Chef Kimberly Gamble of Livermore’s Lanna Thai and Oakland’s Daughter Thai always wanted to put her skills to the test. But after competing on Beat Bobby Flay at the age of 26 and losing in the first round, she paused briefly on applying for other cooking competition shows. Then, two years later, a casting director remembered Gamble from her audition for another show and reached out; she thought Gamble would be perfect for a spicy episode of Chopped dubbed “Flamin’ Hot.” “Southern Thailand is different to other cuisines because of the spiciness of the food itself,” Gamble says. “And so she thought that my background would be great for the show, and because Lanna Thai and Daughter Thai restaurant is known for its spicy food as well.”
Now Gamble, 28, is ready for her episode of Chopped to air on Food Network on Tuesday, March 7. But unlike Beat Bobby Flay, for which Gamble had just five days to prepare before flying to New York to compete, with Chopped she had two weeks to prepare before the October shoot — and her family was there to help. In the leadup to filming, Gamble’s aunt got serious about getting her ready for the show. Each day, she would prepare two to three “mystery baskets” filled with random ingredients for Gamble to work with in the Lanna Thai kitchen. Gamble would then cook into a meal in a 20-minute timeframe, just like on the show. “She would record everything on her phone,” Gamble says. “She would say, ‘Okay, chef Kim, what is in your basket?’ and I would have to open the bag and make a face and [introduce ingredients], and then she would time me.”
Because an ingredient from her first round on Beat Bobby Flay threw her for a loop, this time Gamble prepared to work through any sort of surprise items. Her aunt threw in all sorts of proteins, from fish to poultry, to throw off Gamble. The duo would practice in the off-times at the restaurant, cooking from the mystery baskets at 9 a.m. in the morning before Lanna Thai opened, after the lunch rush, and at night — and because the episode was pepper-themed, all of the dishes made had to be made spicy. At the end of the two weeks, Gamble says, her aunt was ready for a break from the routine. “‘I’m so happy we’re done practicing because my stomach can’t handle this anymore,’” Gamble says her aunt told her.
Unlike a lot of chefs on cooking competition shows, Gamble isn’t a culinary school graduate; instead, she spent her formative years working side by side with her mother at their family restaurant, Lanna Thai, before eventually opening her first restaurant in Danville at the age of 19. “Pretty much my culinary school was Lanna Thai,” Gamble says. She went on to partner with chef Kasem Saengsawang to open Daughter Thai in Oakland in 2017 (though she left that partnership two years later, she says), then later opened Lucky Bird and Cousins Asian Street Food in Berkeley. These days, Gamble is mostly in the kitchen at Lanna Thai, and now that her cooking skills have taken her to not just one, but two cooking competition shows, she’s looking to take on another life goal of backpacking through Thailand to learn more dishes and its history. “I want to tell people if you really are passionate about something, where you have a life goal that you want, just never give up and just really go for it,” Gamble says. “Because that’s what happened to me: To be honest, I did give up a little bit, but then at the end of the day, I thought, I want to pursue this goal — and I got it.”
The “Flamin’ Hot” episode of Chopped debuts on Food Network on Tuesday, March 7 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. Lanna Thai (2270 Las Positas Road, Livermore) will offer Gamble’s appetizer from the show at the restaurant between March 8 to 12 for customers to try.