A Very Balloo Christmas

For the holidays, you can't beat home sweet home—especially when the festive feast is prepared by chef Timon Balloo and shared with his wife and daughters in their Plantation home

Timon and Marissa Balloo share a holiday story with their daughters, Sophie and Kirin. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
Timon and Marissa Balloo share a holiday story with their daughters, Sophie and Kirin. Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz

This is a love story. A tale as old as time. Boy meets girl, they fall in love and conquer the world together. But this is also a story about self-discovery, family dynamics, and entrepreneurial drive. Timon Balloo, a first-generation kid from a multicultural, single-parent home dedicated his life—with the unwavering support of his wife, Marissa—to achieving the American dream. Now he has returned to Fort Lauderdale, on his terms, to share his exemplary devotion to food. 

Everything Timon does exudes passion, from the dishes he puts out at his restaurant, The Katherine, to the holiday dinners he prepares at home for Marissa and their daughters, Kirin and Sophie. His soul shines when he’s cooking, and it sparkles extra bright when he’s in the comfort of his home, on his grill, and among his family. In his kitchen, the family’s culture is ever-present, with Thai, Colombian, Chinese, and Caribbean flavors all sharing the stage.

Timon exploded onto the Miami dining scene in 2010 with Sugarcane, his global small plates restaurant. He’d trained under such notable Miami chefs as Allen Susser and Michelle Bernstein and had stints in New York City and Europe. But Sugarcane was his darling, his masterpiece. For 10 years he built the brand, received a slew of awards, and opened outposts in Las Vegas and Manhattan (the latter closed during the pandemic). Timon poured himself into the NYC venture, even moving his family to Midtown to live above the restaurant in order to eliminate a commute. After a decade, the ebbs and flows of life, including the birth of their youngest daughter, Sophie, prompted the couple to take a pause and reevaluate. 

A neutral palette allows Timon’s food to be the star of the Christmas dinner table. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
A neutral palette allows Timon’s food to be the star of the Christmas dinner table.

They knew the next chapter would involve cooking, but in what form? Having grown up in the Bay Area, Timon’s influences come from his Chinese mother’s weekday stir-fries, as well as the Caribbean-inspired dishes—like curry chicken and brown stew chicken—that his Jamaican stepfather would make. Farther down the California coast, Marissa’s father, a Thai chef, prepared their meals at home with the help of her Colombian grandmother. Her childhood food memories are flooded with sancocho, a typical Colombian soup, and rad na, a Thai rice noodle dish. 

The couple’s multicultural mashup of bold flavors and traditional spices and herbs only expanded as they traveled the world from Asia to Latin America. But their globe-trotting adventures and professional pursuits almost didn’t happen. Serendipitously, Timon and Marissa’s families moved to South Florida, and they met at the Sawgrass Mills Mall as teenagers. Timon, following his mother’s wishes, was on track to go to college and then work on Wall Street when Marissa intervened and convinced him to follow his culinary dreams instead. After 28 years, she’s still his No. 1 fan. 

“This isn’t a career, it is a full lifestyle,” Timon explains. “I pulled this woman into this life and she’s living it with me. When you devote yourself to this, you drag your family into it.”

Consistency is key in any kitchen. Whether chef Timon Balloo is at The Katherine or at home, he rules his kitchens with passionate flair and bold flavors
Consistency is key in any kitchen. Whether chef Timon Balloo is at The Katherine or at home, he rules his kitchens with passionate flair and bold flavors.

As the family’s decade-long Sugarcane chapter closed, the Balloos decided to open their namesake restaurant in downtown Miami in 2019. After years of being told what to cook, Timon created Balloo as an ode to the couple’s multicultural heritage, to the flavors they grew up with and the dishes they loved eating at home. The 28-seat concept was personal; it was a peek into the Balloos’ home, complete with family photos on the wall and their eldest daughter, Kirin, greeting and seating guests. The opening also coincided with Timon reconnecting with his birth father and discovering his Indian heritage through food. 

“I was cooking a lot of European food for many years, but I never cooked my culture and heritage—I was always embarrassed of it,” Timon says. Reminiscing about both his and Marissa’s childhoods in California, he explains, “We hid our cultures because growing up first generation in these cities, they are melting pots but they are also segregated in ways, so you have to play the part.”

With Balloo’s opening, Timon found his soul as a chef, claiming his space within the culinary world. Praise from the cognoscenti followed, including a James Beard Best New Chef in the South nomination for his Caribbean/Southeast Asian cuisine. Then the pandemic hit. And when social distancing regulations forced the restaurant to downsize to 12 tables, it wasn’t viable for it to stay open.  

Chef Balloo preparing his holiday feast. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
Chef Balloo preparing his holiday feast.

Timon and Marissa took a moment to recenter, yet again. As longtime Broward residents, the couple had been considering local spaces for their next venture. When Balloo closed, they decided I95 commutes were overrated and looked to open a concept closer to their Plantation home. The Katherine (an homage to Marissa’s middle name) debuted earlier this year, introducing Timon’s new American table concept to Fort Lauderdale. The global small plates restaurant (see a trend here?) is vibey without being pretentious, and the old-school playlist with the likes of Lisa Lisa, New Edition, and Prince sets a chill mood.  

“We like to be off the beaten path, worth a little exploration,” says Timon. “We want to be the quintessential upscale neighborhood restaurant.”

What does his new American table represent? It honors the country’s patchwork of cultures through food. “We’re more diverse than ever,” Timon notes. “We’re more open and aware of each other’s cultures. We’re eating each other’s cultures. People in middle America have sriracha in their pantries, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

A Balloo holiday feast is complete with prime rib, pumpkin soup, roasted potatoes, and Agua de Jamaica (hibiscus-infused iced tea). Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
A Balloo holiday feast is complete with prime rib, pumpkin soup, roasted potatoes, and Agua de Jamaica (hibiscus-infused iced tea).

The menu is a nod to Timon’s America, with plates like clam chowder fries (Marissa’s favorite) and a juicy double-patty burger alongside jerk chicken and Thai cabbage salad. Dishes are meant to be shared and come out as they’re ready—a standard practice these days—so order a few and get ready to embark on a culinary journey. The menu is limited and changes regularly. But staples like pasta and something in between bread, like a burger or sandwich, are always present. 

The Katherine occupies the former Foxy Brown space—a larger venture that the Balloos undertook without any investors. And while the corner building on Broward Boulevard is signless, who really needs one when people are already taking notice? Residents are excited for a feted Miami chef to plant his flag close to home, and the Miami New Times recently recognized The Katherine as the 2022 Best New Restaurant in Broward. 

The restaurant also marks Marissa’s foray into managing the daily operations of a restaurant. And thanks to its name, Marissa says it’s the first time people have come into one of Timon’s concepts asking to see her. 

Timon carved out a pumpkin to use as a serving dish for the soup. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
Timon carved out a pumpkin to use as a serving dish for the soup.

“We want to show our daughters, two little brown girls, that you are powerful, you are strong, you own your talent,” Timon says. “In this beautiful country, you’ll get what you give.”

At home, time with their children is precious, especially during the holidays. For Marissa, this season means being with family and eating. The Balloos throw a big Christmas party complete with matching pajamas. Marissa sets the table and entertains guests while Timon mans the kitchen and grill. 

Traditionally, Timon says he cooks a variety of meats that can include a fried turkey, a leg of lamb, or on-the-bone prime rib. His eyes light up when he talks about the Publix holiday prime rib special he stalks every year. He salts it and lets it dry age in the refrigerator for three weeks, which reduces the moisture and amps up the flavor, he explains. It’s a kitchen hack he uses for meat in general. The day of the festivities, he smokes it for two hours on his Kamado Joe and serves it with homemade horseradish. Timon also whips up a calabaza or pumpkin soup—Thai style—with coconut cream, sauteed garlic and shallots, and vegetable stock, garnished with pumpkin seeds. “It’s representative of us,” he says, adding that pumpkin and soup are a part of both his and Marissa’s cultures.

Chef Timon cooked prime rib on his Kamado Joe. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
Chef Timon cooked prime rib on his Kamado Joe.

“We add rice because we’re ethnic so there has to be rice,” Marissa says with a laugh. “There are certain things that you have to have. Like there has to be a banana—whether it’s a sweet banana or patacon.”

Another staple always on the table are potatoes. This year, Timon roasted them with thyme and sea salt. To end the holiday meal, he lets his daughters decide on dessert; this holiday season it’s coconut flan alongside good old American apple pie. 

With The Katherine, the couple hopes to help elevate Fort Lauderdale’s culture and dining scene, as the city is demanding more. “They want a story, they want quality, and they want to be intrigued,” Timon says. The Balloos’ way is simple: share their love for each other, their family, culture, and travels with the city they now call home. 

“To know you’re received by your community, and they accept who you are, that’s what makes you feel like you’re at home. That means the world in this endeavor,” says Timon. “It’s our love, it’s who we are and a look into our home. We are Fort Lauderdale. We are South Florida. We’re America and we’re proud and we’re excited.”

Facebook Comments