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.
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.