On the importance of small gestures
In high school, chef Stephannie Liu spent two nights a week working in the kitchen of a high-end restaurant. Yet it was in the cafés of Sydney she found her home, where she perfected her distinct brand of simple, seasonal everyday cooking made extraordinary by the way it is served; with savvy, care and keen attention to details — without a doubt the result of an intimate knowledge of both front and back of the kitchen.
“There is something very special about how small gestures can have such a high impact. As when you get served something easy cooked to you by family or a friend. It can be very simple, but it can stay with you forever,” says Liu.
Today, she continues honing her craft running Studio X Kitchen, a café and an extension to one of Copenhagen’s most beloved design stores — a playground for both Liu and shop-owner Kirstine Meier Carlsen’s ever-changing entourage of art, objects and furniture.
Studio X Kitchen is her own take on the archetypal 21st century café, a place for community and straight-forward, nourishing fare, drawing on some of the greats that have defined the last decade: Rose Bakery and Ten Bells in Paris, Dimes in New York, Atelier September in Copenhagen and Boon Café in Sydney. All the same, Liu’s cooking is instantly recognizable, with a distinct aesthetic sensitivity and a knack for producing great flavour with few ingredients, letting the produce speak for itself. A sort of minimal approach that never feels stylised, instead personal, honest and hearty.
“My baking, for example, I would describe as what you wish your mom baked for you. It's not challenging, it is simply something very delicious. It is important to me that this food is for everybody. Three ingredients on a plate, nothing overly complicated or complex, that's how I like to cook and eat myself,” says Liu.
Most of her memories are food-related, and her best are of eating dinner at home. A child of Chinese-Fijan immigrants to Australia, she grew up in a family that loved to eat and loved to cook. Food was valued. Her mother made home-cooked meals every night — a soup, rice and a dish to go with it — it was her love language. All sat at the table, no TV, it was something savoured together, with a huge rice-cooker at their side. That care for togetherness and food instilled something in Liu and her approach to cooking. This is what she brings to Copenhagen.
“The change of seasons is so dramatic here — you have to get creative in new ways. It is pretty thrilling every time something new comes into season. It has changed my cooking quite a lot. Having a small café rather than a big restaurant allows me to cook and thrive in that scarcity,” says Liu.
While Studio X Kitchen is uniquely grounded in Copenhagen food culture and community, it has a way of transporting the visitor. It is very much Liu’s own place, one where she draws on each place she has worked, in Sydney, New York and Paris. The space, much like her transformative cooking, rarely looks the same for long, as the team behind Studio X next door sweeps through with recent finds — chairs, tables, lamps, glasses, ceramics, cutlery, textiles, crafts — out with the old in with the new. What remains is the antique counter, an anchor in constant change.
“The interesting part of having your own place is to see it live. It is an experiment and practice that is constantly evolving. It is a luxury to have these stunning rooms created for us, where everything has a thought behind it. Once it comes in here, we work on the functionality — for me, it has to be a combination of the two,” says Liu.