Dan Kenny

Dan Kenny

Having worked in kitchens since the age of twelve, Dan Kenny has developed his own playful brand of cooking, partly influenced by his time spent living in Asia. Since 2015, he’s been showcasing his food in Brighton at various iterations of his restaurant The Set.

Despite a general move towards 'casual' fine dining in the UK, there’s still a real seriousness to a lot of high-end food, with much of it still rooted in classical cookery and combinations. It’s therefore refreshing to meet chefs like Dan Kenny, who proves that food can still be beautifully executed and packed with flavour without taking itself too seriously. It’s this balance which has led to his Brighton-based restaurant The Set developing a loyal following since opening in 2015.

Dan’s first experience of working in a professional kitchen came at the age of just twelve when he started working at a village pub in Shropshire. ‘It didn’t do a lot of home cooked food,’ he laughs. ‘On Wednesdays they did fajita nights and it was the best part of the week. It was a combination of my time there and also being very well fed as a child that sparked my interest.’ Within a couple of years, Dan’s mind was set on becoming a chef and aged seventeen he moved to Nottingham where he attended catering college, whilst also working in various local restaurants. Even at this early point in his career, it was the creativity of cooking that particularly appealed to him. ‘I just love that possibilities are endless in the kitchen,’ he explains. ‘Going into each day, you never know when you could create the best dish you’ve ever done.’

A pivotal point in Dan’s career came when he went travelling around Asia following his time in Nottingham. Living in Vietnam for two years, he quickly fell in love with the cuisine and it began to influence his own style. ‘That’s where I started to get a much broader interest in the world of flavours,’ explains Dan. ‘Going to street food markets there and having chicken pho every morning was one of my first real insights into Asian food, and my mind was blown by all the spices.’

Reinvigorated by his time spent abroad, Dan returned to the UK and began searching for jobs in Brighton. This eventually led to him taking up the position of sous chef at the renowned Gingerman under Ben McKellar, where he began to hone his craft both as a chef and a manager. Within a matter of years Dan had been made head chef of the Brighton institution, but by his late twenties he was itching to do his own thing and began running pop-ups for what would become his own restaurant concept – The Set.

‘There wasn’t really anywhere in Brighton doing the type of food I wanted to be doing,’ he says. ‘I could’ve moved to London but I liked the idea of creating something new here, and I’m so glad that I did.’ Dan set about bringing his own modern British style of food, with subtle nods to his time spent in Asia, to various coffee shops and spaces around the city and in 2015 was offered the chance to set up shop permanently at The Artist Residence Hotel. The Set proved a huge success, quickly earning a reputation as one of Brighton’s must-visit restaurants and developing a loyal following over the course of the next five years.

However, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 would prove disastrous for the restaurant. Despite Dan’s attempts to stay afloat while the industry was shut down by offering at-home meal kits, he eventually had to part ways with the hotel later that year. ‘We tried as hard as we could to survive,’ he says, ‘but by January 2021, I was all ready to close The Set permanently and do something else.’ However, through a combination of determination and good fortune, at the final hour Dan managed to secure a new residency for The Set at Brighton’s Café Rust, whose owners had eaten at the restaurant in the past, and in mid-2021 The Set reopened, but with a slightly different feel and menu.

‘We massively downsized by moving into Café Rust,’ says Dan. ‘But what it has allowed us to do is cook the style of food and menu we’ve always wanted to. We didn’t want to overcomplicate things so there’s much less on the plate than there used to be and we’ll always put the sourcing of ingredients first. I want to keep the food as fun and interesting in possible, so there are always a few twists on things. It’s all about big flavours, lots of umami and lots of fat.’

Despite Dan having had a rollercoaster of a few years, his calm nature and skills as a chef have not only carried him through, but have actually led to him enjoying cooking more than ever (‘This is the happiest I’ve ever been in the kitchen and as a result I think the food is the best we’ve done’). His food at The Set may not take itself too seriously but given the skill with which it’s cooked, it’s no surprise that Dan continues to build a loyal brigade of fans in Brighton and further afield.