Bank of America Women's Leadership Series [SOLD OUT]


Women in Culinary Arts

WLS Culinary Arts

Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the U.S., and this diversity brings with it a lively culture, mix of languages, and distinctive cuisines from all around the world. Creating an innovative menu and possessing the business acumen to manage a culinary enterprise requires a unique set of skills and a devout commitment to the cuisine industry.

Join Asia Society Texas Center for a wide-ranging discussion with female Asian chefs and restaurateurs who have gained acclaim locally and nationally, about their challenges, major successes, and all that was learned along the way. This program launches the fourth year of Asia Society Texas Center's popular Women's Leadership Series.


11:30 a.m. | Registration
12:00 p.m. | Luncheon and Program

About the Speakers

Christine Ha headshot

Christine Hà  is the first-ever blind contestant and season 3 winner of the competitive amateur cooking television show MasterChef U.S. on FOX with Gordon Ramsay. She defeated over 30,000 home cooks across America to secure the coveted MasterChef title, a $250,000 cash prize, and a cookbook deal. Christine also has a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Houston's nationally acclaimed Creative Writing Program. During her time there, she served as Fiction Editor for Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts. She is currently working on her memoir and second cookbook.

Her first cookbook, Recipes From My Home Kitchen: Asian and American Comfort Food (Rodale, 2013), was a New York Times best-seller. She has been featured on NPR, the BBC, and CNN International, and travels around the globe to give keynote addresses and TEDx talks. Christine has also served as a culinary envoy on behalf of the American Embassy in cultural diplomacy programs in Jordan, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia. She was a co-host on the Canadian cooking show Four Senses on AMI, and was a judge on MasterChef Vietnam on VTV3. Christine received the 2014 Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award from the American Foundation for the Blind, a recognition formerly bestowed upon Ray Charles, Patty Duke, and Stevie Wonder, among others. This December, she will open a restaurant, The Blind Goat, at Bravery Chef Hall in downtown Houston. Christine currently resides in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two dogs.

Jenni Tranweaver

Jenni Tranweaver immigrated to Houston in 1975 from war-torn South Vietnam. Her love of food was ignited at a young age after savoring the flavors of her mama’s cooking, helping her Má each weekend, and converting their small home into a neighborhood, homestyle Vietnamese restaurant. As a flight attendant with Continental Airlines, Jenni regularly traveled to San Francisco, L.A., and New York, where she always found herself seeking out noodle houses during layovers and wishing there was something close to home, in Houston, never thinking she would open her own restaurant. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Jenni took a voluntary leave as a flight attendant and decided this was a unique opportunity to try something new and adventurous. Mentored by Jeff Gale of Barnaby’s, along with Mama Tran and her husband Scott, Jenni opened the first Jenni’s Noodle House in the summer of 2002. Her small restaurant in a tough neighborhood began to gain a steadfast following. Seventeen years later, Jenni’s Noodle House has grown into three locations around the city, known by her fans as "Noodlehoods."

This year, inspired by her son Logan Dream Tranweaver, her family’s desire to try something new, and Jenni’s entrepreneurial (or "Noodlepreneurial") spirit, Jenni opened a new venture, Dream Tacos TX. Jenni is an active ally supporting marginalized Houstonians within the LGBTQ communities through Equality Texas, Human Rights Campaign, Pride Houston, and the Houston Walk for Mental Health.

Kiran Verma headshot

Kiran Verma, considered the "godmother of Indian fine dining," has created world-class Indian cuisine at her eponymous restaurant, Kiran's, which reopened at its new location in Upper Kirby in Houston in January 2017. Kiran is a self-taught chef who has been guided by her Indian upbringing and a love of fine cuisine. She defines her cuisine as a combination of cultures, philosophies, and cooking techniques. The restaurant is known for serving up Indian hospitality, with French sophistication and American informality. Kiran's award-winning wine list of over 300 labels, along with monthly wine dinners, complements the delicate flavors of the food. Guests can also enjoy an Afternoon Tea service every Friday and Saturday at Kiran's, which offers its own chai blend.

Among her awards are Best New Restaurant – Zagat 2006, Award of Excellence – Wine Spectator 2006-2017, Chef of the Year Nominee – My Table Magazine 2010 and 2013, and Participant in former First Lady Michelle Obama's "Chefs Move to Schools" campaign.

About the Moderator

Vani Rao

Vani Rao is the Director of Diversity & Inclusion at BP America and is accountable for Business Resource Group (BRG) engagement and operations. Vani joined BP in the Gulf of Mexico in 2006, with roles in projects and engineering, continuous improvement, planning and capability. She has also been a national co-lead for BP’s Asian Network (BPAN).Vani received her Bachelor degree in Psychology from Austin College and MBA from Columbia University. She is also certified in project management and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

With a lifelong love for Indian performing arts and political economy, Vani is a classically trained dancer in Kuchipudi and has been actively involved with the National Model United Nations. Her current passion is supporting charitable organizations in the US and India focused on providing educational opportunities for children.

About the Women's Leadership Series

The Bank of America Women's Leadership Series (WLS) celebrates influential, diverse women making a substantive impact in both the business and culture arenas, locally and globally.

Previous programs:

Asia Society Concludes 2017-2018 Women's Leadership Series with Women in Fashion Evening
Technology Trailblazers on the Business of Innovation
Third Year of Women’s Leadership Series Begins with Medical Innovators
Former UK First Lady Leads Dialogue on Women’s Education
Social Innovator Shares Her Story and Passion for Creating a More Secure Future
Women's Leadership Panel Addresses Female Representation in the C-Suite
Former Secretary of Labor Credits "Strong Families, Education, and Hard Work" for Success
Local Leaders Share Personal and Professional Successes at Inaugural Women's Leadership Program

The Women's Leadership Steering committee is chaired by Mandy Kao and Y. Ping Sun. Members include Nancy C. Allen, Lisa Barksdale, Dr. Anne Chao, Kathy Goossen, Dr. Ellen Gritz, Dr. Michelle Herrera, Brigitte Kalai, Shirley Kwan, Sultana Mangalji, Davana Petree and Vani Rao.

Title Sponsor 

Bank of America



Presenting Sponsors 

Exxon Guinee Tiffany

Lead Sponsors 

BP Cathay Eagle VinsonElkins

Nancy C. Allen
Anne and Albert Chao
Brigitte Kalai
Mandy and William Kao
Additional Support

Amegy Blue Sky Culinaire Pioneer Bank

Kathy and Marty Goossen
Dr. Yasmine Haddad
Dr. Michelle Herrera
Y. Ping Sun and David Leebron
Sahana and Kishore Sundararajan

Special Friends

Cindy Chan + Manli Cai
Cooking Girl Restaurant l Crown Dental l Fane Well School l The Goddard School, Sugar Land
Shaobo Du + Kathy Pang
Betty Gee + Tammy Su
Tiffany Le
Gina Li
Dr. Alice Mao
Diana Sun
Priscilla Zhu

Event Details

Thu 13 Sep 2018
11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.

1370 Southmore Boulevard

Houston, Texas 77004


Buy Tickets
$75 Members, $100 Nonmembers
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