Chef Chat, Part 2: Morty Parsa of Kasra Persian Grill

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In Part One of our Chef Chat, we learned how Kasra Persian Grill chef/owner Morty Parsa came to open a restaurant in Houston. Today we discuss his approach to cooking and his philosophy of running a Persian restaurant.

EOW: Houston Culinary Tours has stopped here three times already and is coming back for a fourth visit in October. But they seem to have a difficult time categorizing the restaurant: thus far you've been included in the Taste of Asia tour, the Middle Eastern tour and the Mediterranean tour.

MP: In a way, they're all correct. One of my customers recently brought in a Wall Street Journal article that called Persian cuisine the mother of all Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food. Other countries took Persian food and changed the spices to make it to their taste.

EOW: So how would you describe Persian food to someone who wasn't familiar with it?

MP: Persian food is extremely simple and extremely natural. It doesn't have any gravy or sauce. The ingredients for our marinade are olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, saffron, and lemon juice. We serve lamb, beef, fish, and chicken. Everything is cooked over an open fire. And whenever anyone tries Persian food, they love it.

EOW: How has your cooking style changed since you've been in Texas?

MP: It hasn't. I try to keep the food the way it was in my father's restaurant. I don't want to change anything.

EOW: Do you think that's the expectation people have when they come to a Persian restaurant?

MP: Yes. Most of my Iranian customers, the older ones, used to be my dad's customers. When they come here, they want food like they had at his restaurant. When they eat the ground beef kebab, they know if it's the traditional style or a new style. They want the traditional style. Let me give you an example. When you go to a Mexican restaurant and you order a fajita, you know what kind of meat you're getting. You're not getting a ribeye.

The menu's been the same for 12 years, although I've added a couple items that my customers asked for. For instance, the chicken in walnut and pomegranate sauce (fesenjan), and the lamb shank simmered with celery (khorake karafs).

EOW: What are the most popular dishes here?

MP: The ground beef kebab is the most popular, and the second most popular is the barg, the butterflied filet mignon. In Iran, restaurants usually use ribeye for the barg, but I use filet mignon because it's higher quality.

EOW: Last year, Robb Walsh included the kubideh and the zereshk polo here on his list of the top 100 dishes in Houston. Did you see a spike in the number of people ordering those dishes afterward?

MP: Yes. A lot of people would come here and have a newspaper clipping or print-out in hand and say, "I want this item, or that item."

Adam Parsa: And after the Houston Press talked about our lamb shank, that became real popular too.

EOW: The Houston Chronicle's Alison Cook has raved about your basmati rice. What brand do you use?

MP: My top choice is India Gate Classic, but if I can't get it there are a few similar brands that I use as well.

EOW: Where do you do your grocery shopping?

MP: Personal grocery shopping? I don't - my wife does it. I'm here seven days a week, and the only nights I'm not here are Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, when I go home at 5 p.m. The rest of the week I'm here.

Adam Parsa: She goes to Whole Foods most of the time. Also H-E-B.

Tune in tomorrow when we sample some of the dishes at Kasra Persian Grill, and learn the story behind their famous hummus.

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