While Timon Balloo’s cooking has taken him to South Beach, New York, and Las Vegas, earning him James Beard nominations and other glitzy recognition along the way, his anchor for the past 25 years has been humble Broward County. It’s where Balloo met his wife, Marissa, when they were teenagers running around Sawgrass Mills mall. It’s where he landed his first kitchen job, at a sports bar called Uncle Al’s, and his second, at a West Broward resort where his debut shift saw him flipping 1,000 fried-matzoh omelets during Passover.
It’s where he and Marissa have raised their family. And it’s where they have planted their newest restaurant, The Katherine (Marissa Balloo’s middle name), which opened in late January.
“Through everything, we’ve always been connected to Broward,” Timon Balloo says. “We started here. We live here. We’re raising our kids here. Now we’re telling our story here, the story of our love.”
They’re telling that story through food memories that he and Marissa have compiled during their childhoods in California, their travels across the world, and in their own home. They pair their food at The Katherine — a breezy neighborhood restaurant where guests are comfortable in sandals and linen tops — with natural wines, local beers, and a funky playlist. By design, Balloo says, the first face that guests see when they enter is Marissa Katherine’s.
“She’s our matriarch, radiant and beautiful,” he says. “We want her to be the one welcoming you into our home.”
Here’s a look inside that home, through five dishes.
1. Thai-Style Charred Cabbage Salad
Balloo imagined this dish — an homage to the fresh-spicy-sour flavors of Thai green papaya salad — would be his attempt at avant-garde cuisine, highly refined and preciously plated. But, he says, “Every time I try to be fancy, I wind up just smashing everything together and eating it like that, because it tastes better that way.”
The final product at The Katherine is a version similar to one diners will remember from his hit Miami restaurant Balloo, for which he earned a James Beard nomination for Best Chef: South in 2020 before shuttering it in the pandemic. Here, Balloo quarters and chars a head of cabbage on a griddle, then brushes it with fish sauce and oven-roasts it. A rough chop yields lacy ribbons of cabbage leaves mixed with crunchy bits of core, all of which get tossed with crispy shreds of fried pork that has been braised in papaya salad dressing: Thai chiles, palm sugar, cilantro stems, lime juice, and fish sauce. The kitchen finishes off the salad with a generous handful of fresh herbs like mint, Thai basil, and cilantro. It delivers on texture, pucker, and punch in a way that Marissa Balloo, the daughter of a Thai chef (and photographer), approves.
2. Clam Chowder Fries
“I grew up in San Francisco, so clam chowder with sourdough takes me straight back to my childhood,” Balloo says. During culinary school, Balloo landed an internship abroad in Belgium, where he and Marissa would share moules frites at sidewalk cafes. She loved the fries while he dreamed of the steamed clams of his youth. The idea comes together at The Katherine as a bowl of creamy chowder topped with plump, sweet clams in their shells and Old Bay-spiced fries.
“Why not do frites on clam chowder if I want to?” Balloo asks. “Clam chowder fries. It may seem like just a steamed seafood dish with fried potatoes on top. But it represents a part of our heart, a part of our story.”
3. Jerk Grilled Chicken Thighs
Balloo’s skill at cooking foods of the Caribbean and of the African diaspora have long been present in his dishes, but he says he’s grown more comfortable putting them front and center on menus in recent years.
The culinary influence of both his parents — his mother is Chinese, Black, and Arawak from Trinidad, and his father’s family is Indian-Trinidadian — is present in dishes like his jerk chicken. Boneless, skinless thighs marinate for two to three days in a scotch bonnet green sauce and jerk rub that Balloo says is a Trinidadian-Jamaican mashup. Grilling the chicken leaves it crusty on the outside and super-tender inside, and Balloo presents it with coconut-braised kale callaloo with sweet plantains.
“Everyone loves it, and it doesn’t get too spicy,” he says. “Even a Caribbean person will say, ‘That’s a pretty good jerk.’”
4. Florida Snapper Curry
Marissa Balloo’s dad, who’s from Chiang Mai, taught Timon Balloo how to make a proper Thai curry. At The Katherine, Balloo tries to marry those lessons with the tradition he and Marissa have of enjoying fried local fish on the water.
“We start with a Thai curry: ginger, garlic, shallots, galangal, sauteeing that with some fish sauce and red curry paste then working in Thai basil, cilantro and letting it brown and get a little sticky. Then we hit it with fish stock, coconut milk, more fish sauce, and lime juice,” Balloo says. “We get the fried fish in that bath, add some peppers, onions and carrots, and serve it with some pickled chayote and coconut rice. To me, it’s just so soulful and comforting.”
5. Slow-Braised Duck Orecchiette
Knowing he wanted to have a staple pasta dish on The Katherine’s menu, Balloo looked to France and Italy for inspiration in food and romance. Classic slow-cooked duck preparations like confit, and dishes like cassoulet, remind him of what made him fall in love with cooking. “Cooking duck makes me feel like I’m staying true to the roots of gastronomy,” he says. “And cooking it for a velvety pasta dish like this embodies what Marissa and I love about Italy and our times together there.”
Braising duck for his orecchiette dish results in a dark stock, which Balloo uses to cook the pasta. There’s richness and salt from the duck meat and pasta, a touch of sweetness from cubes of roasted butternut squash, and a hit of sour from a finishing squeeze of balsamic vinegar. Aged pecorino sprinkled on top puts an exclamation point on each element.
“A lot of the things coming out of our kitchen now are the result of us finding our voice as individuals and as a couple,” Balloo says. “People who have supported us and received us have allowed us to really believe in ourselves and to get to this point. This is what I want to be doing, and I want to do it with the person who’s always been by my side.”
The Katherine, 723 E. Broward Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale, is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 5 to 10 p.m. Reservations are available on Resy up to 30 days in advance; bar seats are reserved for walk-in diners.
Evan S. Benn is director of special projects at The Philadelphia Inquirer and former food editor and restaurant critic of The Miami Herald. He wrote Resy’s Guide to the Must-Eat Dishes of Miami. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.