2016 Rust Belt Rising Star Chef Brad Greenhill of Katoi

2016 Rust Belt Rising Star Chef Brad Greenhill of Katoi
November 2016

Before Brad Greenhill decided to pursue cooking professionally, he studied engineering at the University of Michigan, and after graduation played in bands and even started his own record label. Having worked a few restaurant gigs as an undergraduate, Greenhill eventually found himself drawn back to the kitchen. His first formative job was working alongside his friend Michael Bernardino as part of the two-man kitchen at 26-seat Carmen’s in Boston. Despite the restaurant’s critical acclaim, Greenhill felt burned out from 70-hour weeks, and returned to Ann Arbor to found a graphic and web design firm. 

But, once again, the pull of the kitchen was too strong to ignore. Greenhill began hosting dinners, which evolved into a string of pop-ups. By 2013, he had relocated to Detroit, where pop-ups became his full time job. As Greenhill’s work progressed, his palate expanded, and welcomed in everything from Italian and Mediterranean influences, to Southern barbecue, and particularly the flavors of Thailand and Southeast Asia—call it Greenhill’s fish sauce epiphany. That’s what led him to open Katoi as an immobile food truck housed within Two James Distillery, with partner Courtney Henriette. It’s popularity lead to brick and mortar Katoi just down the street (quite literally brick and mortar, Greenhill and Henriette essentially bought four cinderblock walls), where in March 2016, Greenhill walked into his own restaurant as head chef.  


Interview with Rust Belt Rising Star Chef Brad Greenhill of Katoi

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start? 
Brad Greenhill:
I was born in Cleveland and raised in Columbus, where I was a porter in a deli, and later a line cook. In college, I was a line cook at an Italian place in Ann Arbor—that was transformative, I left as sous chef. I moved to Boston when Chef Michael Bernardino called me up to help run a 26-seat restaurant out there—Carmen’s. That’s when I made the jump to taking it seriously. 

I got big into doing pop-ups and learning on my own. The pop-ups were anywhere: my house, backyard, in an Ann Arbor bakery that wasn’t open at night. Then I moved to Detroit and did pop-ups everywhere. 

SK: Who's your mentor? 
Miles Anton, my chef in Ann Arbor at Trattoria Stella in Traverse City.

SK: How are you involved in the local culinary community? 
I’ve been in it four years now. It’s great—definitely a lot more of a community than other cities. It might change as more people come in, but in the early days with only a few restaurants, there were a lot of pop-ups and sharing of resources. It’s a Detroit thing, not as competitive, and I’m sure it‘ll change, but I hope it stays this way. On any given night, there will be four other chefs here at Katoi, or at any other restaurant.

SK: What's your biggest challenge at Katoi? 
Doing the same menu for two weeks, because I was so used to doing pop-ups and I like to keep it fresh. Now every week we change out one or two things.

SK: What's your five year plan? 
I’ll have a couple more restaurants open by then. New concepts, not driven by awards or accolades. I’m driven by asking how can we make the most flavorful food. A flavor-first restaurant where we won’t care about plating or foam. That was food’s glam rock phase, just to show off technique. Ask, “Is your strawberry emulsion better than a strawberry?” Probably not.

SK: In your operations or service, what are you doing differently that most you're proud of? 
Quite a few things. We use a mortar and pestle more than anywhere else, probably. It’s an interesting blend of modern and rustic. We cook things over wood in a smoker and we also have a CVap and Vitamix. The CVap is for dehydrating, and finishing things from the smoker, like brisket.