Dogtown couple’s popup ‘secret suppers’ serve up authentic Thai cuisine, culinary conversations
Having grown up in Thailand, Ekkachai Danwanichakul does not want to settle for anything less than truly traditional Thai food in his current home of St. Louis. But the goal of authenticity has turned out to be a lofty one.
“Every time I go out to eat Thai food around here, more often than not I’m disappointed,” said Danwanichakul.
He and his wife, St. Louis native Chelsie Hellige decided to take matters into their own hands. What began as an effort to introduce their friends to home-cooked, authentic Thai meals evolved into a popup restaurant held at the couple’s own Dogtown bungalow.
The project is called Spirit House, and it has become an exclusive and sought-after “secret supper” for St. Louis foodies. Dinners are weekly or biweekly, and they are announced via email and Instagram.
When asked by host Don Marsh on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air how Spirit House fits in with the growing number of Thai restaurants in St. Louis, managing editor of Sauce Magazine Heather Hughes said that “in a lot of ways, it doesn’t.”
“[Danwanichakul and Hellige] are doing things that Thai restaurants would have a really hard time doing,” explained Hughes – due to both the couple’s desire to serve uniquely Thai flavors unfamiliar to the typical American palate, and the amount of time they are able to spend preparing the dishes.
The endeavor is also distinctive in that it is not financially motivated. The hosts ask diners for a fee that generally covers the cost of making the food, including all the additional kitchenware they need to create Thai meals for a crowd at home.
“It’s not about money,” Danwanichakul emphasized. “We want to make food that we think tastes like Thailand.”
According to both Hughes and Hellige, the guests are “self-selecting,” meaning that – because they have gone out of their way to learn about the restaurant and reserve coveted seats at the table – they will be open to the new flavors Spirit House has to offer.
The “self-selecting” diners also tend to be open to creating spaces for culinary and cultural dialogues.
“When everyone’s eating dessert, we tend to kind of sneak in and just start chatting with people,” Hellige said. “Honestly that’s been our primary goal … just to start a discussion.”
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