For Underbelly's great new wine list, chef Chris Shepherd collaborated with an unexpected talent: Houston rapper Bun B.
At the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen last year, I sat down for a few minutes one afternoon to chat with my fellow Houstonian Chris Shepherd, the insanely talented cook and owner of Houston's acclaimed Underbelly restaurant and 2013 F&W Best New Chef. Somehow the conversation turned to the wine lists and how boring a lot of them are, and I think eventually we both decided how interesting it’d be if he took his wine list to the next level.
I didn’t think much more about that, but clearly Shepherd did. At least, that’s my takeaway from looking at the new Underbelly wine list, which is partly a comic strip about Shepherd’s life in wine and partly a wackitudinous, opinion-filled, quasi-magazine that also happens to tell you what wines you could have with your pecan-smoked beef neck or cha cha-style snapper; it's also partly a completely unlikely collaboration with legendary Houston rapper Bun B (Underbelly wine director Matthew Pridgen plays a big role in it, too).
I asked Shepherd how Bun B's role had come about. “It started because Bun and me are both real big Texans fans. He’s been to some of the tailgates we do, and we’ve done some radio stuff together," Shepherd said. "So I wanted to call him and see if he wanted to do something together, and he was like, ‘This is going to be awesome.’ I thought, ‘whoa,’ and asked if he wanted to come taste some wines with me, and he was like, ‘I’m down.’”
Soon, the two were in the back of the restaurant with 20 bottles of wine. "We did two or three 3-hour sessions," Shepherd says. "Hearing Bun's version, what comes out of his mouth while he's tasting, was so cool."
The result—which the chef and the rapper intend to amplify with future tastings together—is a wine list peppered with both Shepherd and Bun’s takes on bottles, some straightforward, some more irreverent. For instance, about a German rosé on the list, Shepherd says, “Looks like grape juice, but it ain’t grape juice. It’s real wine. Looks like a white but tastes like a red.” Bun B’s comment? “Asking for trouble on this one.”
Couldn’t agree more.