Southern Smoke Festival Returns After Two-Year Absence With Over 60 Chefs

Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin (left) with Chris Shepherd of Southern Smoke (right) at the 2018 Southern Smoke Festival.

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, chef Chris Shepherd’s Southern Smoke Festival is back — and it will be big. This year, the festival is a three-day affair that takes place October 21 through October 23, and it will feature over 60 chefs from around the country.

The festival — a well-established annual event before the pandemic — benefits the Southern Smoke Foundation. Founded in 2015, the nonprofit benefits food and beverage professionals from farmers to line cooks by providing emergency relief funds and mental health resources. The foundation and the festival were initially conceived by Shepherd to honor his friend and longtime sommelier Antonio Gianola, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The first event featured just a handful of top chefs and pitmasters such as Aaron Franklin (now a board member), Rodney Scott and Sean Brock and raised $181,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Southern Smoke check 2017
Southern Smoke Foundation has raised millions of dollars to help hospitality workers since 2017. Photo by Catchlight Photography.

In the wake of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which hit five years ago this week, the organization changed its focus and began helping food and beverage workers affected by the devastating storm. The COVID-19 pandemic sharpened that focus, and the foundation has given almost $10 million to food and beverage workers in crisis via its Emergency Relief Fund.

Tickets for this year’s events — see details below — go on sale Tuesday, August 30 and can be purchased online. While you’re there, you’ll see Southern Smoke’s redesigned website and branding, which emphasizes the organizations efforts to help the industry’s professionals. The rebranding is courtesy of Houston-based design firm Principle‘s recently launched Design for Good program, which is working with selected nonprofits on a pro bono basis.

Unlike in past years, the festival events are not in Montrose. Previously, those were hosted near Blacksmith and Georgia James. However, there have been some big changes over the past year. First, Georgia James moved and, second, Shepherd no longer works for the company he co-founded, Underbelly Hospitality. So, this year, the three events are in various parts of Houston: Hermann Park, east of downtown and in the Galleria area (at the best resort in Texas).

The Events

H-Town Welcome Wagon

Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, 7 to 10 p.m. at Lott Hall at Hermann Park
$150 General Admission, $250 Early Entry (6 p.m.)

Hosted by James  Beard Award-winning pitmaster Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue, Austin) and Hot Luck Fest, the music festival founded by Franklin to benefit Southern Smoke, this kickoff event will take place at the newly renovated Lott Hall at Hermann Park and features live music, some of Texas’ top wines, headliners Chris Shepherd and “Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons, and tasty bites from:

  • John Avila, El Burro & the Bull Restaurant Group (Houston, TX)
  • Bun B, Trill Burgers (Houston, TX)
  • Terrence Gallivan, Elro (Houston, TX)
  • Mason Hereford, Turkey and the Wolf (New Orleans, LA)
  • Chad Houser, Café Momentum (Dallas, TX)
  • Brian Jupiter, Frontier and Ina Mae Tavern (Chicago, IL)
  • Gabriel Medina, Click Virtual Food Hall (Houston, TX)
  • Trong Nguyen, Crawfish and Noodles (Houston, TX)
  • Benchawan Painter, Street to Kitchen (Houston, TX)
  • Jacklyn Pham, Saigon Pagolac (Houston, TX)
  • Jeff Potts, 93 Til (Houston, TX)
  • Jordan Rubin, Mr. Tuna (Portland, ME)
  • Easton Sadler, R-C Ranch Butcher Shop (Houston, TX)
  • Chris Shepherd (Houston, TX)
  • Gail Simmons (New York, NY)
  • Paola Velez (Washington, DC)
  • Joshua Weissman, YouTube chef (Houston, TX)
  • Jack Yoss, Hai Hospitality (Houston, TX)

Southern Smoke on Ice

Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, 1 to 4 p.m. at The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa
$1,000 (limited availability)

At this exclusive event, top Southern chefs are laying out the ultimate raw bar. Guests can also enjoy high-end wines and participate in an interactive whole tuna breakdown that will include made-to-order hand rolls. The featured raw bar chefs are:

  • Ashley Christensen, AC Restaurants (Raleigh, NC)
  • Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi, Kata Robata (Houston, TX)
  • Cheetie Kumar, Garland (Raleigh, NC)
  • Mike Lata, FIG (Charleston, SC)
  • Nicole Mills, Peche Seafood Grill (New Orleans, LA)
  • Jason Stanhope, FIG (Charleston, SC)

East Downtown Throwdown

Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, 4 to 8 p.m. in east downtown
$225 general admission, $450 VIP

Over 40 chefs — including celebrity chefs Tom Colicchio and Andrew Zimmern, and local favorites such as Dawn Burrell (Late August) and Robin Wong (Blood Bros. BBQ) — will take over seven acres of east downtown from Vinny’s Pizza (1201 St. Emanuel) to 8th Wonder Brewery (2202 Dallas) with barbecue pits, trailers, live fire and plenty of smoked and grilled delights. Thirsty guests will find plenty beer, wine and spirits to wash it down and live music to keep their feet moving. In addition, a silent auction will be held at 8th Wonder Distillery (2201 Dallas), which will benefit Southern Smoke’s Emergency Relief Fund, with one special auction item benefitting the National MS Society in honor of Gianola. Those who purchase VIP tickets will also enjoy two special areas with high-end wines — one at Miss Carousel and one at 8th Wonder Brewery — early entry, a VIP-specific wine pull and other fun prizes. The participating chefs are:

  • Karen Akunowicz, Fox & the Knife (Boston, MA)
  • Chris Bianco, Pizzeria Bianco (Phoenix, AZ)
  • Jamie Bissonnette, Little Donkey (Boston, MA)
  • Aaron Bludorn, Bludorn (Houston, TX)
  • Leonard Botello IV, Truth BBQ (Houston, TX)
  • Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Canje (Austin, TX)
  • Dawn Burrell, Late August (Houston, TX)
  • Katie Button, Katie Button Restaurants (Asheville, NC)
  • Tom Colicchio, Crafted Hospitality (New York, NY)
  • Stephen Conklin, Hai Hospitality (Houston, TX)
  • Chris Cosentino, Rosalie Italian Soul (Houston, TX)
  • Chris Davies, Underbelly Hospitality (Houston, TX)
  • Billy Durney, Hometown BBQ (Brooklyn, NY)
  • Patrick Feges, Feges BBQ (Houston, TX)
  • Kevin Fink, Hestia (Austin, TX)
  • Jeremy Fox, Rustic Canyon (Santa Monica, CA)
  • Aaron Franklin, Franklin Barbecue (Austin, TX)
  • Diego Galicia, Mixtli (San Antonio, TX)
  • Greg Gatlin, Gatlin’s BBQ (Houston, TX)
  • Sarah Grueneberg, Monteverde (Chicago, IL)
  • Stephanie Izard, Girl & The Goat (Chicago, IL)
  • Marcus Jacobs, Marjie’s Grill (New Orleans, LA)
  • Sam Jones, Sam Jones BBQ. (Ayden, NC)
  • Shaun King, Hai Hospitality (Houston, TX)
  • Pat Martin, Martin’s BBQ Joint (Nashville, TN)
  • Fermín Núñez, Suerte (Austin, TX)
  • Ryan Pera, Agricole Hospitality (Houston, TX)
  • Greg Peters, Underbelly Hospitality (Houston, TX)
  • Tim Reading, Underbelly Hospitality (Houston, TX)
  • Steven Redzikowski, Oak at Fourteenth (Boulder, CO)
  • Felipe Riccio, Goodnight Hospitality (Houston, TX)
  • Erin Smith, Feges BBQ (Houston, TX)
  • Martin Stayer, Nobie’s (Houston, TX)
  • Stephen Stryjewski, Link Restaurant Group (New Orleans, LA)
  • Rico Torres, Mixtli (San Antonio, TX)
  • Chris Williams, Lucille’s (Houston, TX)
  • Brooke Williamson, Playa Provisions (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Robin Wong, Blood Bros. BBQ (Houston, TX)
  • Claudette Zepeda, VAGA (San Diego, CA)
  • Andrew Zimmern (Minneapolis, MN)

As mentioned above, tickets go on sale Tuesday, August 30 and can be purchased here.

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