Dallas can now get authentic Cambodian food from a new ghost kitchen concept open at Revolving Kitchen, the innovative virtual food hall in Garland. Called Kamp Fire, it specializes in the flavorful, spicy (but not too spicy) cuisine of Cambodia, with skewers, sausages, noodles, rice, and soups.
Kamp Fire is a revival of a restaurant that opened in 2019 in downtown Dallas as the city's first eatery focused expressly on Cambodian cuisine.
Chef Kevin Top was passionate about sharing his native Khmer, or Cambodian, cuisine, and opened the restaurant with a partner in a small former doughnut-shop in the West End. Unfortunately, they opened during a tumultuous time, when downtown Dallas was besieged by protests. They closed a few months later.
But Top, who is also a U.S. Army veteran, was determined to find a way to champion the joys of Cambodian cuisine. He grew up in Carrollton, but with a diligent grandmother who cooked lots of Cambodian dishes.
"She didn't want us spending money on the food at school, so she would pack my lunch," he says. "I remember once asking my teacher if she could heat up my lunch, and she came back with her nose all scrunched up from the smells she didn't recognize. After that, I would stick my lunch in one of cabinets in the rest room and sneak bites of my food."
At Kamp Fire, he begins with her recipes, then adds techniques he learned from cooking at restaurants such as Roy's Hawaiian and The Second Floor at the Westin Galleria, where he worked with celebrated chef J Chastain.
"With Kamp Fire, I'm taking everything I remember from my childhood and foods I enjoy, and giving them my own little twist," he says. "But I'm not departing too far from the traditional recipes. I'm proud of Cambodian food. We're the middle child, between Vietnam and Thailand. I tell people that we're not as spicy as Thai food and not as delicate as Vietnamese. But we're bold with our flavors."
His signature dish is called Amok, or Steamed Cambodian Fish Curry, which is also the national dish of Cambodia. He covers Pacific halibut in a coconut red curry custard, wraps it in a banana leaf, and steams until it's moist and delicate in texture.
His mainstream chef background can be seen in items such as his Cambodian Beef Sticks, beef skewers marinated in kroeung, a paste made with lemongrass, using American Wagyu tri-tip from Rosewood Ranch, and grilled over honey mesquite wood; and his Minced Pork Dip served with crudité, from chef-favorite Chubby Dog Farms. He also does a minced fish dip called Thuk Kroeung, served with crudité and house shrimp crackers.
Other dishes include stuffed chicken wings, crispy egg noodles topped with stir-fried Wagyu beef and shiitake mushrooms, and a trio of sandwiches on crusty bread that are like super-flavorful Cambodian versions of a banh mi.
He also makes a point of including vegan items such as:
- Prahut Tawhu, AKA Cambodian Tofu Cakes, consisting of tofu infused with royal kroeung, combined with mung beans and vital wheat gluten, into flavorful deep-fried fritters, served with sweet vegan "phish" sauce.
- Vegan Ka Thieu AKA Vegan Cambodian Noodle Soup, featuring rice noodles in a vegan stock infused with royal kroeung, topped with roasted kabocha squash and grilled shiitake mushrooms, water spinach, and Chinese chives.
The name comes from the original name for Cambodia. He explains it eloquently on his website:
"The 'Kamp' in Kamp Fire comes from the original name for Cambodia known as Kampuchea. In that perspective, it translates to the Cambodian fire. Cambodians first arrived here in America as refugees from the genocidal act known as 'the killing fields.' The come-up for Cambodians in America has often been riddled in fear. We've taken a backseat to other Asian cuisines represented in America as a result and have yet to create a signature footprint. Kamp Fire was born from a 1st Generation Cambodian American lens. We were born to change that narrative."