Chris Shepherd has received his fair share of accolades since he opened Underbelly in 2012, including a Food & Wine Best New Chef award in 2013 and, of course, being the first Houston chef in 22 years to win the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014.
Still, learning that the Robb Report just named him best chef in its annual 31st annual Best of the Best Awards has him feeling humbled. The list takes a global approach — the dish of the year is from Noma in Copenhagen, the best bakery is in Tokyo, and the best “cultural fusion” restaurant is in Mexico City — which suggests that the magazine considers Shepherd the best chef in the world.
“I still haven’t comprehended it,” Shepherd says. “That’s kind of what it says. I don’t know how to feel about that. It’s a little weird.”
Well, chef, do you think you’re the best chef in the world?
“Everybody’s opinion is their own. Everyday we strive to be better,” he says. “That’s all we can do. Would I say I’m the same as Rene Redzepi? No, don’t put that on me. Do I think my team and I strive to be better everyday? Yeah. Do we strive to show Houston the way we want to be? Yeah.”
Ideally, the accolades prompt the magazine’s audience of globe-trotting high rollers to hop on their G5s and head to H-town. That’s Shepherd’s hope.
“That’s the goal. Come see our city,” he says. “Not just me. Go eat at Squable. Go eat at Coltivare. Go eat at any one of these places.”
While we had Shepherd on the phone, we couldn’t resist asking him about the future of One Fifth. Its current Mediterranean iteration is scheduled to shutter on July 31, but the concept has been both a commercial and creative success. Letting it become a different concept seems like a missed opportunity, but the chef remains committed to the experiment for one simple reason.
“I do love [One Fifth Mediterranean], but I don’t love that building. There’s a lot of inherent problems with that building. Do I want to take it someplace else? That’s probably what I should do.
“I’m really glad I only have a five-year lease. It’s a beautiful building, but the back side of it is hard. I’ve replaced every heater and A/C unit in the place.”
Stay tuned. Sounds like OFM could follow the same path as One Fifth Steak, which evolved into Georgia James. For now, count on those Robb Report readers to keep flocking to the steakhouse for its signature Baller Boards. After all, they can afford it.