If you're like most Houstonians, you haven't, in the past week, been swept off your feet and transported to India and back in a matter of hours, experiencing the joy of Indian street foods, upbeat music, age-old traditions and exotic beverages in between. But to my own and a diverse group of food writers' luck, Chef Kiran Verma of Indian fine-dining restaurant Kiran's took us on such a journey last night.
While originally slated to take place on the restaurant and bar's veranda, the party was moved into Kiran's cozy interiors due to thunderstorms. In a simple yet elegant setting that had the warmth of a home throughout, refreshing drinks such as ginger margaritas and martinis with vanilla and pineapple-infused vodka flowed throughout the night, a henna tattoo artist stamped guest after guest with what would be a weeklong visible reminder of the night's festivities, and a handsome man pounded away artistically on the dhol in animated fashion. Stations of Indian street food, manned by knowledgeable Kiran's staff members, were abundant.
Up for tasting were authentic Indian street foods -- "casual food in a fine dining setting," as Chef Kiran put it. Some highlights of the night were the paar bhaji, boiled and mashed potatoes with mixed fresh vegetables, onion, ginger, garlic, and a wide assortment of spices served over warm, buttered buns; fish tikka, a hearty dish of fish marinated in ginger, and garlic and shallow-fried with veggies; burgh malai, spice-and-herb-heavy chicken; crab samosas; and lamb seek kebabs -- most of which can be found in the "small plates" section of the dinner menu.
I had a hard time believing that the seemingly elaborate dishes we were enjoying were truly street foods. Chef Kiran confirmed that indeed they were an accurate representation of what you would find along the corners and roads of bustling India. I still thought the food was downright spectacular -- not the type of food you'd find on the streets, but the kind of food you create for celebratory occasions.
And what was worthy of such a fine celebration? A couple of things: The soirée was celebrating the launch of Houston's South Asian Lifestyle Society Magazine, "Lights Camera Action," Curry Digest series -- a video series by the digital magazine's founder and editor, Ruchi Mukherjee, in which she will immerse viewers in Indian cuisine, whether in the form of spices used, or recommendations on Indian food hot spots in Houston. In her first Curry Digest video, screened at the event, Ruchi takes us on a grocery store shopping adventure with Chef Kiran in which we get an inside look at what goes on behind the scenes as Chef Kiran plans her traditional Indian dishes.
Also being celebrated was the launch of the Houston Metro Cooking Show, the two-day culinary expo that begins tomorrow at Reliant Center [ed note: this is the second year of the competition].
, where Chef Kiran will join Chefs Hugo Ortega, Jamie Zelko, Ronnie Killen, Michael Cordúa and Rebecca Masson on a Regional Cooking Stage honoring The James Beard Foundation. Chef Kiran will be doing a cooking demonstration entitled "From Sari to Saffron" as a part of the H-E-B Tasting and Entertainment Workshop series. Meanwhile,Chefs Hugo Ortega, Jamie Zelko, Ronnie Killen ,Michael Cordúa, Rebecca Masson, and Randy Evans will be cooking on a Regional Cooking Stage honoring The James Beard Foundation. These Houston chefs will be rubbing elbows with celebrity chefs Paula Deen, Jacques Pépin and Giada De Laurentiis, who will also be present throughout the weekend.
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Unquestionably, all of these chef appearances will make for an amazing show. But last night, Chef Kiran was in the spotlight for her perfect launch party that not only displayed the Indian delicacies that she creates but was a great example of Houston's culinary diversity, which is greatly deserving of national attention.
And the chefs at the forefront of Houston's dining scene prove again and again that they are down-to-earth, friendly, humble beings with kind personalities. On this occasion, Chef Kiran displayed her cute-as-a-button nurturing side as she walked up to a partygoer and asked if she could please aid in re-accommodating her sari so as to further flatter her admirable figure. Without waiting to hear the guest's response, Chef Kiran gently tugged at the guest's sari and began working her motherly magic. The guest, of course, smiled with delight.