You won’t find chef Kaiser Lashkari, the creative force behind Houston’s popular Indian-Pakistani restaurant Himalaya, giving up on flavor for his personal nutrition plan.

He’s also not the type to spend hours at a gym, lifting weights or pounding out the miles on a treadmill.

“What’s a gym?” Lashkari responds with a laugh, when asked what his fitness routine was before COVID-19.

Chef Lashkari is too busy greeting guests at his restaurant — and preparing dishes in the kitchen.

“The kind of work we do doesn’t allow us time to go to the gym,” Lashkari said. “No, I never went.”

Himalaya never closed during the coronavirus. Instead, the restaurant stayed hopping, offering meals to-go before indoor dining resumed.

“We never closed for pick up, not even a single day,” Lashkari said.

Still, the uncertainty that comes with COVID-19 increased his stress level. His sleep and eating habits became irregular. Before long, Lashkari realized his blood sugar was going out of control.

And that was something he took seriously.

Lashkari actually pursued medical school in the 1980s, before admitting to his parents that his dream career was in a kitchen, not an examining room.

“I was two years short of being a doctor,” Lashkari said. “Then I told them my heart was in cooking, and they were devastated. Thanks to the media, and to the Food Network, now chefs are stars.”

His education in medicine ended up coming in handy a few years ago, the chef said, when he was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. He knew that blood sugar spikes could not be ignored. Besides, he has a family history with diabetes, which drove home the dire importance of managing his health.

“My mom was diabetic, and her mom was diabetic,” Lashkari said. “My mom’s brother and sister had diabetes. You see your loved ones suffer from this disease — and die from it — and that put the fear of God in me.”

He decided to start walking his way to better health. He also cut out carbohydrates.

“I changed my habits,” he said. “And that was very hard.”

Lashkari has now dropped 40 pounds.

“I feel so much healthier,” he said.

Lashkari earned his master’s degree from the University of Houston’s Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management in 1989. After working for Westin Hotels and teaching at Houston Community College, he opened Kaiser Restaurant and Catering in 1993.

Then, in 2004, he started Himalaya on Hillcroft Ave, also known as the Mahatma Gandhi District.

Making delicious meals from fresh ingredients is Lashkari’s passion. He was a James Beard Semi-Finalist in 2019. In addition, Himalaya was rated No. 9 number nine in food critic Alison Cook’s “Top 100 Houston Restaurants” list, and has placed in the top 15 in previous years.

When Anthony Bourdain visited the city in 2016 to film an episode of “Parts Unknown,” Himalaya took center stage.

Bourdain dined on green curry chicken, steak tikka and an Indian-style pastrami — a few of Lashkari’s unique creations, inspired by his time in Pakistan and in Texas.

The chef enjoys riffing on Mexican, Indian, Pakistani and Texan flavors.

“It’s Indo-Tex,” Lashkari said. “We have a steak that’s our take on a fajita. We have green chicken curry that’s our salsa verde. We have chicken fried chicken and brisket.”

There’s even HFC, or Himalaya fried chicken, made the “Southern way” but with Indian spices. The Keema, or ground lamb cooked in a masala sauce, is described on the menu as a dish that “closely resembles Texas chili.”

Traditional desserts are joined by a mango tres leches and an almond custard that is like flan with a twist.

Now, Lashkari is adding healthy items to the menu, inspired by his own journey.

For example, he offers cauliflower tortillas instead of nan or papadum, a crispy flatbread made with lentil flour.

Customers who are limiting their carbs can enjoy the restaurant’s grilled items.

Lashkari is also serving Houston-made ChipMonk cookies, which are sugar-free and use monk fruit for a sweetener. The cookies are also gluten-free and keto.

Jose Hernandez, co-founder of ChimpMonk Baking, said that Lashkari reached out to his company with an invitation to the restaurant.

“What he really wanted to do is create a dessert option on his menu that would be healthier,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes about four years ago. He asked for suggestions on the menu that would adhere to his diet, and tried grilled meats and papadum.

“It was great,” Hernandez said. “I loved it. All restaurants can do something like this, maybe offering different sides even, to increase the health aspects of a meal. People are more health-conscious. I feel like you have to accommodate that.”

He is preparing to launch a Facebook page about finding keto options in Houston, and Himalaya will be his first featured restaurant.

“The trend is there,” he said. “It’s a good idea for restaurants to have a couple of items on their menu.”

Hernandez said that he and Lashkari connected over the importance of understanding a diabetes diagnosis.

“A lot of people don’t take diabetes seriously until it’s uncontrollable,” Lashkari said. “It’s not like other diseases, where you feel fever or pain or something more severe.”

Instead, he explained, individuals might notice increased thirst, hunger or fatigue.

“You start feeling tired, getting up at night, have pain in your joints,” Lashkari said. “Then it damages your heart and your kidneys.”

He explained that complications from diabetes can arise, like heart attack, stroke, vision and hearing loss and foot damage.

“It’s devastating and debilitating,” Lashkari said. “Diabetes can be a killer.”

Still, taking simple measures like walking and cutting carbs can make a tremendous difference, he said — and he is living proof.

“Do not take diabetes lightly,” Lashkari said. “Once you have this problem, it only gets worse. A lot of people don’t pay enough attention to the early warning signs.”

Lashkari added that not managing diabetes can add to the risk of COVID-19.

“But corona or no corona, you have to take this very seriously,” he said. “Coronavirus is just an added danger. Taking care of your health all the time is important.”

Lindsay Peyton is a Houston-based freelance writer.

This content was originally published here.

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