Southern Smoke Festival Announces This Year’s Events & Featured Chefs — Updated

Southern Smoke founder chef Chris Shepherd and Bun B. Photo by Daniel Ortiz.

The seventh annual Southern Smoke Festival is returning in 2023 with a two-day bash to raise funds that support food and beverage workers nationwide. The festival, taking place on Friday, October 13 and Saturday, October 14 in downtown Houston, features a line-up of local and national culinary stars. 

Honoree Antonio Gianola with chef Chris Shepherd at the inaugural Southern Smoke event in 2015 Photo by Catchlight Photography
Honoree Antonio Gianola with chef Chris Shepherd at the inaugural Southern Smoke event in 2015. Photo by Catchlight Photography

Proceeds benefit the Southern Smoke Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in 2015 by James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd and his wife, Lindsey Brown. Since then, the foundation has distributed over $10.5 million in emergency relief funding and also provides no-cost mental health services for food and beverage professionals across the nation. Both the foundation and the festival were originally created as a way to honor Shepherd’s friend and former colleague, Antonio Gianola, a longtime sommelier who had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. The inaugural event featured a cadre of lauded chefs, pitmasters and wine professionals who came together to raise $181,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society

This year, the festival is split across two nights and features a number of chefs making their Southern Smoke debut. Friday will see the return of Respect the Rosé, a fan-favorite wine dinner event from Shepherd’s days as executive chef/owner at Underbelly. On Saturday, the party moves to Discovery Green for The Throwdown: an outdoor party featuring over 40 chefs!

Chef Benchawan Painter. Photo by Daniel Ortiz.
James Beard Award-winning chef Benchawan Painter (Street to Kitchen). Photo by Daniel Ortiz.

Friday, October 13: Respect the Rosé

The kickoff event takes place at the Four Seasons Hotel Houston and is billed as a “007/Monte Carlo-themed multi-course extravaganza”. Guests will enjoy rosé all day (or at least from 6 to 10 p.m.) in style with food and wine pairings from Southern Smoke Foundation members and seven rock-star chefs from around the country.

Chefs for Friday’s event include:

  • Ryan Prewitt (Pêche, New Orleans; James Beard Best Chef: South, 2014)
  • Sarah Grueneberg (Monteverde, Chicago; James Beard Best Chef: Great Lakes, 2017)
  • Stephen Stryjewski (Cochon, New Orleans; James Beard Best Chef: South, 2011)
  • Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer (Andrew Michael, Memphis) 
  • Rebecca Masson (Fluff Bake Bar, Houston)
  • Jason Stanhope (FIG, Charleston; James Beard Best Chef: Southeast, 2015)

Tickets for Respect the Rosé go on sale Wednesday, June 7 at noon and cost $500 for individual tickets, $5,000 for tables of 10 and $7500 for tables of 10 with special wines. Proceeds from Respect The Rosé will benefit Behind You, Southern Smoke Foundation’s program providing no-cost mental health counseling to food and beverage workers nationwide.

Franklin's Barbecue owner Aaron Franklin. Photo by Ken Goodman.
Franklin’s Barbecue owner Aaron Franklin. Photo by Ken Goodman.

Saturday, October 14: The Throwdown 

The main event takes place at Discovery Green, a new venue for the festival, on Saturday from 3 to 8 p.m. (first hour is VIP-only) with live music and food and drink from over 40 chefs, pitmasters and beverage pros. This year’s Throwdown will include several chefs who are new to the festival, including Nina Compton (Compère Lapin, New Orleans; James Beard Best Chef: South, 2018), Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel (Birdie’s, Austin), Reem Assil (Reem’s California, Oakland, California), Ana Castro (Lengua Madre, New Orleans), Angel Barreto (Anju, Washington, D.C.), and Caroline Schiff (Gage & Tollner, New York City).

Some of the returning Throwdown chefs include:

  • Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue, Austin; James Beard Best Chef: Southwest, 2015)
  • Mason Hereford (Turkey & The Wolf, New Orleans)
  • Chris Bianco (Bianco Pizzeria, Phoenix; James Beard Best Chef: Southwest, 2003; James Beard Outstanding Restaurateur, 2022)
  • Claudette Zepeda (San Diego)
  • Ashley Christensen (Poole’s Diner, Raleigh; James Beard Best Chef: Southeast 2014; James Beard Outstanding Chef, 2019)
  • Cheetie Kumar (Ajja, Raleigh)
  • Bun B (Trill Burgers, Houston)
  • Evelyn Garcia (Jūn, Houston)
  • Benchawan Painter (Street to Kitchen, Houston; James Beard Best Chef: Texas 2023)
  • Aaron Bludorn (Bludorn, Houston)
  • Dawn Burrell (Late August, Houston)
  • Chris Williams (Lucille’s, Houston)
  • Patrick Feges and Erin Smith (Feges BBQ, Houston)

Tickets for Saturday’s event are $175 for general admission and $500 for Lexus VIP, which includes early admission at 3 p.m., access to the exclusive Lexus VIP area with special wines and the opportunity to Spin the Wheel for gifts and prizes. The full line-up of chefs is available online. Tickets go on sale on Wednesday, June 7 at noon. 

Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect Benchawan Painter’s new status as a James Beard Award-winning chef.

Comments (2)

Share Your Thoughts on This Article

  • June 7, 2023 at 10:19 amV. McGrath

    Time to update Benchawan’s creds to include: James Beard-Best Chef Texas 2023