Having just opened its new Detroit location in March, on the surface, Katoi is a small Thai food restaurant and bar located in Corktown on Michigan Avenue. However, calling Katoi’s unique menu unequivocally “Thai food” wouldn’t exactly hit the nail on the head.
“It’s Katoi food,” Katoi co-founder and director of experience Courtney Henriette tells me.
Taking a step back, Henriette begins explaining director of food and co-founder Brad Greenhill’s background in mathematics and how he studied engineering at the University of Michigan.
“Brad had been cooking Mediterranean food for a long time. He had like a perfect math score on his SAT. He studied engineering,” Henriette says. “He thinks he’s very calculated. It’s interesting how he looks at dishes — the fact that he just reads a lot and tastes a lot.”
Pointing out Greenhill’s engineering background isn’t to indicate a direct correlation between math/engineering and the culinary arts, but rather point to the dichotomy between the two. In short, how does an engineer become a head chef at a restaurant?
“He [Greenhill] was really fascinated by Thai food,” Henriette says, “the sort of philosophy behind it, the flavors, all of it — so, again, it wasn’t like he had been studying this forever and was like, ‘Okay I’m a master. Now I’m opening a restaurant.’ Again it started with this [food] truck and being like, ‘Oh, you know what? I wanna learn to make the best khao soi. I’m just gonna do it.’”
Speaking of that food truck, it’s worth mentioning that that is where Katoi got its start. Originally planned as a moving food truck in Detroit, Katoi’s food truck remained stationary at Two James Spirits, serving up Greenhill’s distinctive dishes, which complemented the spirits of the distillery.
After the success of the food truck, Henriette and Greenhill decided to move house to a location just across the street from Two James Spirits, which was recently purchased by new friend and Katoi’s future director of space Philip Kafka.
After taking time to renovate the new location, Katoi now serves up its unique take on Thai/Mediterranean food six nights a week (closing for a day of rest on Sunday) in Detroit. Some dishes include the very spicy Jungle Curry Hot Pot (frog legs, snails, wild ginger and apple eggplant), Larb Ped Isaan (minced duck, chilies, shallots, lemongrass, sawtooth, mint, kaffir lime and toasted rice powder) and Naem Khao Tod (crispy rice, sour pork, shallots, cilantro and thai chile).
When asked what the future holds for Detroit, Henriette says that while she can’t comment on Detroit, she can comment on Katoi Detroit and the community they are fostering in their corner of the city.
“A lot of times, because the dining room is so small, I’m constantly introducing people to each other. ‘Oh, you’re doing this. Well, walk over here. You should meet this person because they are doing this,’” Henriette says. “That’s what Katoi is about and that’s what we see for the future of Katoi.”