It's about damn time.
It's been 22 years since a Houston chef won an award from the James Beard Foundation--one of the most prestigious organizations recognizing culinary excellence in the United States--but last night that losing streak was broken by Underbelly's Chris Shepherd.
Shepherd was in New York to accept the award, along with fellow nominees Hugo Ortega and Justin Yu. All three were nominated in the Best Chef Southwest category. This was Ortega's third nomination and Yu's second, having previously been nominated in the Rising Star Chef category. We'd been calling Shepherd a three-time nominee too--until now. Now he's a winner.
The awards are live-streamed on the James Beard website, so we were able to catch Shepherd's acceptance speech. Here's what he said:
"I'd like to thank the James Beard Foundation. This is an awesome, amazing experience. I'm kind of freaking out right this second, but...lots of people I'd like to thank. These guys right here: Two of my business partners, Bobby Heugel and Michael Burnett, and my sous chef Lyle Bento. All the guys back in Houston, Kevin Floyd and Steve. I'd like to thank my lady, Lindsey. Thank you so much."
Then Shepherd appeared to get choked up.
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"Really, I'd like to thank the city of Houston," he said, "for letting me be a part of it and showing our vision of the city through our food. It's an amazing place to be. So thank you so much."
The last time a Houston chef was recognized was 1992, when Robert del Grande won. Del Grande was at this year's celebration as one of the featured chefs.
Congrats to Chris Shepherd and to all the Houston nominees! Way to make Houston proud!
Now let's go party at Underbelly!