The eyes of the culinary world will be on Houston October 11 when a who's who of Southern superstar chefs descend on the city for an epic fundraiser.
Underbelly chef/owner Chris Shepherd has recruited three of his famous friends — Aaron Franklin of Austin's Franklin Barbecue, James Beard Award winner Sean Brock of Husk, McCrady’s and Minero and celebrated pitmaster Rodney Scott of Scott’s Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, South Carolina — for an event called Southern Smoke.
Their goal is to raise over $100,000 in one night for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Their goal is to raise over $100,000 in one night for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in honor of Antonio Gianola, the popular local sommelier who worked with Shepherd at Catalan and currently guides customers' choices at Houston Wine Merchant.
The event, which will take over Underbelly, The Hay Merchant and Blacksmith, will add to the block party feel by closing a section of Yoakum and adding live music from local band Folk Family Revival.
Shepherd tells CultureMap he was surprised when Gianola told him about being diagnosed with MS but immediately began forming a plan. "I said, 'I don’t think this is something I want to sit around and feel sorry about. How open are you to publicizing this?,'" Shepherd says. "He said, 'I want to be kind of open about it. I didn’t want to fall into a state of depression or a mind set of not telling anybody.' I said, 'Well, let’s throw a damn party.'"
The issue of MS in the culinary community came to the forefront in 2014 when former Tony's chef Grant Gordon committed suicide after being diagnosed with the disease. "I think the thing about MS is it happens. It’s not anything you can control or anything you can fix. There's no cure," Shepherd explains. "If we can throw money at it, maybe there will be a cure. And a better mentality towards it and understanding . . . It affects everybody in different ways. I just think it needs to be something that’s talked about a little more."
One big dinner
Rather than organizing a series of dinners, Shepherd explains that he decided to organize "one big one" and, after discussing the idea with his business partners in the Clumsy Butcher group (Anvil, Blacksmith, The Hay Merchant), began contacting some of his fellow James Beard Award winners in Brock and Franklin. "Within minutes, they were like, 'I'm in,'" Shepherd says.
For what's being touted as his first time serving in Houston, Shepherd says Franklin has promised to put out plenty of barbecue by bringing at least one, 26-foot-long trailer and possibly a second, 22-foot-long trailer. Scott plans to serve whole hog with assistance from CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Rising Star Chef of the Year winner Patrick Feges. Shepherd says he isn't sure yet what Brock is doing, but it will certainly be worth sampling.
Shepherd says Franklin has promised to put out plenty of barbecue by bringing at least one, 26-foot-long trailer and possibly a second, 22-foot-long trailer.
In addition to the culinary luminaries, Southern Smoke will see the first appearance of the HOUBBQ Collective, which consists of Shepherd, Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan of The Pass & Provisions, Ryan Pera of Revival Market and Coltivare and Oxheart's Justin Yu. Shepherd says Siegel-Gardner approached the group with the idea about coming together to collaborate on their version of barbecue.
"I’m not going to try to compete with Ronnie Killen or Greg Gatlin," Shepherd says. "We’re going to do barbecue that we do, whether it be beef bellies or carrots or whatever. It’s just guys who want to get together to do something fun."
If all goes well, Shepherd says he could see some version of the festival becoming an annual event. "It’s just to get us started. Just to bring chefs from outside here and show them what Houston is. And show them how much love we have for each other as the industry goes," Shepherd explains.
"Once you get other people buying in and seeing how great this city is, it’s endless."
Southern Smoke will be held October 11. Tickets go on sale August 24 via underbellyhouston.com or southernsmoke.org. Cost is $200 for general admission or $350 for VIP (includes one hour early admission and signed cookbooks from both Franklin and Brock).