High Performance Chef – Episode 4: Dalad Kambhu

The Queen of Thai Cuisine

It's not too often that an unskilled chef has earned a MICHELIN Guide star. Dalad Kambhu from Thailand has achieved this in record time. She takes us to her adopted home of Berlin and tells us about strong women, popular misconceptions and unusual life paths.

For Dalad Kambhu, Berlin is a very green city compared to Paris, London or New York. Though that may not exactly be true about the area surrounding Berlin's central station, where concrete, steel and glass stretch toward the blue sky. The streets and facades look like they've been freshly swept and then rinsed with a pressure washer. A dream for architects with an affinity for the urban form. The only green in sight is Kambhu's jacket, over which she casually hangs her backpack.

As the star chef walks down Bertha Benz Street for the latesst episode of our "High Performance Chef" series, a collaboration between AMG and the MICHELIN Guide, we reflect on what the two women have in common: Bertha Benz, the first person to ever drive a car over a long distance, on the one hand; and Dalad Kambhu, a Thai chef and one of the very few women to be awarded a star by the MICHELIN Guide, on the other. Kambhu may not be a pioneer like the wife of Carl Benz, inventor of the Benz Patent motor car in 1886, but like Bertha, she never wavered in her journey and took her stake in a male-held world.

Born in Austin, Texas, and raised in Bangkok, Kambhu's fighting spirit is family legacy. While her great-grandmother was the first female entrepreneur in the patriarchal Southeast Asian country, her grandmother called the shots at home. "Yes" meant yes and "no" meant no; she had the last word and that was that.

Kambhu mirrors this assertiveness: "Growing up with such strong women gives you the belief and knowledge that you can achieve anything you want. I don't know if the women in my family drove me, but they set the foundation to be a woman with a voice and confidence."

In her early 20s, Kambhu moved to New York, where she worked in restaurants, sometimes without pay, to learn the craft of being a chef. There were obstacles to even getting in the kitchen. "I was never trained as a cook in the restaurant industry because they didn't want me in the kitchen," she says. "They only wanted me as a waitress or in service to make a good impression." Missing the flavors of her homeland, she started cooking Thai dishes at home for her friends. They couldn't get enough. It was the beginning of her self-made education.

In 2016, when the opportunity to open her own restaurant in Berlin came up in a roundabout way, Kambhu left New York to pursue her dream. In 2017, she opened "Kin Dee" – in English "good food" – on Lützow Street, near Potsdamer Platz. Her traditional Thai fare enchanted diners in the German capital. 

In addition to equality, sustainability is an important issue for the young chef. Her homemade curry pastes combine fresh, local, and organic ingredients whenever possible. "I do my best to be mindful," Kambhu says. "Hopefully that will trickle down, move up, or otherwise influence people. We should all be more sustainable."

Dalad Kambhu in the industrial kitchen
Dalad Kambhu in the industrial kitchen

Recipe download

Exclusively for AMG Private Lounge members: Download Dalad Kambhu’s "Celery Root Pickle" and "Tom Kha Soup" recipes. Have fun in the kitchen!

Artfully arranged dishes
Artfully arranged dishes

Asked about the biggest misconception about Thai cuisine, Kambhu says many people instinctively think of it as street food. But that's not the case: "The best Thai food is at people's homes and every family has its own dishes. Many tourists don't have access to it, so they can't know where to get authentic Thai food. We want to create a place where people feel like they are literally at home in Thailand."

Dalad Kambhu Portrait
Dalad Kambhu Portrait

The MICHELIN Guide sees it the same way. Just two years after opening, Kin Dee was awarded a star.
Particular mention was made of the unique concept, authentic cuisine, and flair for harmonious combinations. The award took Kambhu by surprise: "Normally, you would go to culinary school for a few years and then earn your stripes in the working world. I didn't have any of that. I just opened a restaurant and immediately became head chef. And within two years, I got a star. It was really unexpected." She tells us the MICHELIN endorsement gives credibility to her work and all-women staff. It opens the horizon for many people who come to try her creations. Kambhu's goal remains unchanged: to create dishes that are so delicious that people want more.

Kambhu discovered the urge to express herself creatively at a young age: "I like to draw and sketch. I used to play the piano a lot. I've almost forgotten those days. I just love doing things with my hands." Today, she's fully focused on her cooking. She skillfully finesses shaved celery, roasted asparagus, or raw fish in colorful arrangements. Her creations are elegant. So much so, in fact, that it's hard to believe the intensity of the underlying flavors.

Yet elegance does not mean gold leaves or expensive gourmet ingredients. In her kitchen, elegance stands for quality and the message it's intended to convey. Just like an AMG: "It serves its purpose in an elegant way."

Today, Dalad Kambhu wishes to be a role model for young women. She wants to inspire and show that it is possible to fight against existing structures as a woman and to assert oneself. She wants to break down boundaries and create opportunities.

Dalad Kambhu Portrait
Dalad Kambhu Portrait

"It can't be that women have been cooking in every household for centuries and giving endless inspiration to men, and then men become chefs but don't leave enough room for women in the industry," she says.

She knows exactly how to achieve anything as a budding chef and offers sage advice to her followers before saying goodbye to us after two long days of filming:

"Constantly striving for excellence is a good motivator for me. If you really want something, you should strive for it. Excellence for me means never stopping and always going for it. That's what I do every day."

Dalad Kambhu Portrait
Dalad Kambhu Portrait

“Performance is when talent, energy, creativity and everything else come together in perfect harmony” – Dalad Kambhu. Convince yourself how the second protagonist of this episode, the Mercedes-AMG C 43 4MATIC Sedan, combines sportiness with innovation and technology!

To the vehicle
Dalad Kambhu leaning on Mercedes-AMG C 43 4MATIC
Star chef Jan Tournier cooking

A Quintet of Tastes for Two Stars

In the third episode of our video format “High Performance Chef”, in cooperation with MICHELIN Guide, we meet Belgian star chef Jan Tournier to learn about his fascination with Asia and unique culinary customs.

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