Home is where the heart, hearth and art is. Funnily enough, a new Thai restaurant in Berlin’s Potsdamer Strasse is combining all three. Kin Dee is a five-way collaboration between Dalad Kambhu, the food-fixated fine artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, and restauranteurs Stephan Landwehr, Boris Radczun, and Moritz Estermann. It evolved out of a two-week pop-up at Stephan, Boris and Moritz’s Mitte restaurant Dottír, a process which began, fittingly, at Dalad’s kitchen table.
“Me and Moritz were speaking about possibly doing a restaurant together, with me more so running the restaurant from the front end,” Dalad says, before serving a dozen friends in Kin Dee’s ochre-tinted dining room for the first time. “And I cooked for him at home. When he tasted my food, we met a couple of days after and he just said: “I think you should be the head chef’”
Fast forward to the present, and he and Dalad are in fact opening a restaurant together. “We’re serving 10 dishes—a set menu for the first month, just to get the kitchen running, and introducing a new format for sharing plates: Thai-style food, where you’re not just ordering two-three small plates, but where you don’t have to have the whole fried fish or salmon ceviche yourself, but you come with friends, and you enjoy sharing the meal.” This tasting menu includes beef salad, soft-shell crab, an apple salad, an a muse of chilli nuts with pickled kohlrabi, slow-roasted pork belly, whole fried fish wi th t amarind, and sous vide crispy duck massaman curry, a herby salad of brussels sprout tops and saute seasonal vegetables.
Kin Dee is emphatically not a fusion restaurant. Yet the recipes from the pop-up onwards have made ample use of German ingredients, from smoked trout to root vegetables. “There are things you can’t compromise on when you make Thai food: kaffir lime, lemongrass, galangal, Thai red chilli, and cilantro,” says Dalad. “You just have to get this from Thailand, and we get this from a great local importer. Pastes are almost like cheese to the French, there are so many kinds—green, red, massaman, jungle, burnt chilli—we make it all ourselves in-house.”
For Moritz and Dalad, a stumbling block was how to make the concept of locally adapted Thai food fit with a German palate used to a standardized approach to Thai eating. “If I have one fear, it’s that people won’t come with an open mind. What we’re doing is new: there’s no Thai sculptures in the corners: it’s how the Thai people themselves eat, as much as is possible in Germany. It’s a process of learning: that Thai food is not just Pad Thai.”
The area Kin Dee inhabits, on a wide street off north Potsdamer Strasse is something of an edgeland. Yet, as with so much in Berlin, peripherality is a power source, not a drain. It’s the area where Joseph Roth’s legendary cafe rubs shoulders with an importer of fine Middle Eastern goods, over the road, a Syrian Orthodox Cathedral stands opposite an Acne Studio store. “The area has been up-and-coming for a long time,” jokes Moritz. “And it’s going through an unusual process of development, because unlike other areas, it’s not driven purely by people moving here, so much as galleries and other institutions opening, so is still kind of t erra incognito.”
The restaurant marks the latest entanglement of Rirkrit’s art with eating. A Thai installation artist who has used food as a basis of commentary on the contemporary condition, he has released cookbooks, opened pop-up restaurants at Art Basel and turned the opening of the Paris Triennale into a 12-hour tom kha kai banquet. Dalad and he met, as fortune would have it, at Grill Royal on her first visit to Berlin five years ago. “He’s a pretty amazing chef and I started to be a student to him, outside of school,” she says. “He said ‘Let’s cook together,’ and he opened this amazing kitchen upstate, in Hancock. By the end of the week, I was running the kitchen.” After they worked on the Dóttir pop-up, this is their first permanent restaurant.
The night of the launch, Dalad is excited, but measured. “I’ve leant a lot about pacing myself. No chef can do their job without passion for it, so of course I’m emotionally invested. But it’s very important to manage emotions,” she says as friends start streaming in out of the cold. Champagne is opened, and the guests mingle with the staff in the gold-hued room before the food starts to come out.
- This article is co-published with Freunde von Freunden. Click here to read the whole behind-the-scenes story on Kin Dee.