Houston Celebrates Multiple James Beard Award Nominations for 2014

Photo courtesy James Beard Foundation
The nominees were announced on Wednesday, and Houston received several nods.
The prestigious James Beard Award semifinalists were announced this week, and Houston is represented well by four individuals and one bar in three different categories.

Anvil Bar & Refuge was nominated for Outstanding Bar Program for the third consecutive year, while Chris Shepherd, Hugo Ortega and Justin Yu were all nominated for Best Chef: Southwest. Rounding out the list of Houston nominees is part-time Houstonian Philip Speer, nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef for his work at Uchi in Austin and here in Houston.

This is the third nomination for Shepherd, who was previously a semifinalist in the Best New Restaurant category for Underbelly and a finalist for Best Chef: Southwest. It's also the third nomination for Hugo's chef Ortega, who was a finalist for Best Chef Southwest in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Yu was nominated for Rising Star Chef of the Year and Oxheart was nominated for Best New Restaurant. This is Speer's second nomination in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category, and it's the fourth year Bobby Heugel of Anvil has gotten a nod, either individually (Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional) or for the bar.

Photo courtesy Uchi
Philip Speer of Uchi
"I feel overrated," Speer said in response to his nomination. "I'm just kidding; It's awesome. I've been on the long list a few other times, but I've never made the short list. It's always an honor. I'm super-proud."

He went on to praise the work of his pastry teams at Uchi in Austin and Houston, as well as Uchiko in Austin.

"Honestly, It's really a testament to my pastry chefs, who keep the dessert program alive every day at the restaurants," he said. "They're the ones producing that every day and keeping the consistency."

Speer is preparing to open St. Philip, a pizzeria and bakery, in Austin this summer, so the publicity comes at a great time for him.

"To be in that kind of company is awesome," Speer says of his fellow nominees. "Hopefully we're all celebrating at the same time for being on the finalist list."

Heugel echoed Speer's praise of the other Houston chefs nominated.

Photo by Julie Soefer
Bobby Heugel of Anvil
"I think the three chefs here symbolize what Houston is," Heugel said. "You have Oxheart, which is small and focused; Underbelly, which is ambitious and associated with another great place, Hay Merchant; and Hugo's, which is a staple. And everyone in the industry looks up to Hugo's as the standard of the type of restaurant we'd like to operate."

Heugel is also excited for the talented staff of Anvil, who he says work incredibly hard and deserve the attention of the James Beard Foundation. Then he and Shepherd had a little lovefest.

"I don't think people understand how ambitious of a restaurant Underbelly is sometimes," Heugel said. "Chris has been such a great mentor to me, so it's nice to see him recognized."

Photo by Marco Torres
Chris Shepherd of Underbelly
"Bobby amazes me," Shepherd said in response. The two work together through the Clumsy Butcher bar and restaurant group. "We meet once a week, religiously, and I learn so much from him. I have a different type of thought process than he does, so he's able to help me think through things and create a plan before I act. The brain is too big on that boy."

Like his fellow nominees, Shepherd has a huge sense of pride in his staff at Underbelly, who he thinks might want the award more than he does.

"Not that I don't want it," he explained. "But they wanted Food & Wine and they wanted James Beard. And they're doing it. They truly believe in what we do and how unique this restaurant is. And I want it all to happen to them too. If some of my chefs eventually get nominated, that would be the biggest compliment. That would be the brightest part of my career."

The story continues on the next page.

Location Info


Anvil Bar & Refuge

1424 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Music


904 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


1100 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


1302 Nance St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


1600 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

The Hay Merchant

1100 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Music


2200 Post Oak Blvd, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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I think the James Beard Foundation has become a little too self-reverential (note the glowering medal that accompanies every story I've seen), but it's great to see our guys getting some credit that's well-deserved.

Fwiw, I thought it was funny that Speer from Uchi said he felt "overrated" getting the nomination, an allusion to Eric Sandler's recent attempt at criticism of Houston's most overrated restaurants of which Uchi was one. Come to think of it, Chris Shepherd's place also enjoyed inclusion on that list.

Congrats to all!

KaitlinS topcommenter

@Daisy  Philip Speer does have a wonderful sense of humor :)

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