There’s no shortage of Thai restaurants in the St. Louis area, but the most coveted reservation in the city might be at Ekkachai Danwanichakul and Chelsie Hellige’s home in Dogtown. Missing the flavors and aromas of the Isaan region of northeastern Thailand where Danwanichakul grew up, the couple launched Spirit House in 2018. The series of private Thai dinners, or “secret suppers,” presents authentic family-style meals to eight lucky diners per night in exchange for donations. As the hosts serve dishes such as saku sai moo (tapioca dumplings) and pad kra pao (pork and holy basil stir-fry), they also give guests a lesson in Thai cuisine and culture. The pair has no plans to open a restaurant, so you’ll have to keep an eye out for upcoming dinners via Instagram if you want a taste.
What inspired you to start Spirit House? I want to eat authentic Thai food that tastes and smells like home, so every time I go home, I learn a couple things here and there from my mom. [When I’m in the U.S.], I always want something that she cooked at home – that’s how I got started making Thai food. … We’ve been to Thailand so many times, [Chelsie] basically eats like a Thai person, [and] every time we come back, we get food depression.
What are the logistics of throwing a pop-up dinner in your home? [We start by] talking about what kind of stuff we should make – because we don’t make the same thing every dinner. I ask Chelsie, “What would you like to eat?” –E.D. We try to balance out [the menu]. In Thailand, if you’re sitting down with a group of friends or your family, you’re going to have a shitload of things on the table and they’re all going to be different preparations. –C.H. If we need ingredients that are hard to find, I have to go to Jay International Foods and ask them if they're going to have that ingredient that week or not. If not, we have to change the menu. Once we’ve decided on the dishes, Chelsie confirms the date and puts the announcement on Instagram; she then books people on a first-come-first-serve basis. –E.D.
How does Spirit House differ from what people would find at other Thai restaurants? I try very hard to make [each dish] the way it is made in Thailand. –E.D. If we are going to do a dish that's really common, we make sure that we’re doing it goddamn well – and generally, it’s a dish that we feel strongly about. … We don’t use any bell peppers or broccoli or carrots because you will almost never find those ingredients in Thailand … We’re not afraid of funkier flavor profiles, especially because [Ekkachai’s] from the Northeast and they eat a lot of funky fermented things in that region. –C.H.
Spirit House, instagram.com/spirithousestl