While the term “local” has become overused to the point of cliche in the restaurant world, for James Beard award-winning chef Chris Shepherd of Houston’s much-lauded Underbelly Hospitality, it’s about so much more than seasonal, farm-to-table ingredients. As Shepherd explains in the introduction of his new cookbook, Cook Like a Local: Flavors That Can Change How You Cook and See the World, “‘local’ is just as much about the people who live in my community, the people who inspire me and teach me and work with me, and how they like to cook and eat.”
A Tulsa native, Shepherd moved to Houston in 1995, and what started out as a curiosity about the city’s food turned into a full-on education: he went from becoming a regular at local immigrant-owned restaurants to training in Korean grocery stores, Vietnamese phở shops, Indian kitchens, and Chinese mom-and-pops. Shepherd celebrates these lessons not only in the way he cooks, but also by shining a light on the people the food comes from and helping them tell their stories.
His approach to the SAVEUR Supper last week was no different: he made a point of bringing out the kitchen team who helped him bring the dishes from Cook Like a Local to life that night: chefs Estefania Brito and Josue A. Sanchez of New York’s Cosme. And while you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of Houston, Shepherd told guests that “at the end of the day, any city in America can be this. This cookbook isn’t a love letter to Houston. It’s a love letter to our world. I want people to see that by going out and sharing stories and eating dinner, you can grow your family a little bit bigger.”