The Story Behind the Dish: A Barbecue Fiasco Gone
Horribly, Horribly Right
Chef Chris Shepherd
Catalan Food and Wine – Houston, TX
Catalan Food and Wine
5555 Washington Avenue
Houston, TX 77007
Chef Chris Shepherd and Sommelier Matthew Pridgen
Catalan Food and Wine - Houston, TX
Candied Pork Butt
Chef Chris Shepherd of Catalan Food and Wine – Houston, TX
Mistakes in the kitchen can be fatal or fantastic—it all depends on how you roll with the punches. Either way, kitchen fires (literal and figurative) make for some really good stories—and every chef thinks his or hers are the best. But Chef Chris Shepherd of Catalan Food and Wine may actually claim the title. Anyone who knows the Houston food scene knows Chris Shepherd. He thinks, breathes, works, and, even occasionally, eats food. Shepherd’s favorite tale is pretty good; it’s the story of the phoenixlike resurrection of a piece of pork, a completely ruined home grill, and the resulting star dish at one of Houston’s hottest restaurants.
It’s a tale he’s told before, which accounts for why the details have a way of changing (depending on how many times you’ve heard it). But what doesn’t change is this: his best friend, Chef Randy Evans of Haven, is present. Alcohol is present. Pork butt is definitely present. The chefs, their wives, and even their dogs are all hanging out one night, and Shepherd is roasting a pork butt for their dinner. He gets to talking and laughing, and in a case of “you turn your back for one minute,” he fails to notice the fat of the meat—and subsequently the grill—catching fire.
Laughing his ass off, Evans asks Shepherd if he’d like to do something about the situation. Shepherd puts out the fire in time to save the patio, but the grill is fried. Dead. And he has one charred piece of meat on his hands, not to mention three hungry people waiting inside for their dinner.
Well, Shepherd thinks to himself, “I’ve got to soften this thing up as much as I can.” So he pulls out some bourbon and brown sugar, sauces the hunk of meat, and sticks it in the oven as low as it can go, for a long, long time. Every now and then he ambles back into the kitchen for the next round. He pulls the meat out of the oven, douses it with booze and sugar, and then heads back to the party. What happens next even Shepherd doesn’t expect. The charred fat, sugar, and bourbon form a candy shell on the pork, and the meat becomes soft and tender. A keeper. Now it just needs a name.
Candied Pork Ass is born.
Today you’ll find it on the menu as Roasted Berkshire Pork Belly with Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup. It’s served with a candied sugarcane in the middle—a homage to Shepherd’s mother-in-law, who still believes selling it by the piece on a stick it will make him a millionaire. It’s that good. Because of one small mistake, Shepherd wound up with a big, savory dish and a story to match it. And while he goes unchallenged, for now, for tales of phenomenal fiascos, we’re pretty sure there are more out there.