Kevin Naderi is the Owner and Chef of Roost, located in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, TX. Roost is Naderi’s first restaurant, which he opened at the young age of twenty-five towards the tail end of 2011.
Upon its opening, Roost’s rustic, globally-inspired rotating menu, which is inspired by Kevin Naderi’s Persian heritage and boasts flavors from Asia, the South, and the Middle East, quickly became a local hot spot.
Naderi rotates the menu every five-to-six weeks based on the availability of seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients, which he gets from Houston-based ranches and farms, such as Broken Arrow Ranch, Old School Produce, and GH Urban Farms. The ‘farm-to-table’ concept spread rapidly throughout the restaurant industry and still plays a pivotal role in the creation of Roost’s menus.
The early success of Roost caught the eye of Houston’s most fastidious foodies and acclaimed food critics. Two years after opening its doors, Roost landed Naderi a nomination for Food & Wine’s ‘Best New Chef’ in the Southwest. Roost has also been named ‘Best Bistro’ every year since 2011, and some of Naderi’s signature recipes have made the list of ‘100 Best Dishes’ in Houston.
Kevin Naderi’s secret to success isn’t only the freshness of his ingredients or the simplicity of his dishes. Since Naderi first started in the culinary world, he’s wanted to provide guests with a dining experience they’ll never forget. To him, food is about more than just taste or presentation, it’s a complete immersive experience.
Naderi first entered the culinary scene when he was fifteen-years-old. His passion for food has been present since childhood, but it wasn’t until he took a home economics class in high school that he realized he could make a career out of cooking. After graduation, Kevin Naderi attended the Art Institute of Houston’s Culinary Arts Program, where he graduated in 2007. During culinary school, Naderi’s passion for food got him noticed by acclaimed chef, Randy Evans.
Despite his young age, Evans saw promise and potential in Naderi. When he opened his farm-to-table restaurant, Haven, in 2009, Evans asked Naderi to be his sous chef, an opportunity that Naderi couldn’t pass up. During this time, Naderi also worked at some of Houston’s favorite restaurants, including Brennan’s and Soma Sushi. He gained a staging and cooking apprenticeship at Picholine in New York City and Madrona Manor in Napa and worked as a consulting Chef for Saint Genevieve in West Ave. These experiences were a huge influence in molding Kevin Naderi into the chef he is today.
While overseeing Roost, Naderi has also made a few television appearances as well. In 2014, he was a finalist on Guy’s Grocery Games. He’s also a four-time winner (and now retired champion) of the Iron Fork Competition. No stranger to food battles, Kevin Naderi is perhaps most recognized as the chef who outcooked Bobby Flay on a 2016 episode of Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay. The judges unanimously chose his sous vide, slow-cooked cabbage leaves with lamb and pistachio stuffing over Bobby’s dish. Recently, he was also named the winner of Super Bowl LI Kitchen Throwdown alongside his teammate and former NFL Pro Bowler Takeo Spikes.
Outside of his professional endeavors, Kevin Naderi also works with various charitable organizations. He is a volunteer chef for Recipe for Success and has sat on their Advisory Board for over a decade. Through Recipe for Success, Naderi helps teach long-term sustainability and healthy eating habits to kids throughout the city. Other charities he works with include The Beacon, a non-profit that serves the Houston homeless community, and the Youth Development Center (YDC), which provides after-school academic intervention programs for at-risk students.
Our Interview with Kevin Naderi
Question: Name the most impactful lesson you learned from failure.
Kevin Naderi: That you can’t be scared to fail. Failure is how you learn and grow, and while it’s never fun in the moment, it’s helped to make me a better person.
Not too long ago I opened an Asian-fusion concept restaurant, Lillo & Ella, in the Heights area of Houston that I thought would take off. As you can imagine as I’m answering a question about failure, it didn’t. People started telling me that our prices were too high for the area and that the neighborhood was changing and it just wasn’t a great fit anymore. Rather than de-value my concept, I sold it.
This experience really brought me back down to earth and helped me realize what was really important. And that brought me back full-time to focusing on my other restaurant, Roost, as well as some of my other personal projects.
Question: What did you waste the most time on when you were first starting your career?
Kevin Naderi: Piggybacking off of my previous answer a bit, it was probably just being anxious to fail. Now, I can look back and see how much I’ve learned and grown through failure, but it’s scary when you’re first starting out. I think this is what most people feel during the beginning stages of their career, which is why failure becomes such a monumental lesson down the road.
Even after I started Roost, I remember being so stressed about the day-to-day operations that it was really mentally and emotionally exhausting. But that’s just part of the job. And then I started to relax the reigns a bit and put my trust in my staff, and now I can spend time away from the restaurant to see my parents, family, and friends without having to worry about anything.
Question: Name a tool you use for work that you can’t live without.
Kevin Naderi: I’m on Google and Amazon constantly. Need to look up news headlines about a product to determine if it’s worth the drive across town? Google and Amazon. Need to buy something for the restaurant and need it within the next day or two? Amazon. These services are incredible time-savers and I couldn’t imagine my life without them.
Question: What excites you the most about your industry right now?
Kevin Naderi: I’m no longer into the over-the-top trends that grab the attention of people in other industries. For me, I’m excited about what’s feasible and sustainable. It’s not even so much about certain ingredients as much as it is about the concept itself.
I like working with individuals who are passionate about what they do and working with different regions of food more than l care about working with a piece of beautiful pork belly or paying attention to how people are cooking a certain type of vegetable. Those things will change, but the sustainability and diversity of the food itself won’t.
Question: Name one small habit that positively impacts your productivity.
Kevin Naderi: I’m all about doing things for me before I begin my work day. I spend a little time with my dog in the mornings, feeding him and going on short walks around the area. I’ll try to do a small workout if there’s enough time, and then I’ll usually spend an hour or two answering my emails, paying bills, that kind of stuff. When lunchtime rolls around, I’ll try to grab a bite with a friend or maybe I’ll schedule a lunch meeting with a wine or food vendor. Then I’ll head over to Roost before it opens to check on orders, taste sauces, do POS closeouts, etc. I’ll usually stay for the first part of dinner service before heading home for the night.
Productivity is so important, but it’s not always about spending as much time as possible at the restaurant or in your office. After a while, you’ll get tired. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just the reality of running a business. So I found that when I make more time for myself, my girlfriend, my family, and my dog, I work more efficiently in a shorter period of time than I would if I was in work-mode all day.
Question:What tips do you have for getting a seat at the table?
Kevin Naderi: Don’t undervalue yourself. If you believe that what you’re doing is great, stick to your guns no matter what.
I work in a fast-paced field that won’t look the same tomorrow as it did today. This means dealing with a lot of hiccups and mishaps, and that’s just part of the job. Every business owner needs to get into the habit of being more efficient with their time, but sometimes it’s important just to step back and remind yourself why you got into this career in the first place.
You’re not always going to be happy. No one will. But don’t lose yourself in your business, whatever it may be. This isn’t only better for your employees and your customers, but it preserves your mental well-being as well.
Question: What book has made the biggest impact on your life?
Kevin Naderi: Read anything you can about money management and accounting. I don’t have a specific book in mind, but there are so many helpful resources out there. I can’t tell you how many people I talk to in my industry that don’t know about food cost, taxes, how to balance a budget, or where to put their money once it’s been made.
Question: Do you value intelligence or common sense more? Why?
Kevin Naderi: Both. Do a lot of people choose only one when answering this question? Because I’d bet in any industry not having both would result in some major pitfalls.
You can be the smartest person in the world, but if you don’t have common sense, you’re not going to excel. Especially in the restaurant industry. During service, that gut instinct needs to be there or else it would be disastrous — I don’t care how smart you are. But on the flip side, you can’t run and grow a business on just common sense alone.
Question: What would you consider to be the perfect day?
Kevin Naderi: I consider any time spent with my girlfriend, my family, my friends, and my dog a perfect day.