MICHELIN Guide Ceremony 2 minutes 01 December 2022

How Two Alain Ducasse-trained Chefs are Making Their Mark in LA

From Bangkok to Los Angeles, this dynamic duo of dining is bringing flavor back.

Chefs Los Angeles California

One MICHELIN Star Camphor might be one of Los Angeles’s most in-demand restaurants, but its start wasn’t always a sure thing. After Chefs Max Boonthanakit and Lijo George experienced two lockdowns (and reopenings) of the One Star restaurant Blue by Alain Ducasse in Bangkok, they decided it was time to pick up and move. “We just needed to keep cooking,” says Chef Max Boonthanakit, an Atlanta native whose parents are Thai and Chinese, adding, “and Lijo wanted to move away from Thailand. He said either Los Angeles or Australia.” Enter Camphor’s previous owners who offered the space to the duo—Boonthanakit initially said no—but was persuaded. “I never visited the States before,” says Chef Lijo George, a Kerala, South India native, “I just focused on my work [but] I saw California as very open-minded and very welcoming. It’s the culture of California.” It’s that ethos of acceptance and diversity, coupled with flavor and a touch of the weird, that’s led to the pairs’ success since opening in February this past year.

Camphor's gunpowder shrimp © Wonho Frank Lee/Camphor
Camphor's gunpowder shrimp © Wonho Frank Lee/Camphor

Building off their training with Chef Ducasse, Boonthanakit and George felt inspired to marry traditional French bistro fare with hints of Southeast Asian spices, but the food is decidedly not fusion cuisine. “In this alternate universe where France and India share a border, we’re a little bistro on the France side welcoming Indian travelers across the border,” explains Boonthanakit. “It’s about letting the flavors be pure.” This translates onto the plate with directional takes on classics like mussels which the chefs remove from their shells allowing guests to sop up every last drop with the accompanying toasted bread. “It is fine dining at times, but we always try to take a step back and make it more approachable and easy for the guests,” adds Boonthanakit. That easy sensibility permeates throughout the space where an upbeat yet not overwhelming soundtrack gets you into the groove while the decor and palette of the room are kept as refined as the final seasonings on their dishes.

Camphor's reinvented pommes Anna © Jim Sullivan/Camphor
Camphor's reinvented pommes Anna © Jim Sullivan/Camphor

Those dishes are a fifty-fifty collaboration between the chefs who adhere to a less is more philosophy rooted in tantalizing guests’ taste buds. “We are always craving different flavors,” says Chef George, adding, “even if you’re doing chicken, keep changing it.” However, the one constant in the kitchen is ensuring everyone’s palate is precise. “We have a dish on the menu, the scallops, it’s fairly simple, but it’s seasoned with vinegar, soy, and a little bit of maple. It’s sour, savory, and sweet, and we keep them all separate in squeeze bottles. It’s a constant training on seasoning, and there’s a point where all of them click.” For the chefs, this is the best way to train their cooks how to achieve balance and keep them on their toes. “If someone fails at something, the main thing is teaching cooks to understand why things happen.”

Camphor's savarin © Wonho Frank Lee/Camphor
Camphor's savarin © Wonho Frank Lee/Camphor

Leading the new guard is paramount to the chefs, who believe that, “having great younger blood in the kitchen and on the team makes a huge difference,” says George. As for what’s next for Camphor, the chefs plan to do more collaborations—they just released the “Mise en Place” varsity jacket with Los Angeles-based streetwear brand Menu, introducing takeout, and they are hoping to bring some of their Bangkok-based chefs over for a few guest appearances. “We’d love to cook again with Wilfrid [Hocquet] of Blue,” says Boonthanakit, adding, “everyone is welcome to Camphor.” And no doubt, in their signature style of comfort and familiarity.


Camphor's table by the window © Josh Telles/Camphor

Hero image: Camphor chefs Lijo George and Max Boonthanakit
© Josh Telles/Camphor

MICHELIN Guide Ceremony

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