The soft-spoken Kiran Verma did not know that agreeing to prepare meals for Prime Minister Narendra Modi would result in a near two-week exercise serving three meals a day for over 100 people.
“I enjoy cooking and it’s been a pleasure and an honor serving so many dignitaries from India and all over the US and, of course, the Prime Minister,” said chef Verma, who was contracted to serve Modi and his entourage and guests at The Post Oak Hotel in Houston, the Texas city where the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ show took place on Sept 22.
Verma believes that when cooking for a dignitary, whoever comes to meet the person and shares a meal with him deserves equal attention. Known as the ‘godmother of Indian fine dining’, she runs an upscale restaurant named for herself in Houston and has been in the business of food for the past 25 years.
On learning that she would be cooking for Modi, the first thing Verma did was look up his likes, including what his mother served him on his birthday earlier this month. Of course, as a Gujarati it was but natural that his palate would be skewed toward the flavors of Gujarat.
With the internet, TV and YouTube, Verma did not have to visit India, however, to get the real Indian aromas. She just had to reach out for the freshest ingredients and spices.
Verma said, “Humare yahaan aate toh hum chhappan bhog khila dete [Were he to visit my restaurant, I’d have served up a feast].” But at the NRG Center she planned a limited menu. “He eats yogic food,” she said when asked what she offered him for dinner on Sept 21.
On the big day, however, where Modi ate with 1,000 guests, Verma served up a ‘Namo thali’ with 10 items — methi thepla, khandvi, dhokla, khichdi-dal pancham, gulab jamun, rasmalai, shrikhand, gajar halwa and kheer.
One other specialty Modi likes is chhaas (buttermilk), made of yogurt, ginger, mint and roasted cumin. She also prepared her signature masala chai with five spices.
“The meal was authentic Indian,” said Verma. While for the guests she offered Indian and fusion food, for the Prime Minister it was completely Indian with a Gujarati flavor.
Verma also learned that Modi eats in copper plates, so she bought 24 copper plates and glasses.
On serving food at The Post Oak, Verma said she is not a regular chef there but a preferred one and is allowed to cook at the hotel’s restaurant.
“For this event, I was chosen for them. I have done many more,” said Verma. “I was so excited cooking for about 100 to 200 people(Sept.21) three lunches a day. We have a great team here and ordered all Indian groceries and started cooking from scratch every day. Just different things. We even offered parathas, puris, chole aloo and South Indian for breakfast.”
Calling Modi a perfectionist, Verma said, “I found out he loves yogic food. Few things went to his room. They asked for tea bags. We have our own masala chai, a blend of five tea leaves and dry ginger and I got them in silk bags… a good brown masala chai. It’s called Kiran’s Bag.”
On the signature name, Verma said she ran a restaurant named Aashiana but people would call it Kiran’s, so when she sold that and started another two and a half years ago, she kept the name.
“I think the secret is that I enjoy cooking and feeding people,” said Verma who came to the US in 1973.
Verma has also been part of the Michelle Obama campaign called the ‘Chefs Move to Schools’ program, which teamed up schools and chefs to educate children about healthy food choices.
“I am a Modi fan and have read his stories, how he grew from rags to riches and his principles. It feels like an achievement. Such an unselfish, dedicated man,” Verma gushed.
Verma has introduced the same Namo thali in her restaurant now.