Kohlrabi instead of papaya

Thai ex-model Dalad Kambhu is entrancing the Berlin restaurant scene. 

Dalad Kambhu: From Bangkok via New York to Berlin
Dalad Kambhu: From Bangkok via New York to Berlin Franz Michael Rohm

Great was the disappointment among the fans of “Edd’s” – which closed after 30 years of being “Berlin’s best Thai”. But it soon abated, as things not only turned for the better; they soared: Former Thai model Dalad Kambhu turned her hobby into a profession and took over the restaurant. And now the gourmet critics are raving (again). “An ex-model revolutionizes Thai cuisine,” was the headline in the daily “Die Welt”. “Best Thai restaurant outside of Thailand,” wrote a guest on the place’s Facebook page. And restaurant blog berlinfoodstories.com immediately put the new “Kin Dee” among the “Top Eateries 2017”. The recipe for success in four words: fresh, exotic home food.

Aromas of childhood

Dalad Kambhu is not a chef by trade, but cooking is her great passion. As a child she loved tasting the street food on the way back from school. “Lunch was not far off, but a glass noodle salad or grilled fish with a homemade spicy sauce was irresistible,” she remembers. She had those fragrances and flavours in mind when at the age of 20 she headed to New York to study international commerce, marketing and fashion. While studying, she waitressed and helped out in galleries.

The most refined Thai food in Berlin right now

Next stop New York

However, in New York she simply could not find authentic Thai food. “There were masses of Thai food stores, but none of what they served had anything in common with what I knew.” So Dalad started cooking for her friends and acquaintances. “The success bowled me over,” she says. It didn’t take long for the in-crowd to sit up and take note. People were not only taken by her culinary prowess, but also by her appearance. She received enquiries whether she would model fashion. “My parents were strictly against it. But I told them: That way I’ll be able to stand on my own two feet.” Soon global corporations such as Nike and Olay were her clients.

From the reception to the kitchen

After graduating cum laude she headed for the hip “Omar” restaurant in Greenwich Village. “I was at the reception desk. But I soon realized I wanted to be out back in the kitchen. But they wouldn’t let me.” In the “Omar” she got to know internationally acclaimed Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, who recommended a change of scene – “to a more exciting city”.

Popping up in Berlin

So it was that at the end of 2015 Dalad arrived in Berlin. The artist has links to Moritz Erstermann, Stefan Landwehr and Boris Radczun, who run the Grill Royal, the starred restaurant Pauly Saal, the Café Einstein Unter den Linden and Le Petit Royal and are among the most fashionable restauranteurs in town. Dalad cooked for them, setting up a pop-up Thai restaurant where spaces were temporarily turned into food outlets. And won them over. “When ‘Edd’s’ closed, they asked me if I didn’t want to cook there.” Dalad Kambhu didn’t hesitate for a moment. “My family have always been enterprising. It’s in our blood, so I agreed.” And a new name was soon found, “Kin Dee” means “Eat well”.

Asiatisches Essen
Franz Michael Rohm
Thai cuisine, Berlin style

Together with her business partner Moritz Estermann she developed various dishes for the restaurant in the Tiergarten district – in the form of a five-course set meal for 45 Euros. Her main focus is on home-made sauces, curries, and dips – giving classics of Thai cuisine a touch of her own. She insists on good, healthy produce. And she creates her own signature dishes from classic Thai meals. For example, she uses kohlrabi instead of papaya in a spicy salad, or local mushrooms such as chanterelles for a well-seasoned stock instead of “stuff from Asia full of preservatives”. Her raw salmon is fabulous, briefly seared, with a spicy, fruity sauce. And the juicy strips of pork chops with a fiery tomato & plum sauce and sticky rice are a dream.

After such an amazing start, Dalad Kambhu is now hoping to have a little more time for herself. “Berlin is such an exciting city. I want to get to know more of its immensely varied cultural and restaurant offerings.”

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