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.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography Chris Shepherd of Underbelly
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.