clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Houston’s Benchawan Jabthong Painter Wins James Beard Award For Best Texas Chef

The Street to Kitchen chef is the first Houstonian to be awarded in the Beard’s Best Chef: Texas category

Chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter smiles and sits were her hands folded in the dining room of Th Prsrv.
Houston chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter wins James Beard recognition for her culinary skills displayed at her East End Thai restaurant, Street to Kitchen.
Annie Mulligan

On Monday, June 5, Benchawan Jabthong Painter, the chef behind Houston’s Thai restaurant Street to Kitchen, won a James Beard Award in the Best Chef: Texas category.

Jabthong Painter, best known as chef “G,” is this year’s only James Beard Award winner from Houston and the first Houstonian to win in the Best Chef: Texas category, which was created in 2020 but first awarded in 2022. She beat out four other finalists, including Reyna Duong, of Sandwich Hag of Dallas; Emiliano Marentes of ELEMI in El Paso; John Russ of Clementine in San Antonio; and Ernest Servantes and David Kirkland of Seguin’s Burnt Bean Co.

Dressed in a black gown with a colorful shawl made by Thai designer Nata Fashion — an homage to her culture, a teary-eyed chef G took to the awards stage in Chicago with her husband and Street to Kitchen co-owner Graham Painter on her arm.

“I’m a little bit shaking. Thank you guys,” chef G said. “... I moved to Houston Texas eight years ago with a dream one day that I can stand right here. Today, the dream (came) true. I’m really, really happy.”

Later that night in a conversation with Eater Houston, chef G told Eater Houston that she was ecstatic.

“It means a lot to me,” she said. “I’m just the girl who grew up with a family business. If I can do it, you can do it, too.” Chef G thanked her team and her husband for believing her and sticking by her “no matter what,” and she shouted out Houston chef Justin Yu for teaching her the business. Chef G worked for Yu at Theodore Rex before teaming up with Graham to launch their Thai restaurant, Street to Kitchen, in 2020.

Kicking off the restaurant during the pandemic was incredibly tough, she said, but the duo persevered, developing a reputation and a following for G’s “unapologetically Thai cuisine” that has shirked Western expectations. Most recently, the Painters have teamed up with David Skinner of Kemah’s eculent to launch Th Prsrv, an ambitious Thai and Native American tasting menu restaurant that celebrates each culture’s cuisine dating back to 2400 BCE.

As for celebrating in Chicago, chef G says she plans to drink — a lot — but she hasn’t quite thought of how she’ll celebrate in Houston.

“I’m not going to lie,” she told Eater Houston. “I didn't think it was going to come to this part. I was trying not to get too excited, but yeah, we’re going to celebrate over there. I can’t wait.”

In the past, Texas chefs were awarded under the Southwest category. Hugo Ortego, the chef behind Hugo’s and Xochi, was the last Houston chef to win a James Beard Award in the Best Chef Southwest category in 2017, which was a multi-state award. Previous winners in the same category include Justin Yu, who won in 2016, Chris Shepherd in 2014, and Robert Del Grande in 1992. Houston also took home its first national Beard Award in 2022, when cocktail bar Julep, owned by mixologist Alba Huerta, won in the Outstanding Bar category.

How other Houston Beard finalists fared

Two Houston restaurants — East End’s Nancy’s Hustle and Spring Branch’s tasting menu restaurant Tatemó — were also Beard finalists this year. Nancy’s Hustle — one in five finalists in the running for the award for Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program — was beaten out by Ototo, a Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles that’s lauded for its expansive sake collection.

Tatemó, which is helmed by chef Emmanuel Chavez and known for its tortillas, and Dallas’s Restaurant Beatrice, which serves up sustainable Cajun and Creole cuisine, were two of 10 establishments nominated for Best New Restaurant. Kann, a Haitian restaurant from Portland, Oregon, took home the award.

The Beard Awards ceremony, which was hosted at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, brought out culinary royalty and celebrities, including Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, who opened the show. Sherry Pocknett, the chef behind Sly Fox Den Too in Charlestown, Rhode Island, won an award in the Best Chef: Northeast category, becoming the first Indigenous female chef to win a James Beard Award. Olivia Watkins and Karen Washington, co-founders of the Black Farmer Fund, became the first African Americans to receive the Humanitarian Award. And in somewhat related Houston news, Chicago chef and Top Chef: Houston alum Damarr Brown, of Virtue, took home the award for Emerging Chef.

In March, the James Beard Foundation announced the finalists for its 2023 James Beard Awards, what many call the “Oscars of food.” A host of Houston restaurants and chefs were announced as semifinalists in January. Those who didn’t advance to the shortlist include:

Outstanding Chef

Emerging Chef

Outstanding Hospitality

Outstanding Restauranteur

  • Chris Williams, Lucille’s Hospitality Group

Best Chef: Texas

  • Greg Gatlin, Gatlin’s BBQ
  • Ai Le, Nam Giao
  • Kiran Verma, Kiran’s

Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Awards. Eater is partnering with the James Beard Foundation to live stream the awards in 2023.

Nancy's Hustle

2704 Polk Street, , TX 77003 (346) 571-7931 Visit Website

Street to Kitchen

6501 Harrisburg Boulevard, Houston, TX 77011 Visit Website

Tatemó

4740 Dacoma Street, , TX 77092 Visit Website

Julep

1919 Washington Avenue, , TX 77007 (832) 371-7715 Visit Website

Restaurant Beatrice

1111 North Beckley Avenue, , TX 75203 (469) 962-2173 Visit Website

Virtue

1462 E. 53rd Street, Chicago, IL

kann

548 Southeast Ash Street, , OR 97214 (503) 702-0290 Visit Website