Neighbors in Need: Houston Chefs Stepping Up During the COVID-19 CrisisVIEW EVENT DETAILS
Thursday, February 4, 2021
7:30 p.m. Moderated Discussion
8:10 p.m. Audience Q&A — Questions welcome via YouTube Live or Facebook Live
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The COVID-19 pandemic has meant more than a public health crisis — it has also resulted in an economic crisis in certain industries and a crisis of food insecurity. Houston in particular has felt the impacts of both the coronavirus and weak oil prices in 2020. A Washington Post article in November indicated that more than 1 in 5 adults in Houston reported going hungry recently, including 3 in 10 adults in households with children. Houston Food Bank, the largest food bank in the country, saw demand double since the start of the pandemic — at one point distributing a million pounds of food a day, six days a week.
Certain communities have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. A U.S. Census Bureau survey found that more than 2.5 million households in Texas either sometimes or often did not have enough food to eat in the week prior to the poll — and 66 percent of these households were either Hispanic or Black. Meanwhile, statewide estimates report between 14–16 percent of restaurants closed permanently in Texas in 2020, which the Greater Houston Restaurant Association says is mirrored in the Houston region, leaving hundreds of hospitality workers unemployed and in precarious financial circumstances amid a public health emergency.
Asia Society at Home
Join Asia Society for a conversation with local chefs about how the pandemic has deeply impacted Houston communities beyond the health crisis. Chris Shepherd, formerly of Underbelly and now chef and owner of One Fifth, and Chris Williams, chef and owner of Lucille's, a Houston Museum District gem, share their stories about stepping up to meet the needs of their neighbors, and how the nonprofits they founded serve their communities.
About the Speakers
Midwest-raised, James Beard Award-winning Chef Chris Shepherd has helped change the landscape of the Houston culinary scene since opening Underbelly in 2012. He built the restaurant to support the Houston food community and its suppliers by buying local and drawing inspiration from the people and cultures that live in the city. Thanks to Chris’ vision and passion, Underbelly was a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, was named one of the best new restaurants in the country by Bon Appetit and Esquire and was named one of 38 essential restaurants in America by Eater. Chris was named one of the 10 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine in 2013 and was then awarded the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest.
In 2017, Chris opened One Fifth, a five-year restaurant project that changes concepts every year. He closed Underbelly in March 2018 to convert the building into Georgia James, his take on a steakhouse. He also opened UB Preserv as his culinary interpretation of Houston’s evolution. He continues to tell the story of Houston food, but without limitations of locality and whole animal butchery. He formed Underbelly Hospitality in 2018 to preserve the ethos of Underbelly—learning about diverse cultures through food. In 2019, all three restaurants—UB Preserv, One Fifth Mediterranean and Georgia James—nabbed the No. 1 spot on Texas Monthly's list of the Best New Restaurants in Texas, and Georgia James was included on GQ's list of the best new restaurants in America. He was a semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in 2019 and was named Robb Report's Chef of the Year the same year. Chris’ first cookbook, Cook Like a Local: Flavors that Will Change the Way You Cook — and See the World, was published by Clarkson Potter in September 2019 and was nominated for a 2020 James Beard Foundation Book Award.
Chris began his fine dining career at Brennan’s of Houston, where he spent seven years in the kitchen and then ran the wine program for two. He left Brennan’s in 2006 to open Catalan Food & Wine, which was named one of Esquire’s Best New Restaurants in America that same year.
Chris' foundation Southern Smoke has distributed more than $5.9 million—both directly to people in the food and beverage industry in need via the Emergency Relief Fund and to organizations that represent the needs of people in the industry.
Chris Williams is chef and owner of Lucille’s, a locally-owned restaurant in the heart of Houston’s Museum District that specializes in well-refined Southern cuisine with infusions of international techniques and flavors.
Chris Williams was always destined to be a chef; he simply didn’t know it yet. Drawn to study food from a young age, he attended Le Cordon Blue in Austin, Texas, and soon began traveling around the world, working in eateries in Lithuania, England, the U.S., and all points in between. His insatiable hunger to learn everything about world cuisine unexpectedly led him back to his own family tree. Chef Williams heard bits and pieces about his great-grandmother, Lucille Bishop Smith, but it wasn’t until Williams began developing his own restaurant concept that he discovered a family history steeped in mouthwatering Southern cuisine.
As it turns out, Lucille and her family-owned U.S. Smith's BBQ and Lucille’s Fine Foods General Store in Fort Worth, Texas. As a home economist, she established one of the first college level commercial foods and technology departments in the U.S., at Prairie View A&M University. She also published sets of recipes for home cooks, sold the first-ever All Purpose Hot Roll Mix in grocery stores, and served her famous chili biscuits on American Airlines flights, and to such notables as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Eleanor Roosevelt.
In August 2012, Williams opened Lucille’s in a 1923 Mission-style home in the Museum District. Pairing his great-grandmother’s ingenuity and Southern flair with flavors from his travels, Williams treats diners to well-refined Southern cuisine enhanced by international flavors and techniques. Fittingly, Chef Williams was named the lone culinary cultural ambassador for the USA during a 25-day tour of The Balkans – Slovenia, Croatia, Albania and Serbia in May 2015. The tour featured food lectures, hospitality conferences, and of course, cooking demos led by Chef Williams. The Zagreb's Contemporary Arts Museum even recreated Lucille's for its three-day Route 66 festival. He repeated his stint as the region’s culinary ambassador again in 2018, followed by another food diplomacy tour to Ukraine in June 2019.
Chef Williams’ most recent endeavor — his newly-formed non-profit Lucille’s 1913 — mimics the ethos of his restaurant and its namesake, functioning as a conscious community collective that combines food philanthropy and development to further nourish Houston’s most vulnerable communities. To date, Lucille’s 1913 has provided more than 100,000 meals to Houstonians in need since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chef Williams is also a member of the Southern Food Ways Alliance, an organization that documents, studies, and explores the diverse food cultures of the changing American South.
About the Moderator
Natalie Hee is thrilled to join FOX 26 News as a reporter in her hometown. Before starting at FOX 26, Natalie was a reporter at KIAH-TV, the CW affiliate in Houston. She has also reported at WDSU-TV, the NBC affiliate in New Orleans, and KXAN-TV, the NBC affiliate in Austin, Texas, where she began her news career. Natalie has covered a number of breaking news and weather stories including the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, along with the controversial shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and former NFL players Will Smith and Joe McKnight. Like many families in Houston, Natalie is an "oil baby." Born in Malaysia to a family of ex-pats, she spent majority of her childhood moving around every three years, before her family settled in The Woodlands in 2003. She’s a graduate of The John Cooper School in The Woodlands and an alumna of The University of Texas at Austin. Natalie is a proud Longhorn and honorary LSU Tigers fan -- Hook 'em Horns and Geaux Tigers! Her family’s nomadic lifestyle has also given Natalie the opportunity to travel to countries all across the world. She dreams to one day step foot on all seven continents -- including Antarctica! When she’s not working or traveling, Natalie enjoys perusing for new restaurants and cuisines, listening to live music, dancing, karaokeing, shopping, playing volleyball, binge-watching TV shows and trying to be artsy. Natalie currently serves as co-president of the Asian American Journalists Association Texas Chapter and is a member of the Texas Exes Houston Chapter. Natalie looks forward to meeting and serving the great people of Houston.
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