My Montrose: Chris Shepherd, Underbelly
Chris Shepherd is the owner and executive chef of Underbelly, where he won the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. This January, he’ll open his new restaurant One Fifth in the former location of Mark’s, on Westheimer.
How’s progress coming with One Fifth, your new restaurant concept?
Good, good. We’re working on demolition right now, just walking people through it, and getting everything ready for the build-out. It’s going to be fantastic, a lot of fun.
Opening a new restaurant every year for five years seems like a major challenge.
It is, but it’s more of an opportunity. This gives me the ability to try five new restaurants in a short span of time, and see how it goes. It will keep everyone engaged, keep the thought process going, just like we do at Underbelly. We’re always learning new techniques and new things.
You’ve waited a long time, and turned down a lot of offers to start your second restaurant. What made this the right fit for you?
It’s the location and the building. The building spoke to me; it’s so iconic. I just wanted to be in there. And it’s in the perfect location, close to Da Marco and Hugo’s and all these other cool restaurants. I’ve always wanted to be in Montrose, and I don’t really want to go that far away.
I’m sure you’ve had opportunities to move to L.A. or New York. Why do you stay in Houston?
I get the L.A. pamphlet once a week; I don’t even look at it. It’s just not for me—Houston’s my home; Houston’s where I cut my teeth, and I can’t imagine going anywhere else. This is the town I love. Every time I travel and I get back, it’s like, I’m home. This is where I need to be.
How does it feel to be partly responsible for the Houston culinary scene’s international reputation?
It’s nice, but we have to keep pushing. As a community, we all push together really hard to make sure that Houston’s on the map. It’s not just the high-end restaurants, but also the mom and pop places that are really pushing hard. And people are recognizing that. People come to town just to eat here. They’ll go here, or Pass and Provisions, or Coltivare, or Tony’s, or Cafe Annie’s, and then they’ll hit a couple of Vietnamese places, or Italian places, or Indian places. And they’re blown away—they’re like, this doesn’t happen anywhere else.
As a chef, what keeps you excited and motivated?
Learning new things. It’s like, what are the possibilities? What can I do next? And my staff pushes me as much as I push them. I like to say that the only reason something won’t work is because you haven’t tried it. You have to always push to try something new and different.
Underbelly. 1100 Westheimer Rd. 713-528-9800. underbellyhouston.com