Chef Chat, Part 1: Chris Shepherd of Underbelly

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Chris Shepherd of Underbelly
Chris Shepherd won the James Beard award for Best Chef: Southwest earlier this year. He is the first Houston chef to do so since Robert del Grande won in 1992 and one who has helped thrust our culinary scene into the national spotlight.

Shepherd's story is of a chef who has taken the journeyman's path. He has literally worked his way from dishwasher to owning his own restaurant.

He was born in Nebraska. His family moved to Oklahoma when he was only a year old and he started his culinary journey at a Japanese restaurant in Tulsa. At age 23, he made it to Houston, where he would begin his ascent in earnest.

In this first part of our Chef Chat, we'll learn about the first steps of his path, as well as about how he and chef Randy Evans (formerly of Brennan's and Haven) became best friends. We'll also look at how Catalan, the restaurant where he held his first executive chef position, started out as a Spanish concept and somehow evolved into one that showcased Shepherd's comfort food--and a signature dish that was the product of a happy accident.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of our conversation, where Shepherd talks about what it's like to win a Beard award and how Underbelly came to exist.

EOW: You were in Oklahoma until you were 23. Did you go to college there?

CS: No, I did all the dumb things that you're supposed to do as a kid. I didn't pay attention to what I wanted to do and then decided I'd start cooking.

EOW: Where did you start cooking?

CS: Originally at a place called Fuji [Japanese & Sushi], a sushi bar in Tulsa. I started as a dishwasher. All of my friends worked there, so it was easy to get a job with those guys and go have fun.

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Controversial Pinot Noir Festival Slated to Come to Houston in 2015

Categories: Wine Time

Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
California grape grower and winemaker Jasmine Hirsch led a guided tasting of her wines last night for collectors at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted.
In yet another sign that Houston is becoming one of the leading "wine destination" cities in the United States, California winemaker and festival co-founder Jasmine Hirsch (above) revealed yesterday that the controversial "In Pursuit of Balance" tasting will be held in Houston on March 30, 2015. It's the first that the event has been held outside of San Francisco or New York.

Borne out of a "conversation" with celebrity sommelier, winemaker, author, and In Pursuit of Balance co-founder Rajat Parr, the annual festival, now in its fifth year, features California producers of Pinot Noir who favor a leaner, high-acidity, low-alcohol, "old world" style in their wines.

Since the 1970s, the California wine industry has been dominated by a richer, fruit-forward, low-acidity, and high-alcohol approach to winemaking -- the so-called "modern style."

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This Week in Food Blogs: It's Always Better With a Fried Egg

Categories: Leftovers

Photo by Mai Pham
Head to Moderno Tacos + Tex Mex for migas at brunch.
Zagat Houston: Marcy de Luna of Zagat Houston has the scoop on four new restaurants serving stellar brunches. You can't miss the Quinoa Johnny Cakes with blueberries, maple syrup and Greek yogurt at True Food Kitchen in the Galleria area. Order the Cereal Crunch French Toast at Tout Suite -- it's a twist on the classic breakfast dish where the bread is coated in "childhood favorite cereal." Try the traditional migas at Moderno Tacos + Tex Mex and savor in the smoked salmon with poached eggs at The Honeymoon.

Gastronaut: After receiving a suggestion to try the BLT topped with a fried egg at Blacksmith, Gastronaut contributor Russell van Kraayenburg just had to order it. The BLT comes with super thick slices of bacon, zippy green tomatoes and crisp lettuce all stuffed between a seeded bun. But, the real star of the sandwich is the fried egg placed on top; once you slice through it, the yolk runs down the sides, creating a moist and delicious sandwich.

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Review: Gratifi Stands Out for the Wrong Reasons

Categories: Cafe Reviews

Photo by Troy Fields
The Guido burger: shot through with garlic and chili heat.
Brunch at Gratifi is a leisurely affair, whether or not you want it to be. A little less than two hours after we first sat down for brunch on Sunday, my wife's pain perdue arrived, soggy in the middle. Perhaps the kitchen had rushed it out, a too-late attempt at absolution for its egregious lateness. In my book, that's just adding insult to injury. It's also a shame, since it's among the better dishes at Gratifi, flavor-wise.

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How To: Make Your Own Chicken Liver Pâté

Categories: How To, Recipes

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Looks like dirt but tastes divine.
There are few foods that offer as much heme iron per serving as liver and if you suffer from anemia and like this author aspire to do endurance sports, a liverwurst sandwich, crackers and pâté, or liver 'n' onions (once a week or more) can really give you a boost in energy.

Those familiar with luxury offal spreads are aware that pâté is rather pricey and not widely available at mass-market grocery stores. But if you have a food processor and are not averse to handling raw organ meat, you can make large quantities of pâté for shockingly little money.

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
So much iron for so little moolah.

Step One: Visit your local butcher (if she or he exists) or most supermarkets to buy raw chicken livers. At HEB, a 1 pound plastic container of chicken livers costs about $1. (Yes, they're really that cheap.)
This story continues on the next page.

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The 10 Best Coffee Shops in Houston

Categories: Caffeine, Top 10

Photo by Molly Dunn
Where in Houston can you get a frothy cappuccino like this one?
For most of us, our day hasn't started until we take our first sip of coffee in the morning. America seriously runs on this stuff. No wonder people call it "liquid gold."

Gone are the days where Starbucks is the end-all-be-all place to grab a cup of Joe, especially in Houston. This city is beyond blessed with its selection of local coffee shops. And even though they are all serving the same thing -- coffee -- no two coffeehouses are the same. Some are better for sitting and chatting with friends while sipping on a specially-made flavored latte; others are more conducive to a quick on-the-go coffee run; some roast their own beans; others enhance their coffees with a selection of house-made pastries.

Because there are so many coffee shops in Houston, we wanted to be of assistance to you, dear readers, and help you narrow your choices down when you're in need of some caffeine. Here are the ten best places for coffee in the Bayou City.

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Chefs Represent Houston at Heritage Breed Pig Competition

Categories: Meat!

Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Justin Yu of Oxheart worked on a pork-centric meal for judges at the Cochon 555 Heritage Breed Pig BBQ Competition in Austin on Sunday.

The challenge: prepare six courses using as many parts of a whole heritage breed pig for 24 judges. Consider how hard it would be to pull that off for private guests, much less be judged on it! That, however, is exactly what each chef had to pull off last Sunday for the Cochon 555 barbeque competition. This was in addition to preparing small plates throughout the night for a crowd that filled a ballroom of the W Hotel in Austin.

(The "555" stands for five cities that the tour goes to each year, five chefs that compete in each and five beverage pairings.)

The point of the event was to bring awareness about heritage breed pigs, like Duroc, Ossabaw and Yorkshire, which are far different from "commodity pigs" raised by farms that deal in big volume production. The meat is richer and fuller in flavor. Even the fat is tasty. As more farmers turn to commodity pigs to help them make ends meet, some heritage breeds are in danger of becoming extinct. They are harder to raise, not as profitable and require more attention.

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Italian Oil Exec Brings Food Makers to Houston

Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
From left, Giulia Silva, a representative of the Italian industrial association Confindustria, with Alessia Paolicchi, executive director of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas, and Daniele Ghezzi, director of the Piacenza Food Producers Association.
Representatives from six commercial food producers from the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna are visiting Houston this week on a trip organized by the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas.

Their tour of the city included a walk-around tasting with Houston food buyers and restaurateurs yesterday at the Hilton Houston Post Oak, followed by a happy hour at Mascalzone on Westheimer. Tonight the group will dine with their Houston-based guests at Carmelo's on Memorial.

None of the Italian companies, which include a large-scale winemaker and a frozen pizza producer, have a market presence in Texas. But the three-day visit is intended to foster new business ties, said Daniele Ghezzi (above, right), who serves as director of the Piacenza Food Producers Association.

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Takeout Trials: Tokyohana in Greenway Plaza

Categories: On the Menu

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Spider (Hand) Roll

In the pepto-bismol colored shopping center known as the Greenway Plaza lies Tokyohana, a Japanese restaurant that offers patrons a Benihanaesque dining experience, i.e., communal tables surrounding a hibachi grill manned by a chef charged with entertaining as well as cooking. But, according to the website, Tokyohana isn't your standard teppanyaki establishment: "And, unlike so many other traditional Japanese operations, you can also enjoy a rather extensive frozen cocktail."

Why skip an extensive frozen cocktail alongside an equally extensive performance/meal involving lots of grilled proteins?

First, perhaps you're in the mood to try Tokyohana's specialty sushi rolls; second, you're in a "can't face other humans" headspace following a challenging day at work; and third, you're financially incentivized via a current grubhub deal for $6 off your first takeout order over $10. Time to create another email address and get that coupon.

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Eat This: The Salted Caramel Peanut Tart at Tout Suite

Photo by Molly Dunn
The Salted Caramel Peanut Tart at Tout Suite is a work of art.
Before Tout Suite opened in East Downtown, I knew the cafe would be serving incredible desserts and pastries, like those delicate macarons and beautiful cupcakes sold at the sister bakery, Sweet in CityCentre, along with a savory menu served throughout the day. But, the tarts and treats were a surprise.

As I stared at the gorgeous display of bright yellow mango passion tart cakes, matcha green tea chiffon cakes and lemon yuzu tarts, one of the employees approached me asking if I had any questions about the offerings at Tout Suite. I told him I was interested in purchasing the "Paris Houston," a chocolate almond cake with a fruit filling and a generous topping of swirled frosting, but he advised me to choose a different pastry, the Salted Caramel Peanut Tart.

He said it is one of the best offerings in the display case, and that he was one of the chefs who makes the pastries at Tout Suite.

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