James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd and local public relations star Lindsey Folger Brown bought a house a few years back. They've been restoring it ever since. In fact, for the last three Christmases, Brown explains, "we've been giving each other the house [as gifts]."
This Christmas, Shepherd had other ideas.
"There was one gift under the tree," he tells CultureMap. "And I told her, 'It's for you.'"
He'd gone out and bought himself a wedding band, which he presented to Brown. "And we hopped on a plane to New Orleans and got married," Brown adds.
When Chris met Lindsey
The couple had been friends for a long time before falling in love. Brown had been working for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitor's Bureau in 2008, when Shepherd was working to get his own restaurant underway. That was right about the time that national media was only just starting to pay attention to what was happening in Houston's culinary arts world. Brown wanted a way to capitalize on that.
"It was four chefs in a room: Randy Evans, Chris, Monica Pope, and Bryan Caswell, and they all talked to each other and ignored me," Brown laughs. "And they were talking about all these places, and I realized I'd never been to any of them."
But what came from those sessions was Where Chefs Eat, a series of chef-led culinary tours around H-Town. Shepherd wound up doing roughly half of them. "We got to know each other by hanging out on a bus and eating food," she says.
What happened next, of course, is the stuff of Houston culinary lore: Shepherd would go on to open Underbelly and all of its offspring, win the 2014 James Beard Best Chef: Southwest award, and Houston would receive the culinary renown everyone in the Bayou City knew it deserved. Out of the glare of the spotlight, Brown and Shepherd were falling in love.
A recipe for romance
Brown and Shepherd soon found their lives "intertwined in multiple ways," Brown says. The transition was surprisingly easy to navigate, and the chemistry between Brown and Shepherd was undeniable.
When Shepherd decided to propose to Brown, he did so at their mutual friend, photographer Julie Soefer's, birthday party. Soefer decided she wanted to do a huge crawfish boil for the occasion and Shepherd said, "I'll do 'em." He also asked her if he could use the occasion to propose to Brown.
"She told me, 'Hell, yes! It's about time!'"
In true chef fashion, Shepherd put Brown's ring on a crawfish and presented it to her. "Julie always does a blow out for her birthday," Brown says. "But that was extra."
Obviously, Brown said yes. "I love that Chris is so generous and so thoughtful," Brown adds.
"Everything she loves about me, she did to me," Shepherd reflects. "She's made me a better human being."
A big day in the Big Easy
The couple originally thought about having their wedding on January 10, 2021. Brown and Shepherd have made it a tradition that they spend four or five days in New Orleans following Christmas. Shepherd's holiday catering and dining business takes a breath then and Brown, who now runs her own PR firm and has a host of hospitality clients, is able to take a break as well.
"And New Orleans is quiet, too," says Shepherd. "Normally, there's the Sugar Bowl, right around New Year's, but if you can get in and out before all that, you have the place to yourself."
It was during one of those visits where they became friends with chef Ryan Prewitt, who took home the 2014 James Beard Best Chef: South award and heads Pêche on New Orleans' famed Magazine Street. Brown and Shepherd thought it would be great to have their wedding ceremony and reception at his restaurant, and Prewitt, totally on board with the idea, wanted to officiate.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on and people were cautioned against hosting large gatherings indoors, it became obvious that the ceremony wouldn't be able to happen as they planned.
Instead, Shepherd and Brown were married on December 26, 2020, in a tiny private room at Maison de la Luz in New Orleans, where Prewitt, who was ordained as a minister by the Universal Life Church, officiated the ceremony.
"And he opened with a line from Prince," says Shepherd, offering props to his friend: "'Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called life.'"
The couple told their families they were eloping, and had everyone tune into the wedding on Zoom. Julie Soefer and her husband, Chris Vandewater, along with Ryan's wife, Camille, were the witnesses. Prior to the ceremony, they had snacks and Champagne at Brennan's. There was a Champagne toast with Krug, Brown's favorite, following the ceremony, which was followed by cocktails at French 75. For their wedding day dinner, the couple went, naturally, to Pêche.
"Of course, we wish our families could have been with us," says Brown. "But we don't know when any of this is going to end. That's why we pulled the trigger."
As the couple looks into 2021, they're hoping not only for an end to the pandemic, but also to having a celebration to mark their marriage. After all, there's the little matter of Brown not having a wedding band.
"When I give her that," says Shepherd, "that's when it will be ok to have a big party."
Bride's dress: Ulla Johnson "A random sale purchase on Goop.com about a month ago," said Brown
Bride's flowers: a prop from one of Julie’s recent photo shoots
Groom's outfit: Hamilton Shirts
Witnesses: Julie Soefer, Chris Vandewater, Camille Prewitt
Venue: Maison de la Luz
Celebrant: Ryan Prewitt
Cocktails and dining: Champagne and snacks at Brennan’s, cocktails at the French 75 Bar, dinner at Peche
New Orleans hotel: Maison de la Luz
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