Chris Shepherd is getting the band back together for another smoke session. The fourth annual Southern Smoke Festival has once again staked its claim as one of Houston's best food events by bringing together some of the country's top culinary talent for a one-day only festival of food, wine, cocktails, and live music.
Fresh off last year's festival, which for the first time included chefs from outside the South by inviting New York superstar chef David Chang and his Momofuku colleague Matthew Rudofker, Shepherd is expanding the roster of participating chefs to include culinary talent from all parts of the country. Given Shepherd's high-flying national reputation as both a James Beard Award winner and an unofficial face of Houston's culinary scene to the rest of the country — including a star turn in Chang's Houston-oriented episode of his Netflix series Ugly Delicious — no one should be surprised that he's attracted some of the hottest names in American food to attend this year's event, which take place Sunday, September 30, from 4 pm to 8 pm.
"This year, I chose to invite friends from outside the South for a few reasons—to give our guests the opportunity to meet some new people that they may not be familiar with and to give these chefs the opportunity to see Houston," Shepherd tells CultureMap in an email. Quite a few of them haven’t been here before, and if they have, it’s been a long time or they were just passing through. Southern Smoke, to me, is just as much about showcasing Houston to the visiting chefs as it is about showcasing the visiting chefs to Houston.”
Once again, Aaron Franklin headlines the lineup. At this point, the Austin-based pitmaster-owner of Franklin Barbecue needs no introduction or explanation, but it's worth noting that Loro, the restaurant he opened in partnership with Uchi chef-owner Tyson Cole, has debuted to rave reviews. Other returning chefs include Ryan Prewitt of acclaimed New Orleans restaurant Peche and the HOUBBQ collective, which this year includes Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan (The Pass & Provision), Hugo Ortega, Justin Yu, Ryan Pera, and more.
Of the newcomers, Seattle's Edouardo Jordan brings the highest profile. He became the first African American chef to win the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in America for his Southern-inspired restaurant JuneBaby; in addition, he also won a Best Chef Northwest award for his restaurant Salare.
Other names of note include: Chris Bianco, the famous pizzaiolo behind acclaimed Phoenix restaurant Pizzeria Bianco; Billy Durney, the pitmaster-owner of Hometown Bar-B-Que in Brooklyn; Daniela Soto-Innes, the former Houstonian who now serves as the James Beard Award-winning chef de cuisine at superstar Mexican chef Enrique Olvera's two New York restaurants, Cosme and Atla; Vivian Howard, the award-winning chef, cookbook author, and star of the PBS series A Chef's Life; and Jason Vincent, the chef-owner of Giant restaurant in Chicago, which earned a spot as one of Bon Appetit's best new restaurants in 2017.
While Rodney Scott isn't returning this year, Shepherd has found two more whole hog specialists by inviting Pat Martin of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in Nashville and Sam Jones of Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville, North Carolina. So yes, there will be a whole lot of smoked pig.
All of this culinary talent assembles to benefit two very worth causes. Last year, Southern Smoke raised $501,000 to benefit 139 members of the Houston culinary community who suffered financial losses as a result of Hurricane Harvey. This year's event will return to the original mission of raising money for the National MS Society — Shepherd has set a goal of $300,000 — while also working to establish a permanent emergency assistance fund for people in the food and beverage industry.
Tickets — $200 general admission, $350 VIP, and $1,000 Super VIP (includes a culinary tour Friday night) — go on sale July 10. Expect them to sell quickly. No other Houston food event attracts this level of high-profile, out-of-town talent.