Top Chef alumni and barbecue stars light up Chris Shepherd’s big food festival

Calling all Houston food lovers. Now is the time to open those wallets, as the Southern Smoke Festival has revealed the line-ups, locations and prizes for this year’s three events, taking place October 21-23.

For his first in-person event since 2019, Southern Smoke Foundation co-founder Chris Shepherd recruited more than 60 chefs, including several of his fellow James Beard Award winners, Excellent chef fan favorites and plenty of local talent. The event raises funds for the Southern Smoke Foundation, the non-profit organization Shepherd has begun providing cash assistance to hospitality workers in crisis situations such as medical emergencies, natural disasters, lost wages and other unexpected events. To date, the foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund has distributed nearly $10 million to beneficiaries across the country.

Here is the overview of each event, including locations and prices. All tickets go on sale at noon on Tuesday, August 30.

The weekend kicks off Friday with the H-Town Welcome Wagon. Held at Lott Hall in Hermann Park, the event features dishes prepared by more than a dozen Houston chefs, a handful of carefully chosen foreigners and The best chefs Gail Simmons – accompanied by live music and Texas wines. Tickets are priced at $125 for general admission or $250 to enter an hour early. Here is the full schedule:

  • John Avila, Henderson and Kane (Houston)
  • Bun B, Trill Burgers (Houston)
  • Terrence Gallivan, Elro (Houston)
  • Mason Hereford, The Turkey and the Wolf (New Orleans)
  • Chad Houser, Cafe Momentum (Dallas)
  • Brian Jupiter, Frontier and Ina Mae Tavern (Chicago)
  • Gabriel Medina, Click Virtual Food Hall (Houston)
  • Trong Nguyen, Crawfish and Noodles (Houston)
  • Benchawan painter, from the street to the kitchen (Houston)
  • Jacklyn Pham, Saigon Pagolac (Houston)
  • Jeff Potts, 93 (Houston)
  • Jordan Rubin, Mr. Tuna (Portland, Maine)
  • Easton Sadler, RC Ranch Butcher (Houston)
  • Chris Shepherd (Houston)
  • Gail Simmons (New York)
  • Paola Velez (Washington, DC)
  • Joshua Weissman, YouTube (Houston)
  • Jack Yoss, Hai Hospitality (Houston)

Southern Smoke on Ice takes place Saturday at Houstonian Hotel. This upscale event features raw bar prepared by some of the South’s top chefs paired with premium wines. Kata Robata chef Manabu Horiuchi will break down a whole tuna and serve hand rolls. Tickets, described by organizers as “very limited”, cost $1,000. The attendees are:

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

Sunday’s East Downtown Throwdown most closely replicates the original Southern Smoke Festival with a wide array of chefs serving up wood-fired fare. As always, barbecue legend Aaron Franklin is making headlines. This year he is joined by Excellent chef judge Tom Colicchio as well as several former chef testers, foodie TV star Andrew Zimmern, barbecue stars from across the country and many local favorites. Expect a range of drink options with live music and a silent auction.

Tickets are $225 for general admission or $450 for VIP. Spending the extra money allows for early admission and access to indoor and outdoor VIP lounges. Lexus drivers who purchase VIP tickets will also benefit from premium parking.

Excellent chef old:

  • Karen Akunowicz, Fox and the Knife (Boston)
  • Dawn Burrell, late August (Houston)
  • Tom Colicchio, Crafted Hospitality (New York)
  • Sarah Grueneberg, Monteverde (Chicago)
  • Stephanie Izard, Girl & The Goat (Chicago)
  • Erick Williams, Virtue Restaurant (Chicago)
  • Brooke Williamson, Playa Provisions (Los Angeles)
  • Claudette Zepeda, VAGA (San Diego)

Beard Award winners and other national personalities:

  • Chris Bianco, Pizzeria Bianco (Phoenix)
  • Jamie Bissonnette, Little Donkey (Boston)
  • Katie Button, Katie Button Restaurants (Asheville, NC)
  • Chris Cosentino, Rosalie Italian Soul (Houston)
  • Jeremy Fox, Rustic Canyon (Santa Monica, CA)
  • Marcus Jacobs, Marjie’s Grill (New Orleans)
  • Steven Redzikowski, Fourteenth Oak (Boulder, Colorado)
  • Stephen Stryjewski, Link Restaurant Group (New Orleans)
  • ​Andrew Zimmern (Minneapolis)

Barbecue stars:

  • Leonard Botello IV, Truth BBQ (Houston)
  • Billy Durney, Hometown BBQ (Brooklyn, New York)
  • Patrick Feges and Erin Smith, Feges BBQ (Houston)
  • Aaron Franklin, Franklin Barbecue (Austin, TX)
  • Greg Gatlin, Gatlin BBQ (Houston)
  • Sam Jones, Sam Jones barbecue. (Ayden, North Carolina)
  • Pat Martin, Martin’s BBQ Joint (Nashville)
  • Robin Wong, Blood Bros BBQ (Houston)


  • Aaron Bludorn, Bludorn (Houston)
  • Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Canje (Austin)
  • Stephen Conklin, Hai Hospitality (Houston)
  • Chris Davies, Underbelly Hospitality (Houston)
  • Kevin Fink, Hestia (Austin)
  • Diego Galicia, Mixtli (San Antonio)
  • Shaun King, Hai Hospitality (Houston)
  • Fermin Nunez, Suerte, Austin
  • Ryan Pera, Agricultural Hospitality (Houston)
  • Greg Peters, Underbelly Hospitality (Houston)
  • Tim Reading, Underbelly Hospitality (Houston)
  • Felipe Riccio, Goodnight Hospitality (Houston)
  • Martin Stayer, Nobie’s (Houston)
  • Rico Torres, Mixtli (San Antonio)
  • Chris Williams, at Lucille (Houston)

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