Food has always played a critical role in Pastry Chef Vanarin Kuch’s life—it serves him as a medium for self expression and ties him to the deep roots of his family. Kuch, the child of Cambodian refugees, comes from a family that consistently honored their rich culinary heritage with extensive, exquisite family meals. For Kuch, the desire to cook stemmed from his joy in gathering around a table with his family and knowing how much love they shared.
After graduating with honors from The Art Institute of Houston, Kuch pursued a career in savory cooking at Bank at the Hotel Icon. It wasn’t until he signed on for a semester at Rice University, working as a baker and pastry cook, that something sweet clicked for Kuch. Once that semester at Rice University ended, Kuch almost immediately leapt at the opportunity to join the pastry staff at the Hotel Zaza, beginning as an assistant to their new pastry chef and eventually leading the pastry team himself.
Today, Kuch can be found at Tiny Boxwoods, a hidden gem in the rambles of urban Houston. Tiny Boxwoods offers city dwellers a taste of country life, situated in the garden of the owner’s nursery. With total freedom to design the pastry program, Kuch has blossomed, serving thoughtful desserts with international flavor profiles. As his family did for him, Kuch does for diners: he spreads love around a table, one dessert at a time.
Interview with Pastry Chef Vanarin Kuch of Tiny Boxwoods - Houston, TX
Kathleen Culliton: Where have you worked professionally as a pastry chef?
Vanarin Kuch: I started at Hotel Zaza. I fell into the culinary side and stumbled into the pastry side. I consider myself an artist and food is my medium—I’ll take any way to become more obsessed with myself! Why not?
KC: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
VK: Definitely recommend, accreditation is a must.
KC: Who are your mentors?
VK: I'm studying under Chef Eddy Van Damme; he’s done so much for the Houston area.
KC: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
VK: I am such a fan for sweet and salty.
KC: Where is your favorite place for pastry in Houston?
VK: I'm actually such an old school pie person. This place is called House of Pies. They have food wallpaper—it is so old school. The pastry scene here is definitely not as vibrant as the savory scene.
KC: What is your favorite food resource?
VK: I'm such a fat kid inside; everything is inspiration.
KC: What is your most important kitchen rule?
VK: Always have respect—respect for the kitchen, respect for your co-workers, and most of all, respect for the food.
KC: What is your favorite dish you have ever made?
VK: Mole transcends the line between savory and chocolate. It is my absolute favorite dish to make, rain or shine.
KC: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
VK: Always have good foundation in technique.
KC: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
VK: I think the biggest trend I’m seeing is nostalgia. We’re trying to get innovative with new techniques but taking it back to comfort and what we once loved. We’re doing something crazy like putting it in a glass or hanging it upside-down! That is how I run my entire menu.
KC: What are your top three tips for pastry success?
VK: Consistent innovation—constant innovation. Passion, passion, passion. You can’t do this job without any passion. And have a marketable personality. To take it to the next level, I think you have to have a personality. I think a lot more people hold that success equals fame. They go hand in hand. If you’re famous it's easier to be successful.
KC: If you weren’t a pastry chef what do you think you’d be doing?
VK: I’d be somewhere in the art industry, possibly a photographer or something in the media, possible with creative writing. I love my own perspective, and I’d have to be somewhere where I could force it onto other people!
KC: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
VK: To be happy. That is definitely success. Right now I do feel successful, because I’m happy where I am. Success means being happy forever.