Chef Chat

Chef Chat: Kevin Naderi Is Off To Hollywood To Pursue Acting… Just Kidding, But Maybe.

Chef Kevin Naderi of Roost kicks back with a hookah.
Chef Kevin Naderi of Roost kicks back with a hookah. Photo by Kate McLean
I know, I know, I know, we've done plenty of articles on Kevin Naderi, but he's just an interesting guy. Authoritative, cocky, hilarious, thoughtful. Randomly running into Naderi is an absolute joy, like when you're slow to get up at the movie theater and they hit you with that bonus scene.

In December of 2011, at 26 years old, he opened Roost, and a tidal wave of good reviews followed. Alongside constantly curating his revolving menu at the feel-good Montrose staple, he has competed many times and won.  He won the Houston Press's Menu of Menu's Iron Fork chef competition so many times we had to retire him.  He's a hard worker, always has been, and he's proud of his Persian roots. Oh, and remember that time he beat Bobby Flay, but more so remember that time he annoyed Bobby Flay? Because that was pretty great.

The Houston Press caught up with Chef Kevin Naderi over a hookah at Café Layal in Midtown…

HP: I'm sorry I'm late, I was throwing up a corn dog.

KN: Corn dog, you ratchet-ass.

HP: They're so good.

KN: Where?

HP: At the rodeo.

KN: (says to himself) Nice, I have tennis tonight. I play a lot of tennis now, is that weird?

HP: You do?

KN: [I'm just] trying to do something to move my ass a little bit. I'm not necessarily the greatest, but I've gotten way better over the past year. I go to a teacher now, Mondays and Wednesdays. We just had a good doubles session with some chicks. And the chicks were fucking me up, I was like, "Dammit."

HP: That's awesome.

KN: They're good. When [I play] women, they don't necessarily have that competitive side, I don't think. They are more in the zone than guys are. I started out thinking I can't let them beat me, but then I thought dammit, I need to start returning these shots and stop thinking about the fact that these chicks were fucking me up. Are you plugging your phone into the hookah, what are you doing?

HP: I'm going to take your picture.

KN: I hate you (passes the hookah hose.)

HP: I have asthma, but screw it, what's a typical day like for Houston's favorite smart ass?

KN: (laughs) Uh, typical day, I actually wake up pretty early, run whatever errands we need for the restaurant. I usually check on my properties, take care of anything that's wrong. I help with prep, make a special. We go through quite a bit of specials.

Honestly, pretty easy, I mean six years with Roost, I don't stress as much about the day to day operations as I used too. All my staff is pretty much the same, a lot of good lead cooks. They've done really well at taking the reins. My lead guy Sergio, I really give him a lot of credit. He doesn't necessarily want the labels of sous chef or chef de cuisine, but they do their job.

I come in and work the floor, Wednesday through Saturday, I am consistently there. Tuesday, I like to spend time seeing my parents, my family, or try to do stuff with friends.

HP: Are you maybe, just a little bit, a mamma's boy?

KV: I think both, I'm very close with both of my parents. I think it's that Middle Eastern upbringing. I feel bad for Middle Eastern girls because if you don't get married you're at your parent's house until you're like 42. We are really close, I probably see my parents twice a week. I try to see them as much as I can, but it's tough with our hours you know?

click to enlarge The Maharaja of Cafe Layal. - PHOTO BY KATE MCLEAN
The Maharaja of Cafe Layal.
Photo by Kate McLean

HP: You're also a landlord, any good stories?

KN: A lot of stories. I mean it's funny [how] people try to get away with things. I don't necessarily say no to pets. Like, cats I'm all for, small dogs I'm all for, but none of my properties really have back yards, so, I'm always against pets. They need room to be pets, you know?

I have a tenant who was like, "Oh, no, I'm allergic to pets, that's not going to happen." Then one day I went to check on the water heater and I hear barking and a fucking cat meow-ing. I'm like, is Doctor Doolittle in this house? I had my keys, and was like fuck this, so I cracked the door open. There was like two dogs, a cat, and a fish bowl on the counter. So, I called him and was like "yo."

I'm trying to put money into something that's going to make sense. In our field, I think we need to be more aware of money management. Like cooks, industry people, we are quick to bust our butts for work but then we piss it away on alcohol and going out and buying stuff that we don't need. It's been good to have a little bit of guidance from friends, family. Myself wisen-ing up over the past seven years. It's interesting how we grow and your mentality changes.

HP: Your website says you're 26, how long have you been 26 for?

KV: Does my website say that? Shit I need to change that (laughs.) I'm actually 32. Does it say I started the place when I was 26?

HP: It says you're 26.

KV: I hate you. I never planned on being 32 and single. I thought (laughs and says in a different voice), "I'd have a significant other by now, buy a house, do things the right way." Now I'm like…dammit. So, I'll wait it out until I actually buy a place, have my whole white picket fence and bullshit.

HP: What dish on the menu at Roost are you most excited about?

KV: Well the Roost menu changes every five weeks completely, so March 15 we will have a new menu coming out. The only dishes that remain are the cauliflower, the doughnut holes, and the idea of bread service. Everything else we change. I think on the new menu we are leaning towards a grilled octopus flatbread. A nice head-on shrimp dish. It's going to have a really rich broth, with like a roux or something. It's going to have an Asian but southern fusion to it. This is our 61st menu change since we've opened.

HP: Really? That's badass. What's the fastest you've driven down Fairview?

KN: That's actually pretty funny. I think about 55, but don't hold that against me. I remember, it was when we opened too, I was out of printer paper and I bolted to Mockingbird [Bistro] when John Sheely was there. John was like, "take all you need!" I just didn't think about that kind of stuff you know? They installed the printers and leave you with one roll.

HP: When you beat Bobby Flay, didn't you piss him off at the same time?

KN: I was just talking shit, as I usually do, and the producers told me to calm down because Bobby was getting angry.

HP: Did he say anything to you?

KN: There was this one segment that didn't make it on TV. Geoffrey Zakarian said, "Bobby, you and Kevin opened your restaurants around the same age. Isn't it cool, Kevin, that you beat him by eight months?"

I was like, "Yeah, that's right Bobby, I was a little bit younger." And then he kind of stopped and put all of his stuff down and said, "okay smart ass how many restaurants do you have now?" I was like uhhhh (laughing.) And then he said, "that's what I thought." Son of a bitch, he got me. That's the fun of the show though, a little bit of shit talk.

HP: You've won a lot of competitions, so, what's it like to lose to a girl?

KV: (Takes a deep breath.) I actually don't mind at all because there are a lot of girls that are far more talented than me out there (laughs.) You know, I like to joke and think that I got a little lucky with Roost. I just like to put out a reasonably priced, solid product. We really try to do something fun and different that's still relatable. There are plenty of female chefs out there that I look up too. When I opened Roost, I got the most inspiration from the Girl & the Goat, Stephanie Izard. You got lucky. It's okay.

HP: Besides the Bachelor, if you could be on any TV show, what would it be?

KN: I actually used to really like that show Knife Fight on the Esquire Network, but I don't think it got renewed. Are we talking cooking shows?

HP: Anything.

KN: Funny enough, I always wanted to be an actor (grins.) But it's hard because Houston isn't really adept to acting. You have to really get up and go to California if you want to do something like that. At 32, it would be a cool change of pace.

HP: If you could bring back any MTV show, what would it be?

KN: I miss the fact that it used to be music and now it's not at all. It's like the Food Network, we used to watch it when we were kids and it was awesome, now it's like, "The best cupcake challenge (said in small voice)." Real World the first couple years was dope, right?

HP: What do your future plans look like?

KN: I have something up my sleeve for 2018. I've been talking about a new concept with a friend. We have a good majority of the idea done, it's just going to be location and timing, stuff like that. I like to count my eggs before they hatch.

click to enlarge What could be up Kevin Naderi's sleeve? - PHOTO BY KATE MCLEAN
What could be up Kevin Naderi's sleeve?
Photo by Kate McLean

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