Chef Chat, Part 2: Kevin Naderi of Roost
Kevin Naderi of Roost, working in the kitchen
Photos by Mai Pham
Yesterday, our chat with Chef/Owner Kevin Naderi of Roost sparked a debate in the comments section about how soon his bubble would burst, with most commenters in support of expanding the Roost bubble. Today, Naderi shares insights into his cuisine, tells us who Houston's hottest chef is, and reveals the meaning of Roost. EOW: What is your cuisine like?
KN: I want to call it American farm-to-table, but there's a lot of Asian influence, Persian, Middle Eastern touches every now and then. It's kind of whatever we want to do with it.
EOW: What's a Persian influence?
KN: On the charcuterie, we have my grandma's recipe for pickles. I've done a lot of mint, rosewater, like the honey syrup that's on the donut holes. I plan on stepping it up in the future.
EOW: How long did it take you to put together the menu, and how often is it changing?
KN: It's funny, because as chefs we're sitting on something like 40 menus. We're always jotting down ideas, so I had all these menus and ideas in my head, I was like "oh we're going to go with this," and then a week before I threw something completely different out. Going to Chicago was a big decision maker, because I ate at Stephanie Izard's place, The Girl and the Goat, and that was a great inspiration because it's a lot of small shared plates.
EOW: But I noticed your plates are larger.
KN: Some of them are larger. We have five entrees. Other things like cauliflower is a good shared dish, the tomato salad is a good shared dish. We have about 17 items on the menu, I would say that aside from the five entrees, the other 12 are good shared plates. Like the bread service, it's always good to sit down and break bread. We don't give out free bread.
EOW: Wait, you don't give out free bread?
KN: We don't give out free bread, we order bread. Our bread service is from Slow Dough. The guys from Slow Dough do a great job. We're actually going to open a storefront bakery next door in the next couple of weeks. So they do the bread, and we sit down every week and we change it.
EOW : Change the bread?
KN: Yeah, we say what do we want to do, what do we like? We have five butters, you get to choose two. Right now it's a red beet butter. Some of the stuff is local, some of the stuff is off the charts, like we have a spam butter made with ground spam. It sounds sketchy but it's really good because you get that saltiness.
Employees wear shirts labeled "rooster"
EOW: Getting back to your 17 plates, what are your signature items?
KN: Signature items, something I can't change is the roasted cauliflower. It's a roasted cauliflower tossed in miso dressing, green onions, pine nuts, and on top are some bonito flakes (smoked dried ahi tuna), and people kind of freak out because it comes to table kind of wavy and moving, it's still dehydrating, so it's fun. Dessert-wise, our coffee donut holes are basically nutmeg and cinnamon beignets, they're not too sweet, crunchy, soft -- they're a little bit of everything.
EOW: So the dessert menu is yours as well.
KN: Yeah, I mean, I'm working on it. I'm not the greatest at pastries, but it's something that I always wanted to grow at, so I'm not afraid to try something new.
EOW: What about cocktails, do you have a full license?
KN: No, we just have wine and beer. I think it brings a whole new aspect to our neighborhood, having a liquor license. We have tenants, residents next door. I would hate to see someone get a little too drunk and start messing with the units or something like that.
EOW: Are you lunch and dinner?
KN: Right now we're just dinner. We're open Monday through Saturdays 4 to 10 p.m., and closed Sundays. Lunch -- we'll get in the groove of things and we'll start serving it later.
EOW: Okay, so fun things about you. You're Persian. Tell me all the Persian places to hit in Houston.
KN: Everybody goes to Garcon or Darband - they're both on Hilcroft. Darband is the old-school hole-in-the-wall place where you get kebabs and rice for like $7. The new front runner for the past five or six years has been Kasra.
EOW: What are some of your favorite go-to dining spots?
KN: I spend a lot of time in Chinatown. Dim sum at Ocean's Palace is always good. Crawfish and Noodles is always fun during crawfish season. I spend time between Tan Tan and Cafe 101, which are more the generic spots, but they're staples. You gotta get the rice patty and egg pancake at Tan Tan. At Cafe 101, they do this red wine pork which is really awkward and comes out bright red, but it's so good. I think they put annatto seeds -- it's crispy, salty, so good. EOW: So...hottest chef? KN: In Houston? Um, I would name Grant Gordon. I would date Grant Gordon if I wasn't straight! Grant and I have been friends since kindergarten, we grew up together. We were neighbors -- elementary school, middle school, high school. Grant's a good guy. I think I was one of the first people to congratulate him on his four star review. I was happy for him. A lot of people think there's a lot of jealousy around, but Houston's such a tight knit group, we all love each other, look out for each other.
EOW: What does Roost mean to you?
KN: Roost -- the definition dictionary-wise is like a "comfortable nest, or safe haven, or a place to lay your head."
EOW: How many names did you come up with before you decided on that?
KN: It's funny, but the first name I picked was really ugly, it was the Indian name for edible gold, or "Vark," and my parents were like "No way!" So I was like "Yeah, Roost is going to work."
EOW: Okay, so last meal, if you had one, who would make it and what would it be?
KN: My grandma. We have this thing that is stuffed grape leaves, they're called "dolmas." It's Greek, but we do a sweet and sour one with vinegar sauce on top. For me that's like, it. It's all my memories of Persian food.
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