Bigger, Better Southern Smoke

Chris Shepherd’s first food festival since 2019 goes all out with all-star, 3-day bash

Chris Shepherd’s food festival goes all out with all-star, 3-day bash

Southern Smoke 2019 Chris Shepherd check presentation
The Southern Smoke Festival returns for the first time since 2019. Photo by Emily Jaschke

Houston’s highest-profile food festival is stepping up to bigger and better than ever in 2022. Chris Shepherd’s first Southern Smoke Festival since 2019 promises to be an event to remember with a star-studded lineup loaded with fellow James Beard Award winners, Top Chef stars, and more local culinary talent than ever before.

Instead of one afternoon bash in Montrose, the event has morphed into a three-day weekend, October 21-23, that will take place at three venues: the Houston Farmers Market, the Houstonian Hotel, and a massive block party in EaDo. Compared to 2019, the number of participants has nearly tripled to more than 60 local, regional, and national chefs that include some of the nation’s most prominent culinary personalities.

The event raises money for the Southern Smoke Foundation, the non-profit Shepherd started to provide cash assistance to hospitality workers in crisis situations like medical emergencies, natural disasters, loss of wages, and other unexpected events. To date, the foundation's Emergency Relief Fund has distributed over $9 million to recipients nationwide.  

On Friday, the H-Town Welcome Wagon will take place at the Farmers Market. Anchored by Shepherd’s two restaurants, Underbelly Burger and Wild Oats, along with the adjacent greenspace, the event will feature food prepared by Shepherd (cooking for the first time at Southern Smoke), along with Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, North Carolina chef Katie Button, Mason Hereford (Turkey and the Wolf, New Orleans), Paola Velez (Bakers Against Racism) and locals like Trong Nguyen (Crawfish & Noodles), Jacklyn Pham (Saigon Pagolac), Benchawan Painter (Street to Kitchen), and more. Beverage options will feature Texas wineries.

On Saturday, the Houstonian will host Southern Smoke on Ice. Described as “the raw bar to end all raw bars,” the event will feature chefs Nicole Mills (Peche Seafood Grill, New Orleans), Mike Lata (Fig, Charleston), Jason Stanhope (Fig, Charleston), Ashley Christensen (Poole’s Diner, etc), Cheetie Kumar (Garland, Raleigh), and New Orleans chef Stephen Stryjewski. Over the course of the evening, Kata Robata chef Manabu Horiuchi will break down a whole tuna that will be turned into hand rolls.

What most people will recognize as the original Southern Smoke Festival has morphed into the East Downtown Throwdown. Held on Sunday, October 23, the event will occupy seven acres centered around 8th Wonder Brewery, Agricole Hospitality’s Indianola/Vinny’s/Miss Carousel complex, and the surrounding streets.

Once again, Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue, Austin) will return to serve his signature brisket. He’ll be joined by an all-star roster that includes Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio, master pizzaiolo Chris Bianco, and Top Chef alumni including Brooke Williamson, Karen Akunowicz, Stephanie Izard, Sarah Grueneberg, Claudette Zepeda, and Houston’s own Dawn Burrell. In addition look for TV star Andrew Zimmern and notable barbecue luminaries such as Leonard Bottelo IV (Truth BBQ), Billy Durney (New York’s Hometown BBQ), whole hog master Sam Jones, and more.

Tickets will go on sale later this summer. Information about prices, packages, and other details will be released later. Head to the festival’s website for a full roster of participants.