When Chris Shepherd set out to write his forthcoming book Cook Like a Local, he knew that he didn’t want to fall into any debates over what is or isn’t authentic.
“These are not dishes that are specifically, exactly how they’re described,” Shepherd says. “If you go to a Vietnamese restaurant or Korean restaurant, the dishes in this book are not taken from those restaurants.” Instead, the recipes in Shepherd’s debut cookbook are a product of the chef’s culinary ethos, cultivated in Houston, which encourages diners to seek out the cuisines that are the backbone of their city’s culinary identity.
Out next month via Clarkson Potter, Shepherd co-wrote Cook Like A Local alongside writer and chef Kaitlyn Goalen. Working with Goalen gave him a specific advantage thanks to her connection to vaunted Raleigh restaurant Poole’s Diner. “Kaitlyn is Ashley Christensen’s wife, so everybody from Poole’s Diner got to eat the food from the book first,” he says. “I had a lot of chefs giving me feedback, which was great.”
That feedback was especially necessary when it came to the recipes sourced from the ever-changing menus at Underbelly, the now-shuttered restaurant that earned Shepherd a James Beard Award and his spot in the national spotlight. There, the menu revolved around using every part of whole animals, and working with seasonal ingredients that were often available in limited quantities. “Underbelly was a restaurant built on inconsistency, not consistency,” he says. “I wasn’t writing recipes when dishes were just going to be on the menu for one service. Going back and looking through those menus to find dishes that would work well and actually write recipes for them was the hardest part.”
As Houstonians might expect, Cook Like a Local includes the recipes for Shepherd’s famed Korean braised goat and dumplings and pastry chef Victoria Dearmond’s vinegar pie, arguably Underbelly’s most iconic dishes. Shepherd estimates that he’s prepared that goat-and-dumpling dish upwards of 20,000 times in his career, and just when he thinks he’s tired of the dish, the chewy dumplings and tender goat in spicy gochujang sauce lure the chef back every single time.
Locals will also recognize a supporting cast of Houston’s culinary superstars in the book. Shepherd tapped sushi expert and Kata Robata chef Manabu Horiuchi, better known to Houstonians as Chef Hori, to educate readers about the finer points of rice. Beloved Indian eatery London Sizzler also makes an appearance in the book, as does the equally lauded Mala Sichuan Bistro. “Places like Saigon Pagalac and Mala Sichuan, these restaurants have become family to me,” Shepherd says. “That’s who we’ve learned from, and that’s what makes Houston so great. Being able to sit down, listen, and learn from others, and then go on and pass that on in my own way to everyone else.”
Ultimately, though, Shepherd insists that this book isn’t just another love letter to the Houston culinary scene. Instead of insisting that his readers come to Houston to explore its restaurants, the chef hopes that Cook Like A Local inspires curious eaters to learn more about the food in their own back yards. “This isn’t just a Houston book, this is for everybody in the country,” he says. “I want somebody in Wisconsin to see the chicken wings on the book and learn about masala. It’s about going out and learning from somebody else, dining in restaurants you’re not necessarily comfortable in or familiar with, and learning about a culture.”
Cook Like a Local is set for release on September 3. Before ordering the book, take a peek at some of its most exciting recipes below, including the beloved Korean braised goat and dumplings. (Note: if the text looks small, click on each image for a zoomed-in view.)
Recipes reprinted with permission from Cook Like a Local by Chris Shepherd & Kaitlyn Goalen, copyright © 2019. Photographs by Julie Soefer. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.