Underbelly chef/owner Chris Shepherd had a pretty good Sunday. His beloved Houston Astros defeated the Kansas City Royals in the playoffs and the hated Dallas Cowboys suffered a humiliating 30-6 defeat at home to the New England Patriots. Perhaps most importantly, Shepherd, three visiting celebrity chefs and some of Houston's brightest culinary minds raised almost $184,000 for the National MS Society at the inaugural Southern Smoke charity barbecue event.
James Beard Awards winners like Aaron Franklin of Austin's Franklin Barbecue and Sean Brock of Husk Restaurant (Nashville and Charleston) and McCrady's (Charleston) don't participate in many festivals, but they couldn't say no to Shepherd when he asked for their assistance, along with celebrated South Carolina pitmaster Rodney Scott, to make Southern Smoke a reality.
In addition to the illustrious trio of out-of-towners, a group of Houston chefs — Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan from The Pass & Provisions, Oxheart's Justin Yu and Ryan Pera of Coltivare and Revival Market — joined Shepherd for some elevated riffs on barbecue as part of the debut of the HOUBBQ Collective. The combination of out of star power and high profile Houston chefs set Southern Smoke apart from the annual Houston Barbecue Festival, which focuses on mostly local barbecue talent.
"You know we’re to the point where we could do a festival everyday if we said yes to everything," Brock told CultureMap. "I think at the end of the day one of the great things about being a chef is helping friends when they ask for help, and also to be able to ask for help when you need help. We can do all that through food, and that’s what’s so cool, you know? We’re just cooks, but we’re able to help so many people and we’re very fortunate."
Franklin conceded that "I don't do any festivals," but made an exception for Southern Smoke.
"From time to time, a homie calls (and says), ‘Hey, I want to do this thing. I want to raise money for this. I want to invite this buddy and this buddy. Do you want to hang out?’ 'Absolutely, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.' That’s pretty much all it takes. A homie calling up and saying, ‘do you want to hang out?’ 'Yup, I’ll be there. What day, what time, how many people?'"
Scott had perhaps the day's greatest challenge — serving his signature whole hog to Texans who revere beef brisket. "I think we’ll make it," he said with a laugh. "I’ve heard there wasn’t a lot of pork in Texas, but hopefully we’ll start converting them today."
The visiting chefs received help from a high-profile group of culinary assistants including Main Kitchen executive chef Erin Smith, El Big Bad executive chef Jonathan Jones and Prohibition culinary director Ben McPherson. Southern Goods sous chef Patrick Feges furthered the interest in whole hog he demonstrated at the Houston Barbecue Festival by assisting Scott.
"He pays close attention," Scott said of Feges, who won the CultureMap Tastemakers Rising Star Chef of the Year award in May. "He’s learning, and he’s putting in everything he needs to know. He helps both physically and mentally."
In addition to whole hog and a constant line for Franklin's signature brisket, attendees feasted on Brock's snapper on the half shell with ndjua butter, smoked beef shoulder from Underbelly, smoked foie gras mousee and duck from The Pass & Provisions, smoked sticky rice tamales from Yu and smoked tongue and cheek hot dog with chili, chow chow and cheddar from Pera.
For Siegel-Gardner, participating in Southern Smoke is an extension of the way he and Gallivan have been using more smoke at their restaurant. "We’ve tried to smoke just about everything possible. Smoked brats we’ve been doing come out really nice. Smoked short ribs that we’ve been doing with a pepita sauce. We do a lot of smoked vegetables for both The Pass and Provisions," he said.
Those who missed it shouldn't feel too left out. After presenting the MS Society with a check on behalf of sommelier Antonio Gianola, whose MS diagnosis prompted the event, Shepherd vowed to make Southern Smoke an annual festival. We can't wait.