A few years ago, I had the good fortune to attend one of the inaugural “Where the Chefs Eat” culinary tours of Houston (www.houstonculinarytours.com) , which introduced participants to a bevy of eateries that aren’t on the radar of most visitors. We ate cabrito accompanied by live mariachi at El Hidalguense, an unassuming restaurant on Long Point Road; compared barbecue at three sites known for their different styles; explored the foods of Thailand and India until we thought we might burst; then wrapped up with an exploration of the vast ethnic-food aisles at 99 Ranch Market—all accompanied by such nationally regarded chefs as Monica Pope, Hugo Ortega, Randy Evans, and Chris Shepherd, who observed, “I think a lot of people are afraid to get out of their comfort zones. When they do, though, it becomes more than just going out to eat; it becomes an education into another culture.”
Shepherd, who now helms the kitchen at Underbelly, a Houston restaurant that aims to illustrate the city’s rich cultural history through food, still gives credit to the mom-and-pop chefs, farmer’s markets, and restaurants that inspire him, both in the display of artful photos in Underbelly’s foyer and in a new series of collaborative dinners—dubbed the “Off the Wall” dinner series— staged at Underbelly.
Next up: On May 18, Shepherd teams up with ‘bycatch king” PJ Stoops, who provides fish for several high-end restaurants in the city and will soon open a Northern Thai restaurant in the Heights, along with chefs at Asia Market, a restaurant that Shepherd calls “one of his favorite Thai restaurants in the city.” Other upcoming collaborative dinners feature dim sum (June 8), Vietnamese fare (July 13), and barbecue (August 3). Tickets to each dinner cost $100 and include food, wine, and gratuity.
Proceeds from the “Off the Wall” series benefit the new Underbelly Scholarship at the Art Institute of Houston, which assists selected students in earning culinary degrees. See www.underbellyhouston.com.