On Monday night, Chris Shepherd, chef/owner of Houston's Underbelly won the title of Best Chef Southwest, ending Houston's James Beard Foundation Award drought — and bringing the prestigious title back to Texas.
Shepherd was nominated alongside two other Houston chefs, Oxheart's Justin Yu and Hugo Ortega of Hugo's/Caracol/Backstreet Cafe, as well as Austin-based chef Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine and Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant near Phoenix.
He is the first Houston chef to win an award at the ceremony known as the "Oscars of Food" since RDG + Bar Annie chef/owner Robert Del Grande took home the prize in 1992, but the award has landed in Texas more recently. In 2011, Chef Tyson Cole of Uchi/Uchiko took home the award, and in 2012, Cole's protégé Paul Qui was the winner.
Shepherd accepted the award with Clumsy Butcher business partners Bobby Heugel and Michael Burnett and Underbelly sous chef Lyle Bento. "I’d like to thank the city of Houston for letting me be a part of it and showing our vision of the city through our food," Shepherd said on stage in New York City.
Prior to taking home the James Beard Award, Shepherd was recognized for his work with a Food + Wine Best New Chef award in 2013. He's been on a bit of a media tour lately, winning the Waffle House Challenge at the Charleston Food & Wine Festival and competing on an episode of Knife Fight on the Esquire Network. No doubt, those efforts helped raise his profile nationally and aided the milestone win.