“I said the other night I wanted a half a million dollars,” Chris Shepherd told the crowd at Sunday’s Southern Smoke Festival. “So, tonight, $573,394.54. Boom.”
That’s a pretty good accomplishment on “Chris Shepherd Southern Smoke Day,” as declared by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who visited the festival to present the chef with a plaque to commemorate the occasion.
.@SouthernSmokeTX took place around @GeorgiaJamesHOU along Westheimer.— Sylvester Turner (@SylvesterTurner) October 7, 2019
I enjoyed tasting some great BBQ from across #Texas and was honored to present a proclamation to @cshepherd13 for his contributions to #Houston’s communities and our hospitality industry. #SouthernSmokeTX pic.twitter.com/ndyzOopbO1
It’s a record-breaking amount for the fifth year event, which raises money for the National MS Society and the Southern Smoke Foundation, a charity Shepherd started after Hurricane Harvey to provide emergency financial assistance to people in the restaurant industry. After revealing the fundraising total, the chef helped illustrate the event’s importance by telling a moving story about a man who received $100,000 from the foundation for life-saving treatment at TIRR that helped him recover from a devastating motorcycle accident.
To achieve that staggering amount, Shepherd recruited an all-star cast of chefs from both across the city and across the country to prepare bites to the 1,500-plus attendees. This year’s festival had the largest footprint yet, covering not just the property for Shepherd’s establishments — Hay Merchant, Georgia James, and Blacksmith — but also claiming nearby parking lots for Slick Willie’s and Legacy Community Health (and the streets that connect them).
All in, 25 chefs served food at this year’s Southern Smoke. As always, Aaron Franklin, arguably the world’s most famous pitmaster, attracted the longest line as people waited an hour or more for a brisket and sausage taco.
Picking a favorite from among the other visitors is nearly impossible. Chris Bianco’s bacon sausage and onion pizza, Yehuda Sichel’s pastrami sandwiches, Sam Jones’ Carolina-style whole hog, and Matty Matheson’s smoked beef shank congee all had diners raving — not to mention Sarah Grueneberg’s lamb meatballs, Ashley Christensen’s grilled oysters, and the boudin produced by three of New Orleans’ most-celebrated chefs: Donald Link, Ryan Prewitt, and Stephen Stryjewski.
Local chefs held their own, too. Kata Robata chef Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi had the longest line courtesy of his tuna handroll with uni and caviar. Justin Yu served “Teddy cakes” topped with whipped butter and caviar. Next to him, Nancy’s Hustle chef Jason Vaughn turned out an array of snacks, including pork belly pastrami, corn dogs made with Nancy cake batter, and smoked whole fish.
Elsewhere, Nobie’s chef Martin Stayer offered up duck fat hash browns, Patrick Feges and Erin Smith (Feges BBQ) served up Korean-spiced chuck eye with a vegetable pancake, and Trong Nguyen of Crawfish and Noodles fried up fish sauce chicken wings. Both Felipe Riccio (Rosie Cannonball) and Jonny Rhodes (Indigo) made the bold decision of serving vegetables with a grilled bean salad and braised collard greens with pickled turnips, respectively.
Two newcomers to Houston made strong first impressions with creative pork dishes. Aaron Bludorn, the former Cafe Boulud chef who’s planning to open a Houston restaurant in 2020, dished out crispy pig head sliders. Chris Cosentino and Sasha Grumman previewed Rosalie Italian Soul with a whole pig porchetta stuffed with blood sausage.
Attendees could pair their bites with drinks from a number of sponsors, including Rambler sparkling water, Jim Beam bourbon, Sierra Nevada brewery, and Miner wines. Folk Family Revival and headliner Charley Crockett kept the crowd entertained.
The combination of local and national talent makes Southern Smoke one of the city’s premier food events, and it seems to get a little bigger and better every year. We can’t wait for the next one.