The Eating...Our Words 100: Kiran Verma, Executive Chef and Owner of Kiran's Restaurant & Bar
When she came to the U.S. over 40 years ago from India, Kiran Verma and her friends (a lot of students) didn't have a lot of money to be going out and spending, so she cooked at home for her friends and family on the weekends. That was the way she and her loved ones felt at home -- being with each other, a group of people from the same country. Although she loved cooking for the sake of others' enjoyment, people would tell Verma she cooked so well that she really needed to open up a restaurant. Ultimately, her passion and the egging on by those around her made Verma exchange her banking profession for that of chef once her daughter was off to college and her son was a senior in high school.
Thus, Verma opened Ashiana's on Briar Forest. After seven years spent building a loyal clientele -- who urged her to open up a restaurant inside the Loop -- she decided to make the move.
Verma is the executive chef and owner of Kiran's Restaurant & Bar -- two job titles that carry a heavy weight in the restaurant world. For the past eight years, Verma has been cooking modern Indian cuisine "from morning until evening" at her restaurant.
Although Kiran's became a dinner-only restaurant this past January, Verma still starts her workday at 10:30 a.m. daily. She takes the quiet morning time to focus on the day's dinner service. She goes to the market to seek what's "nice and special and fresh" in order to create special dishes for the day; she is constantly retraining her kitchen staff; she researches modern cooking equipment; and she is always tweaking recipes to reflect and incorporate current practices and trends to make food that is "healthier, tastier and lighter." The last thing she desires is for her recipes to become "stale."
When dinner time rolls around, Verma not only cooks, she also takes the time to step out on the dining floor to connect with guests. She says, "A lot of times, I feel like these guests that I have known for over 16 years have become like a family." She has a special relationship with her guests, and she thrives on that.
Verma's work day ends at about midnight -- making for 13- to 14-hour workdays. With a joyful, attentive demeanor and a twinkle in her eye, you would never guess that this power woman works the long hours that she does, seven days a week. Moreover, Chef Kiran is well-spoken and poised, with a motherly nature about her that makes you feel as though you are the only person in the world who matters.
"There is no other work that gives you such instant rewards as cooking for someone. I love that instant gratification," she says. Verma takes pride in her work and really loves what she does. "I am very fortunate that my passion is fueled by my guests. Whatever I make, they are so excited to try, which is why I can make something new every day. My passion is fueled by approval from my guests."
What inspires her:
"When I make something and my guests are so excited to hear what it is and how it was made, I am inspired," Verma says. "That smile on guests' faces when they are eating the food, their constant interest in what I am doing, inspires me."
If not this, then what?
Before her kids were born in 1978, and long before the days of Ashiana and Kiran's, Verma had a barbecue restaurant called Kabob-B-Q, where shish kebabs and Texas-style barbecue -- beef, sausage and brisket -- were served for about three years. Verma had a huge smoker inside the restaurant, and she misses it. That dream of having another barbecue restaurant is still inside of her.
If not here, then where?
Verma would go back to India, her home. Although she loves being in the U.S. -- and Houston in particular -- when she went back to India recently to visit, she realized that there is so much more that she could do with her food, with the ingredients available, and so many people familiar with Indian cuisine to cook food. It has been a challenge for her to find kitchen staff members experienced in Indian cuisine.
Verma is working on making her concept even more "fine-dining" than it currently is, Additionally, she increasingly thinks about opening up a second restaurant, perhaps downtown -- something more casual, like "Kiran's Grill."
The Eating...Our Words 100:
- Catherine Rodriguez, Pastry Chef at The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa
- Jody Stevens, Owner and Cake Designer of jodycakes
- Bobby Heugel, Owner of Anvil, Blacksmith, The Hay Merchant and OKRA's Charity Saloon
- Renatta Lindsey, The Taste Contestant and Houston Home Cook
- Enrique Bravo of Pollo Bravo on How Selling Chicken Helped Him Realize His American Dream
- Sean Beck, Sommelier Extraordinaire
- Brooksy Smith, Owner of JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers
- Minh Nguyen, Owner of Cafe TH and One of Houston's Best Front-of-House Personalities
- Tiffany Tyler and Aimee Turney of Central City Co-Op
- Ellen Schwartz, Culinary Instructor & Private Chef
- James DeLeon, Certified Sommelier and Craft Beer Nut at Kroger
- Alex Padilla, Executive Chef at Ninfa's on Navigation
- Kevin Strickland, Herder of Cats at gratifi, a.k.a. Ziggy's
- Ron Chen, Owner and "Head Coach" at Rattan Pan-Asian Bistro
- Brock Wagner, Godfather of Craft Beer in Houston and Founder of Saint Arnold Brewery, the Oldest Microbrewery in Texas
- Blanche Kinze, Murray's Cheese Master at Kroger
- Bear Dalton, Wine Buyer & Educator, Spec's
- Sam Ray of Republic National, Houston's Largest Wine Distributor
- Thai Van, Server Extraordinaire at Kata Robata
- Dale Robertson, a Populist Among Wine Writers
- Denman Moody, Author of The Advanced Oenophile
- Benjy Mason, Executive Chef at Down House
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