If brevity is the soul of wit, than Chris Shepherd is Houston’s Jon Stewart.
“You guys fucking rocked it! $425,000,” Shepherd exclaimed.
Three worthy causes will benefit from the money. The National MS Society will receive $200,000, and Hurricane Florence relief efforts will receive $10,000. The remaining almost $215,000 will go to the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund, a charity formed after Hurricane Harvey that provides financial assistance to people in the restaurant industry. The September 30 total means the event has raised close to $1.5 million dollars in four years.
Intermittent rain showers couldn’t dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm — or the line for Franklin Barbecue. As always, many of the 1,500-plus attendees waited an hour or more for bites of brisket, sausage, and pimento cheese from the world-renowned Austin barbecue joint.
But why stand in line for brisket when so many other chefs from across the country delivered such tempting bites? Highlights included Brooklyn pitmaster Billy Durney’s smoked ribeye tacos, Sam Jones’ Carolina-style whole hog sandwiches with crispy pork skin, Chicago chef Jason Vincent’s swordfish with smoked chickpeas, and Seattle chef Edouardo Jordan’s jerk chicken with peas and rice.
James Beard Award-winning pizzaiolo Chris Bianco served up a Texas version of his signature Wise Guy pizza that used Texas-milled flour from Barton Springs Mill and bacon sausage made by Shepherd. Daniela Soto-Innes, the Beard Award-winning chef de cuisine of acclaimed New York Mexican restaurants Cosme and Atla who previously worked for Shepherd at Underbelly, impressed with her grilled octopus skewer with pineapple salsa.
Houston chefs delivered plenty of culinary delights, too. Hugo Ortega (Hugo’s, etc.) served huitlacoche tamales, and Kata Robata chef Manabu Horiuchi put his signature spin on Japanese-style skipjack tacos. Justin Yu (Theodore Rex) collaborated with Feges BBQ owners Patrick Feges and Erin Smith on smoked beef cheeks with noodle salad. Agricole Hospitality (Coltivare, Revival Market, etc.) took the unofficial award for the day’s most Instagrammable dish with a Steampunk-looking trompo spit that rotated eight spits of pork and chicken for tacos.
Attendees could pair that food with any number of beverage options, including cocktails from sponsor Knob Creek, beer from Sierra Nevada, and a wide range of wines. Silent auction items that fetched top dollar included a private dinner for six prepared by Shepherd and New Orleans chef Ryan Prewitt ($33,500), a photo shoot dinner for Shepherd’s upcoming cookbook ($10,500), a trip for four to Burgundy, France with sommelier Antonio Gianola ($10,000), a private dinner for 12 prepared by celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern ($6,000), and the velvet painting of Tom Selleck that hung in One Fifth Romance Languages ($2,125).
Musical performances by the Bayou City Brass Band, Mariachis Los Gallitos, and Neon Rainbow kept the crowd entertained. VIP attendees could grab a seat in the Lexus lounge or head inside to Hay Merchant.
The crowd event got a sneak peek at the new interior for Georgia James, the steakhouse Shepherd will open next month. New brick, wood, and lights constitute a total change from the space's previous iteration as Underbelly, but it's a relocated bar that looks to be the biggest change.
Taken together, this year’s combination of culinary star power, drinks, and entertainment establishes this year’s Southern Smoke as the best one yet. Shepherd and his crew will have to work hard to top it in year five. We can’t wait to see what they come up with.