Former model Dalad Kambhu has been quietly revolutionising Berlin’s Thai food scene. The self-taught chef takes a pragmatic approach to sourcing her ingredients, replacing tropical fruits with locally-grown produce — a practice which led to her restaurant’s first Michelin star earlier this year.
The first course is kohlrabi, not papaya. Dalad Kambhu’s unexpected substitution makes for a brilliant take on the traditional papaya salad. That alone speaks volumes to the virtuosity of a chef who has travelled far and wide and learned enough about the essence of her ingredients to appreciate the value of truly natural, locally-sourced foods, in this case produce grown in the fields of nearby Brandenburg or the Uckermark region, or purchased from the regionally-focused Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg.
“Naturally I source the coconut milk and certain herbs from Thailand, but I simply use kohlrabi instead of mango and papaya. Sometimes I can get bok choy that is grown in Germany. When I can’t, fennel is just as good,” explains Dalad Kambhu, whose creations have since earned her a Michelin star.
The former model, who originally hails from Bangkok, came to Berlin chasing something that she was too late to find in her second hometown of New York: a city in the process of reinventing itself and discovering a sense of both its own regional and international character. Berlin was just such a city, an experiment in progress. It’s a quality that can be both a blessing and a burden.
Finding good food made from the kind of ingredients that respect the land, the animals, and the people that bring them to the table is a rare pleasure here. A three-course menu at Dalad Kambhu’s Kin Dee can set you back 48 euros, a competitive price, but one that often provokes questions. It would be a different story in New York, she says, where Thai cuisine is accepted in fine dining.
The self-taught chef originally started practising her craft for friends, a venture which soon blossomed into a supper club. But her dishes earned her quite a following in Berlin, and in Spring 2016, her guest appearances transmogrified into a more permanent arrangement — Kin Dee. Since then, Dalad Kambhu’s workdays have become very long.
Oh, and of course it mustn’t be left out that Dalad Kambhu was actually born in Austin, Texas, rather than in Thailand. But that’s just another testament to the fact that identity is an ongoing process of becoming, one which doesn’t take too kindly to generalisation.
All photos by Lena Ganssmann
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