North­east Thai­land, also shaped the way I ap­proach my cook­ing; the food needed to be cooked re­ally quickly as there was a lack of re­frig­er­a­tion and proper stor­age of in­gre­di­ents. We ate what came from the rice fields and plan­ta­tions on the same day. It’s very sim­i­lar to what modern gas­tron­omy up­holds; fresh­ness and bal­ance of flavours make a good dish.

Why do you think Kiin Kiin re­mains the only Thai restau­rant out­side of Thai­land to get a Miche­lin star?

It is not easy to pro­duce Miche­lin-starred Thai food, it re­ally de­mands a high level of understand­ing of the foun­da­tional flavours of the cui­sine. Peo­ple who do not grow up in Thai­land or spend many years cook­ing in the coun­try do not de­velop the palate for the di­verse range of flavours and have only a ba­sic understand­ing of com­mon Thai food. El­e­vat­ing Thai food is much like how French cui­sine has been trans­formed by fine din­ing; for ex­am­ple chefs learn how to make a buerre blanc and un­der­stand the com­po­nents that go into it be­fore they can ex­per­i­ment and in­no­vate. With Kiin Kiin it’s the same ap­proach but us­ing mas­saman curry as the ex­am­ple.

Once you un­der­stand how a cer­tain dish works, like how the pun­gency of the chill­ies will af­fect the bal­ance of the dish, you can flex your brain. For in­stance, we do a frozen red curry that is packed with spice and co­conut milk. When you first eat it, your palate picks up on the sweet­ness of the co­conut, but then the curry starts to melt; a lot more of the heat from the chill­ies start emerg­ing. In­no­va­tion is how we ad­vance tra­di­tional Thai cook­ing.

Are Thai in­gre­di­ents hard to come by in Den­mark?

It was chal­leng­ing in the early days, but in­gre­di­ents like galan­gal, turmeric and lemon­grass are much eas­ier to pro­cure now. Even if we can’t get a cer­tain in­gre­di­ent here, it’s al­ways great to ex­plore lo­cal al­ter­na­tives. We in­cor­po­rate many sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents from Den­mark as pos­si­ble, and it re­ally pushes us to think out of the box. As we are cur­rently in win­ter, we are us­ing a lot of win­ter root veg­eta­bles not seen in Thai cui­sine. Take our green curry, which we base on a tra­di­tional recipe that calls for the use of Thai blood pud­ding. We use beet­root in­stead, as its sweet­ness and earth­i­ness ful­fils the same pur­pose as blood pud­ding, tem­per­ing the heady spice of the green curry.

Be­sides em­brac­ing sea­son­al­ity, what other as­pects of Copen­hagen’s gas­tron­omy have you adopted?

It was funny to me when René Redzepi made fer­men­ta­tion trendy with his work at Noma, as fer­men­ta­tion has al­ways been a fun­da­men­tal part of Thai cui­sine. You could say we were ahead of the curve. It’s nice that Noma has brought more fo­cus on such tech­niques as it helps the Danes get more ac­cus­tomed to some of the flavours that Thai food presents. Be­yond fer­ment­ing our own fish sauce, we also make our own oys­ter sauce. We use lo­cal Dan­ish oys­ters, which are very rich and have a slight metal­lic tang to them, and add brown sugar, soya, chilli and gar­lic. In­stead of a dark and heavy com­mer­cial sauce, we get a lighter con­coc­tion that tastes just like the oys­ters that were used.

What is it like work­ing with Yde-an­der­son who has no Thai her­itage?

Ac­tu­ally, he has a very good understand­ing of the cui­sine, hav­ing spent many years liv­ing and work­ing in restau­rants in Thai­land. He has a knack for fo­cus­ing on tra­di­tional Thai flavours while pos­sess­ing a very Western mind­set when it comes to din­ing. He’s full of ideas; some­times he’ll call me in the mid­dle of the night to ask me how we could use cele­riac in any of our dishes. I’ll sug­gest some ideas to him based on my knowl­edge and understand­ing of Thai food. My East­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties acts as a bal­ance to him. Our palates have de­vel­oped to­gether over the years, and now we have a set idea on how the flavours should be bal­anced at Kiin Kiin.

Only two fe­male head chefs in Copen­hagen have earned Miche­lin stars, your­self in­cluded. How has that been like for you?

I’d like to say it’s been easy, but it re­ally hasn’t. As a fe­male, there’s al­ways this need to prove your­self, that you can be as ag­gres­sive or gung ho as the male chefs. I’ve al­ways tried to see my­self as a chef rather than a fe­male chef, and I just need to prove that I can do the same things oth­ers can. The re­spect will come nat­u­rally af­ter that. As a woman, some­times you need to have a thick skin and never take things to heart. Ladies, if there is a man in the kitchen be­lit­tling you, don’t just shut up and take it. Show them that you are more ca­pa­ble than them and you will not be pushed around. Ac­tions speak louder than words.

Kiin Kiin’s airy, sec­ond floor din­ing room

Frozen Red Curry

The din­ing area on the first floor presents a more in­ti­mate vibe.

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