When Detroit chef Kate Williams left her high-profile post at the G.A.R. Building restaurants — the acclaimed Republic and the at-the-time still unopened Parks and Rec — the city was stunned. But for Williams, the move came as the result of some serious reflection. “I had to figure out why I became a chef,” she says. “I personally and professionally just figured out that this is not the place for me.”
Now she knows better. Williams’s path to opening her own restaurant, the nose-to-tail, Irish-inspired Lady of the House — which will debut later this month — has included location changes and even investor changes. “After what happened at the G.A.R. Building and other professional experiences,” she says, “I just now know when something doesn't feel right.”
Williams also knows what she wants. “I like having a dining room small enough that I am cooking every day and not just doing paperwork,” she says. “I wanted something that felt like my dining room.” And so, Lady of the House is built around this radically simple idea: Kate Williams will cook for you.
Lady of the House occupies a ’70s-era building, most recently a pub, in Detroit’s historic Corktown neighborhood. The Detroit Historical Society describes it as “the oldest surviving neighborhood” in the city, so-named for County Cork in Ireland and the Irish immigrants who settled in the area. Corktown’s certainly been on the food media radar for a while, with Bon Appetit calling it “Detroit's Coolest Nabe” in 2012.
Williams knew she wanted to open in Corktown from the get-go: a Detroit native, she has personal history in the area. Not only does she live there, but her great grandparents, Irish immigrants, met at the Gaelic League on the Michigan Avenue, “a stone’s throw from where our restaurant is”; her grandfather grew up on Vermont Street, a few blocks from Lady of the House. “It had to be in Corktown,” she says.
Previous owners decked the building’s interior out with various Irish touches, including wood, slate, and stone from Ireland. Williams plans on keeping a lot of that, even as the design Patrick Thompson Design gives it a fresh look, adding Michigan-wood tabletops to the dining room and a mural painted by Detroit-based artist Michelle Tanguay in the bathroom.
Williams is known for nose-to-tail cooking, and will continue with that at Lady of the House. Sous chef Larissa Popa will focus on in-house whole animal butchery and charcuterie-making, continuing the role she had with Williams at Republic. The menu will change as Williams gets different products in from her network of local farmers, but for now, a press release promises “lamb steak with charred cucumber, sweet corn, and crispy corn silk; chilled squash soup with Asian carpe gribiche, salmon roe, and nasturtium oil; wood grilled onions with hollandaise and pistachio; and white potato doughnuts with chamomile cream, dried yogurt, and sugared thyme.”
Williams previously told Eater she planned on working with “ugly food” as a way to minimize food waste. She also plans to collaborate with her beverage team to put kitchen and bar waste to use, making Lady of the House part of the ongoing industry conversation about low-waste cocktails. Williams also plans to send compost from Lady of the House to local farmers, and use it in the restaurant’s back garden. She’s even looking at securing some farm land in north Corktown to grow more of her own product.
Like the building, the menu will reflect some of Williams’ Irish influences. Guests will be greeted with tea and crackers seasoned like an Irish rarebit. She plans on using a lot of lamb, and more seafood than she ever has before, since Ireland is a coastal country. But above all, she sees Ireland as an inspiration when it comes to hospitality. “[T]he reason that Irish pubs are the longest standing drinking establishment in history is because when you walk in, the bartender needs to know who are you, where you’re from, what’s your mom’s maiden name is before he even offers you a drink,” she says. “It’s that very friendly, personable service.” .
It’s a style of service that jives with Williams’s renewed focus as a chef. “We are throwing a dinner party every night,” she says. “That’s all we’re doing. It’s meant to be my personal dining room.”
• Lady of the House [Official site]