Kiran's: Chef Kiran's newest and boldest endeavor
In 2004, Chef Kiran felt she had outgrown her first restaurant, Ashiana. So, she sold it and and began an even larger mission – to create a fine-dining Indian restaurant in the heart of Houston's most competitive restaurant area. In October 2005, the work paid off. Kiran's, a stunningly designed restaurant at 4100 Westheimer, just west of Highland Village in midtown Houston, officially opened its doors.
Kiran's nearly doubles the seating of Chef's first restaurant, Ashiana. While more than 30 people are employed to create the level of service and attention envisioned, the meticulous care that Chef Kiran puts into her dishes has also magnified. Training is quite rigorous. As her new, upscale clientele demands quality, she, in turn, requires her staff to thoroughly understand the menu, the ingredients in each dish and the wines that best compliment each dish.
Chef Kiran and Wine Director Dr. Sharma have also taken an unprecedented step for Houston in creating a wine collection of approximately 300 wines, all carefully chosen to complement the range of flavors and complexities of Kiran's style of Indian cuisine. The collection has already been praised and recognized by wine lovers, experts and national publications.
Her magic touch extends to the dining rooms, where the light is intimate, the colors warm, and the seating luxurious. The dishes so carefully managed in the kitchen arrive on fine china, and the beverages, from cocktails to water to fine wines, are served in sparkling crystal glasses and stemware. The addition of “Veranda at Kiran's”, the outside seating area, allows guest to enjoy the outdoors and indulge in fine cigars, fine wines and a special Happy Hour menu.
Considering herself a classic chef at heart, Chef Kiran's menu is greatly influenced by the Mughlai style of northern India. But in time, her own tastes and techniques have evolved, fusing French and American influences and exploring new combinations of spices, herbs and other ingredients. On any morning, you may see Verma wandering the aisles of local specialty food stores, looking for the perfect ingredients for the day's meals. "My employees becomes so impatient with me", says Kiran with a laugh. "I can spend hours wandering the produce and spice sections in stores, looking for that special ingredient that will make a certain dish stand out."
Kiran's features house specialties including sea bass, lobster, lamb and an array of the Chef’s own light and flavorful fruit chutneys and sauces. Menu favorites include Saag Paneer, Bhindi Masala, Lamb Shank and Lamb Keema. Each item on the menu can be complemented with an exquisite glass of wine or a signature cocktail. After-dinner indulgences are available as well.
Meet Chef Kiran Verma
Chef Kiran: the early years
Kiran Verma was born in Jharsuguda, Orissa, in northern India. As the youngest daughter of a government worker, Kiran’s family moved from town to town. She quickly learned to adapt to new environments and cherished the opportunity to make friends with the staff in her mother’s kitchen.
“My mother used to get so angry with me.” Verma says. “Whenever she went out, she left strict instructions for me to stay at my desk and study. But I would race to the kitchen, and watch with fascination, tasting, asking lots of questions, and cooking. My mother could always tell that I had not been studying, because my clothes would be covered with food stains!”
Kiran's mother did cook, but she had a job as well. So, she had hired help at home. Those men and women from Nepal, Punjab and many other parts of the sub-continent, became Kiran's mentors, educating her about the art of combining herbs and spices, and unlocking a wondrous world of new flavor combinations for her. Their secrets had been passed down from generation to generation, just as Kiran's mother, grandmother and aunts taught her. When it came to cooking, there were no set guidelines. Kiran learned to cook based on creativity and taste.
Verma takes on Houston
“When I first came to America at age 18, I would explore American food in local Houston restaurants, and fantasize about how I would improve the flavors and spice it up!” she said laughing at the memory. “I would visit friends’ homes and marvel at what they served. I would write down their recipes and then recreate them. But I could not stop myself from adding a handful of peppers, a sprinkling of fresh basil or a pinch of cinnamon to the dishes. My friends gave me the ultimate compliments. They loved my food!”
In 1998, Verma was offered a management position at an Indian restaurant. She quickly realized that the only way to run the kitchen the way she wanted, was to buy out the restaurant. Finally, she had an outlet where she could strive for perfection and seek excellence in the food industry – her way. Ashiana was born.
Ashiana: Kiran's first successful restaurant
“The idea, the dream, the concept, was to establish a restaurant unique and inspiring, with an atmosphere of repose, enjoyment and relaxation. I wanted to present fine Indian cuisine to people who may never have experienced it. I also wanted to introduce it to people who had perhaps known it in another part of the world and would welcome the experience to reconnect with their past.”
“I wanted to be fresh, authentic and innovative, yet never stray far from the integrity of true Indian dishes. I also wanted to create a warm and charming ambiance agreeable to Westerners. I wanted service to be beyond reproach and to offer wines that beautifully complemented the menu.”
“The exquisite flavors of cardamom pods, the warmth of cumin, cloves and the sweet taste of coriander, the woody sharp zing of ginger and fiery chilies are flavors that add zest to all foods. I also like to use fresh curry leaves, fresh coconut, freshly ground mustard seeds and ajwain in marinades and curries of seafood." Verma also uses pickles and chutneys as side dishes to enhance the flavors of the main dish. "Despite the mystery that seems to surround Indian cuisine, the only real secret is using fresh, high quality ingredients,” she added.
The secret to Chef Kiran's success
While her cooking is widely renown and her newest restaurant, Kiran's, is meticulous, what is the real key to Chef Kiran's success? Her genuine, caring relationships with her guests and her absolute passion to serve others. She thrives on watching her clients enjoy her creations and derives great joy and a sense of accomplishment in serving a flawless menu. If you'd like, you can even prepare Chef Kiran's recipes at home. Just ask. Chef loves to share her recipes and knowledge of Indian cuisine. She regularly teaches at culinary classes in and around Houston, divulging her secrets and encouraging Houstonians to create easy, flavorful Indian cooking. And speaking of serving others, Chef Kiran also believes in giving back to the Houston community. She actively works with non-profit organizations. She particularly contributes her time and resources to a Battered and Abused Women charity and has been honored with awards for this work.
Indian food has found its popularity in the United States, and in the past few years, chefs of all ethnic origins have begun to incorporate the spices and cooking styles into their own menus. Chef Kiran has made the grand step in the evolution of this ancient cuisine. In fact, Houston Magazine calls Chef Kiran, “...the godmother of Indian fine dining.” In the culinary history of Houston, Texas, the bar for Indian cuisine has been raised.