“Have you ever eaten Danish food?” Chef Henrik Yde Andersen asks me during a morning Skype call. He is absent-mindedly waving about a cup of coffee as he talks.
“It is rather bland – all potatoes and cabbages – and so, when I first encountered Thai cuisine, during a holiday on the island of Krabi many, many years ago, I cried my eyes out – from the chillies and the excitement.”
Andersen’s love affair with Thai food is legendary. The 37-year-old Danish chef had a gastronomical epiphany during his first visit to Thailand, and spent years mastering the cuisine.
In 2006, he opened a contemporary Thai restaurant in Copenhagen called Kiin Kiin (Thai for “let’s eat”). By 2008, its menu – featuring molecular and deconstructed takes on traditional, much-loved dishes such as red curry and laab (salad) – had earned him his first Michelin star.
Andersen will soon be in Abu Dhabi to present similar treats at Sayad, the seafood restaurant at Emirates Palace. From Saturday until January 19, guests can enjoy wide-ranging 10-course and à la carte menus, packed with choices, including chicken satay, Chiang Mai sausage, frozen red curry and one of Andersen’s favourites: beef with oyster sauce, a combination of superior cuts of meat with a rich, dark oyster sauce that is made in-house at Kiin Kiin.
Andersen still gets a thrill for Thai cuisine, which he so successfully managed to adopt and adapt. His trademark touch can also be seen in the Bangkok restaurant, Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin, at Siam Kempinski, which he cofounded in 2010.
“Getting a Michelin star is not the hard part,” he says. “It’s hanging on to it that is tough. So, it is important to keep improving, innovating, learning all the time, while maintaining quality and impeccable standards.”
What he will bring to Sayad reflects the Kiin Kiin ethos: beautifully presented dishes that remain true to their Thai origins, enhanced by a modern twist – the kind of food that can thaw even the most hard-line purist.
The frozen red curry that is practically ice cream, for example?
“Yeah, that one happened accidentally,” says Andersen, laughing. “I woke up starving one morning and pulled out this container of leftover curry, except that it had frozen solid. You know, that happens with the coconut milk, which is an essential ingredient in the dish. I ate it as it was, with rice. It was delicious, and I decided to add it to the Kiin Kiin menu.”
At Sayad, this classic dish will be paired with lobster and sweet litchi. Such is its fame, Andersen tells of the time when Mary, the crown princess of Denmark, stopped by the restaurant, heavily disguised, to satisfy her craving for the curry. She went unrecognised, and it was only later that they found out who she was.
“The king [of Denmark] has eaten at Kiin Kiin, too,” says Andersen. “I wasn’t there when he popped in, and the mostly Thai staff had no idea who he was. That was quite a day – it had everyone in a flap.”
The royal visits point to the strong connection between the two countries – Andersen tells of the deep ties between the royal households, and the Danish love for the spices and flavours of Thailand.
“Nearly 20,000 Danes visit Thailand every year,” he says, “and our love for the cuisine only gets stronger. Some essential Thai ingredients, such as lemongrass, are even grown here”.
For his menu at Sayad, Andersen will use the freshest imported ingredients. “In fact, I am flying out later today to walk around the wet markets of Bangkok and I will bring everything with me to Abu Dhabi,” he says.
Taste of the Middle East
Chef Henrik Yde Andersen may be dedicated to Thai cuisine, but the pull of Middle Eastern flavours is equally strong. The Danish chef is opening an Arabic restaurant in Copenhagen in mid-March, with a menu based on his wanderings in the region: Morocco, Lebanon, the UAE and Oman.
“I have a Lebanese head chef and two Moroccan chefs, and the restaurant will be called Kiin Kiin Maroq Maroq, and the menu will be quite something, such as our version of tagine,” he says.
He also reveals that he will soon be visiting Oman for a short trip that involves “12 straight hours of business talks”.
For a new restaurant? “Yes, yes – I am hoping something good comes of it”, is all Andersen is willing to say for now.
• Chef Henrik Yde Andersen is at Sayad, Emirates Palace, from Saturday until January 19. The 10-course Thai tasting menu costs from Dh670 per person, plus taxes (lunch and à la carte menus are also available). For more details and to make a reservation, email [email protected] or call 02 690 7999