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Major Chef Win

Milestone victory: Houston chef finally wins James Beard Award, ending the city's long drought

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chris shepherd underbelly
Photo by © Julie Soefer
Chris Shepherd James Beard Award
Chris Shepherd is a James Beard Award winner. zinister/Instagram
Clumsy Butcher James Beard Awards Chris Shepherd Lyle Bento Bobby Heugel Michael
Michael Burnett, left, Chris Shepherd, Bobby Heugel and Lyle Bento at the James Beard Awards.  zinister/Instagram
James Beard Awards 2014 Hugo Ortega Tracy Vaught
Tracy Vaught, left, Hugo Ortega, Ruben Ortega and Paula Murphy get ready for the Awards.  Paula Murphy/Facebook
Houston James Beard Awards good luck flyer
Three Houston chefs were James Beard Award finalists for Best Chef Southwest.  Visit Houston Texas/Facebook
chris shepherd underbelly
Chris Shepherd James Beard Award
Clumsy Butcher James Beard Awards Chris Shepherd Lyle Bento Bobby Heugel Michael
James Beard Awards 2014 Hugo Ortega Tracy Vaught
Houston James Beard Awards good luck flyer

Underbelly chef/owner Chris Shepherd ended Houston's James Beard Foundation Award drought by winning the title of Best Chef Southwest Monday night. Shepherd is the first Houston chef to win an award at the ceremony known as the "Oscars of Food" since RDG + Bar Annie chef/owner Robert Del Grande took home the prize in 1992.

Shepherd had also been nominated last year. Two other Houston chefs, Oxheart's Justin Yu and Hugo Ortega of Hugo's/Caracol/Backstreet Cafe, were also finalists, along with Bryce Gilmore from Austin's Barley Swine and Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant near Phoenix.

Shepherd accepted the award with Clumsy Butcher business partners Bobby Heugel and Michael Burnett and Underbelly sous chef Lyle Bento. "I’d like to thank the city of Houston for letting me be a part of it and showing our vision of the city through our food," Shepherd said on stage in New York City.

 "I’d like to thank the city of Houston for letting me be a part of it and showing our vision of the city through our food."  

Prior to taking home the James Beard Award, Shepherd has already won been recognized for his work with a Food + Wine Best New Chef award in 2013. He's been on a bit of a media tour lately, winning the Waffle House Challenge at the Charleston Food & Wine Festival and competing on an episode of Knife Fight on the Esquire Network. No doubt, those efforts helped raise his profile nationally and aided the milestone win. 

Del Grande also attended the event, where he served a smoked brisket terrine to attendees.

Chronicle critic Alison Cook lost the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award to GQ's Alan Richmond at a ceremony on Friday, leading Cook to quip on Twitter that she's the Susan Lucci of that award.

Regardless of whether Cook takes home the award in the future, a Houston chef has finally kicked the James Beard Award door in. Now the question is, can the city go back to back next year?

After all, Ortega and Yu both made it to the finals this year. They'll certainly have a shot, particularly Ortega, as the national press discovers how fantastic Caracol is.  

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