Community In Berlin, self-taught chef Dalad Kambhu found the place to explore and recreate the food memories of her childhood in Thailand. She now heads an all-female team at her acclaimed restaurant, Kin Dee, and, through the medium of conscious cooking, works to ‘make the world better.
Without any formal training in the kitchen, chef and former model Dalad Kambhu opened up her own restaurant Kin Dee (meaning ‘eat well’) in Berlin’s Tiergarten district in 2017, serving modern and playful interpretations of the dishes she grew up with during her childhood in Bangkok.
Kambhu’s unique combination of traditional Thai recipes and seasonal, local produce – replacing tropical ingredients like papaya and coconut with pumpkin and kohlrabi – has gained a lot of hype on the Berlin food scene since the opening, and also earned the restaurant a Michelin star in 2019.
‘It was my love of food that led me to start cooking, combined with the fact that what I was used to eating just wasn’t available when I left home,’ says Dalad Kambhu. ‘I was craving for the flavours that I had always had back in Thailand, so I just started to go shopping and tried to cook for myself, and then my friends kept asking me for more, and more.’
Kambhu now leads an all-women team at Kin Dee, and she is one of still very few women in Germany to have been awarded a star in the Guide Michelin. ‘Because I wasn’t trained in the kitchen, I found it difficult to work with chefs who have been schooled in a masculine way, in a system that is dominated by men.
The way our all-female team is approaching problems is very different. Everyone is gentle and relaxed. It’s not about proving yourself to the group. The important thing is getting the job done and helping each other out.’
In response to the chauvinist environment that still defines restaurant kitchens, Dalad Kambhu also makes it a priority to engage with other female professionals, supporting female artists, chefs, and business owners to build a strong and self-sustaining community.
‘I have learned that women need to do double the work do get the same recognition as male chefs, so I think it’s important for us to support and help each other. I always make sure to be nice to other women.
But feminism and equality is much more complex than that, and more importantly, I think men need to start supporting women more and thoroughly educate themselves on these issues – why women’s rights are important, why pay equity is important, why the right to abortion is important, and so on.
It is vital for us women to support each other, but that’s more about cushioning the fall, and helping each other from sinking. So, for us to prevail and rise up, we need the entire system to change – and that requires everyone to make a change.’
For Kambhu, the move to Berlin after a career modelling in New York provided a new platform to realise herself and her creative ideas. ‘I feel that Berlin is free. That’s the beauty of Berlin. It’s a city where you can be whom you want to be and do what you want to do. For me, it is a place where I got to have this third phase of my life. I got to be a chef and do what I believe in.
Since moving to the city, Markthalle Neun, a community food market located near her home in eastern Berlin, has remained a favourite spot for inspiration and new ideas.
‘I’m also very inspired by the small farmers that I work with. First of all, their produce is delicious, but also, their work and care for the land is incredible. Without them none of us would survive. Visiting the farms and seeing all the good work they do makes me want to cook more, and it makes me want to do more good work, too.
There has been a lot of fighting along the way, a lot of currents in my career – from people’s perception of Thai food, to being a woman, and being a woman of colour. But in my own capacity, I’m consciously trying to make the world better and be a responsible citizen. Hopefully I can contribute in a good way.’
For our Spring 2023 campaign, the work wardrobe, we followed chef Dalad Khambu from her home in Kreuzkölln to the food market, on the commute through the city, to the afternoon prep in the kitchen at Kin Dee.
‘What I wear to work has to be practical and comfortable. I have to move a lot. There is a lot of walking, visiting markets, running around, and sometimes I'll carry two bags with me. But I’m also the boss and have meetings and need to look comfortable and powerful.
The beauty of being in my 30s is that I have a different kind of confidence now, and I dress differently. It’s just about what I feel comfortable in and how I want to express myself. I like wearing jackets and suits and stuff when I can – but no more extremely tight clothes. Because I do have to work, and think.’