Light rain and cloudy skies couldn't dampen the enthusiasm at Sunday's Southern Smoke. Now in its second year, the event, organized by Underbelly chef-owner Chris Shepherd, raises money for the National MS Foundation.
After taking in almost $184,000 in 2015, the James Beard Award winner set a goal of $200,000 for this year's event, but Houstonians' generosity vastly exceeded those expectations. At the end of the night, Shepherd announced a total donation of $281,357.20. Adding in-kind contributions from sponsors like Pitmaker, 44 Farms, and Lexus bumped the total charitable effort to over $400,000.
To achieve that goal, Shepherd tapped his network of celebrity chef friends from across Texas and the South. Two of the country's most acclaimed pitmasters — Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue) and Rodney Scott (Scott's Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, South Carolina) — returned to serve their signature beef brisket and whole hog, respectively.
James Beard Award winners Ryan Prewitt (Peche) and Stephen Stryjewski (Cochon) came from New Orleans with roasted oysters and boudin. Tandy Wilson, a James Beard Award winner from City House in Nashville, served smoked Vietnamese-style bologna with nuoc mam slaw. Ashley Christensen, a James Beard Award winner with seven restaurants in Raleigh, North Carolina, served beer can chicken with comeback sauce.
The HOUBBQ Collective — a group of local chefs that includes Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan (The Pass & Provisions), Justin Yu (Oxheart), Ryan Pera (Coltivare, Revival Market), and Shepherd — served a rotating series of dishes including pizza, grilled fish tacos, gyros, and more.
Attendees eagerly debating their favorites. Franklin and Scott attracted the longest lines, but all of the chefs saw steady traffic throughout the event. Christensen certainly made a lot of fans with her juicy, smoky chicken, and the Houston chefs' uni pizza also earned raves. An extensive selection of wine and beer from Saint Arnold Brewing Company offered plenty of choices to keep attendees refreshed.
A number of silent auction items helped contribute $153,572 to the total. Highlights included a VIP Super Bowl package for two ($20,500), a trip to see a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live, and dinner for 30 prepared by the HOUBBQ Collective that netted an impressive $19,500.
Shepherd already promised that Southern Smoke will return for 2017, and it will be interesting to see how the event evolves. Houston doesn't have a food and wine festival in the same way that cities like Austin, Aspen, and Charleston do, but Southern Smoke's combination of celebrity chefs and charitable giving certainly points the way towards what a Houston version might look like. If Southern Smoke evolves from a fundraiser with great food into a weekend-long affair that draws more of the country's best chefs to Houston, it will cement its status as Houston's premier food event.