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Houston's Chef Benchawan Painter Wins Best Chef: Texas

Chef Benchawan Painter takes home the prize.
Chef Benchawan Painter takes home the prize. Photo by Raul Margarito Casares

Space City can add another star to its galaxy. Chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter was declared Best Chef: Texas at last night's James Beard Awards ceremony for the 2023 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards. She beat out four other worthy Texas chefs for the top prize.

Chef G, as she is commonly known, won the prestigious title for JBA 2023 due to her Street to Kitchen restaurant which she founded with her husband, Graham Painter, in 2020. A native of Nakhon Sawan, a city in Northern Thailand, Chef Benchawan learned much of her culinary style from her grandmother who operated a restaurant in the "Heavenly City". That experience led to stints at different Bangkok restaurants and pastry shops. After meeting her husband Graham, she moved to Houston to be with him eight years ago.

Eventually, Chef Benchawan would add important Houston restaurants to her resume including Justin Yu's Theodore Rex and Saltair Kitchen.
Chef G's Thai cuisine offers no apologies for its authenticity.
Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
Her approach to her cuisine is unapologetically Thai which means she doesn't hold back on the spice or muddy the flavors with less authentic ingredients. With the success of Street to Kitchen, she has not only earned the JBA award and a loyal customer base but she has also joined forces with Chef David Skinner of eculent. The pair have partnered in a new venture next door to Skinner's tasting restaurant called Th Prsrv which draws on both Chef G's Thai heritage and Skinner's Choctaw culture, blending two indigenous cuisines in a spectacular tasting experience.
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Chef G pays tribute to her Thai culture.
Photo by Huge Galdones/Courtesy of the James Beard Foundation
Unfortunately, Houston did not take the number one honors in two other finalist categories, though just making it as a finalist is a very big deal in the James Beard Awards orbit. Nancy's Hustle was nominated for Outstanding Wine & Other Beverages Program but lost out to Ototo, a small sake bar in Los Angeles.

Tatemo, chef Emmanuel Chavez's tiny tortilla-centric restaurant, was in the final running for Best New Restaurant, a very big honor for a small establishment that is lauded for its tasting menu. In the end, Kann, chef Gregory Gourdet's Haitian live-fire restaurant in Portland, Oregon took home the accolade of JBA's Best New Restaurant. Gourdet has been nominated several times in the past few years for different James Beard Awards and has also been a competitor on Bravo's Top Chef.
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The 2023 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards is a wrap.
Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images for James Beard Foundation
The awards were announced in a ceremony held at the Lyric Opera of Chicago co-hosted by Gail Simmons, Eric Adjepong, Esther Choi and Andrew Zimmern. Zimmern said, " Congratulations to this year's winners. Your work makes us proud to be a part of our country's independent restaurant industry. "

In addition to chef and celebrity presenters such as Chris Bianco, Sarah Grueneberg, Carla Hall and Monti Carlo, there were 1,500 guests in attendance.

And one of those guests is bringing back Best Chef: Texas to Houston. Congratulations Chef G!
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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.