When chef Henrik Yde-Andersen welcomes a new employee into the fold, he asks them three questions in front of the rest of the kitchen: Have you ever gone to prison? Have you ever done drugs? And are you gay?
“Oh, the unions would kill me if they knew I was asking those things,” Yde-Andersen jokes. He doesn’t care about the answers—“I’m just trying to create an atmosphere of openness. We all work better together that way.”
“Recently,” he adds, “we had a new staff member answer ‘yes’ to all three—that was pretty unexpected, and really exciting.” Yde-Andersen, who is also gay, has a decidedly unconventional approach to how he runs his kitchens. None of his cooks have an official title or rank, and no one ever yells.
Yde-Andersen’s point of view—creating a familial vibe, and always saving face—is largely informed by the years he spent cooking in Thailand, and when he returned to his native Copenhagen, he also brought home a slew of Southeast Asian recipes.
Determined to feature bold flavors on the Danish dinner plate, Yde-Andersen tried to introduce the chili, but was met with a great deal of skepticism. “Everyone was following the New Nordic rules—no one had any respect for Asian cuisine.” But Yde-Andersen was used to being the odd one out. “Being a gay chef has always felt like being the only gay member of a football team,” he says. So rather than listening to the chorus of naysayers, he scraped together his pennies and created Kiin Kiin, serving modernized Thai fare with premium ingredients in the Nørrebro neighborhood, which in 2006 was an unlikely area with a bit of an edge.
The risk paid off. An unprecedented seven months after opening, Kiin Kiin received a coveted Michelin star—one of the first Thai restaurants in the world to earn the distinction. (Michelin is gearing up to release its first guide to Bangkok at the end of the year.) And Yde-Andersen hasn’t slowed down since, championing a new order in the kitchen—Next Nordic, perhaps?—that uses Danish discipline in refining the spectrum of world flavors.
SEA by Kiin Kiin
“What’s seasonal New Nordic anyway, when the entire country is buried under three feet of snow in winter?” Yde-Andersen asks with a wink.
Today, Yde-Andersen’s culinary empire has grown to 16 restaurants, including spin-off SEA by Kiin Kiin, along the tourist-laden Nyhavn promenade. While I’m eating at his newest venture, VeVe—a strictly vegetarian concept (see page 67), he grabs a seat at my table between courses, and after asking me his requisite three questions, he poses one more: “How do you tell the difference between a vegetarian and a regular diner?”
“You don’t. They tell you,” Andersen kids. He doesn’t take it all too seriously—a refreshing departure from the New Nordic dogma.
Photos courtesy of SEA by Kiin Kiin