Chris Shepherd isn't one to mince words. When he saw the total donation amount from this year's Southern Smoke festival, he couldn't hide his excitement.
"Half a million motherfucking dollars," he exclaimed to the crowd.
Through a partnership with Legacy Community Health, that $500,000 (a dramatic increase from the $281,000 raised last year) will be allocated to Houston hospitality workers who were affected by Hurricane Harvey. Everyone from cooks and servers to bussers and drive-thru cashiers are eligible to receive funds from the money raised by Southern Smoke.
To reach that lofty total, the barbecue-themed event stepped things up for its third year. In addition to returning pitmasters Aaron Franklin and Rodney Scott and chef Ashley Christensen, Southern Smoke added James Beard Award winners Mike Lata and Jason Stanhope from Charleston and, most prominently, superstar chef David Chang of the New York-based Momofuku Restaurant Group. New Orleans chef John Besh, who had been expected to participate, was "unavailable," per the organizers, and did not attend.
As in past years, Franklin's brisket attracted the longest line — over an hour at its peak —but attendees raved about every dish, including Christensen's smoked oysters, Scott's Carolina-style whole hog, Lata and Stanhope's roasted snapper tacos and Mexican-style grilled corn, and Chang's beef rib with kimchi and trout roe.
Local chefs contributed, too. The Houston BBQ Collective — which consists of Shepherd, Justin Yu (Theodore Rex), Ryan Pera (Coltivare), Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan (both of The Pass and Provisions) — supplemented its ranks with Brandi Key (Clark Cooper Concepts), Manabu Horiuchi (Kata Robata), and Hugo Ortega (Hugo's, etc). Long after the other tents had run out of food, the Houston chefs kept serving Korean fried chicken, paella, empanadas, tamales, and more.
Attendees could pair that food with any number of beverage options, including cocktails from sponsor Knob Creek, beer from Saint Arnold and Sierra Nevada, and a wide range of wines served by a team of local sommeliers. Silent auction items that fetched top dollar included a tasting of Pappy Van Winkle at Shepherd's home with Preston Van Winkle ($18,700), a bottle of ultra-rare 25-year old Pappy Van Winkle ($19,990), dinner for 30 prepared by the Houston BBQ Collective ($16,500), and a trip to Kentucky bourbon distilleries with Agricole Hospitality co-owner Morgan Weber ($8,500).
Musical performances by the Bayou City Brass Band and Folk Family Revival kept folks entertained, and a surprise appearance by Houston hip hop legend Bun B had the crowd singing along.
No other Houston food event delivers quite the same mix of culinary star power, entertainment, and fundraising. Not surprisingly, Shepherd has announced a companion event for next spring that will provide Houstonians with even more opportunities to eat well and give back. We can't wait.