James Beard Award Winning Chef Chris Shepherd and local PR star Lindsey Folger Brown bought a house a few years ago. They have since restored it. In fact, for the past three Christmases, Brown has declared: “We gave each other the house [as gifts]. ”
This Christmas, Shepherd had other ideas.
“There was a present under the tree,” he tells CultureMap. “And I told her, ‘It’s for you.'”
He had gone out and bought a wedding ring which he presented to Brown. “And we got on a plane to New Orleans and got married,” Brown adds.
When Chris met Lindsey
The couple had been friends for a long time before falling in love. Brown had worked for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in 2008 when Shepherd was working on starting his own restaurant. That was precisely when the national media was just starting to pay attention to what was happening in Houston’s culinary world. Brown wanted to find a way to take advantage of this.
“There were four cooks in one room: Randy Evans, Chris, Monica Pope, and Bryan Caswell, and they were all talking to each other and ignoring me,” laughs Brown. “And they talked about all of these places and I realized that I had never been to any of them.”
But what came out of those sessions was Where Chefs Eat, a series of cook-led food tours of H-Town. Shepherd made about half of it. “We met by hanging out on a bus and eating,” she says.
What happened next was, of course, the stuff of Houston culinary lore: Shepherd would open Underbelly and all of its descendants, win the 2014 James Beard Best Chef: Southwest Award, and Houston would receive the culinary reputation of everyone in the bayou the city knew it was was earned. From the spotlight, Brown and Shepherd fell in love.
A recipe for romance
Brown and Shepherd soon found their lives “intertwined in several ways,” says Brown. The transition was surprisingly easy to navigate, and the chemistry between Brown and Shepherd was undeniable.
When Shepherd decided to propose to Brown, he did so at the birthday party of their mutual friend, photographer Julie Soefer. Soefer decided she wanted to do a giant lobster cook for the occasion, and Shepherd said, “I’ll do it.” He also asked her if he could take the opportunity to suggest something to Brown.
“She told me, ‘Hell yeah! It’s time!'”
In true cooking fashion, Shepherd Brown put Brown’s ring on a lobster and presented it to her. “Julie always blows out her birthday,” says Brown. “But that was extra.”
Obviously Brown said yes. “I love that Chris is so generous and thoughtful,” added Brown.
“Everything she loves about me, she did to me,” thinks Shepherd. “She made me a better person.”
A great day at the Big Easy
The couple originally considered getting married on January 10, 2021. Brown and Shepherd have made it a tradition that they spend four or five days in New Orleans after Christmas. Shepherd’s holiday catering and restaurant business then takes a breath and Brown, who now runs her own public relations firm and has a large number of hospitality customers, can take a break as well.
“And New Orleans is quiet too,” says Shepherd. “Usually the sugar bowl is right around the New Year’s Eve, but if you can get on and off before then, you have the place to yourself.”
On one of these visits, they befriended Chef Ryan Prewitt, who took home the James Beard Best Chef: South Award in 2014 and ran Pêche on New Orleans’ famous Magazine Street. Brown and Shepherd thought it was great to have their wedding ceremony and reception in his restaurant, and Prewitt, who fully agreed with the idea, wanted to officiate.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on and people were warned not to hold large gatherings indoors, it became clear that the ceremony could not go ahead as planned.
Instead, Shepherd and Brown were married on December 26, 2020 in a tiny private room in House of Luz in New Orleans, where Prewitt, ordained minister by Universal Life Church, presided over the ceremony.
“And he opened with a line from Prince,” says Shepherd, offering props to his friend. “Beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called life.”
The couple told their families they were fleeing and had everyone put the wedding on Zoom. Julie Soefer and her husband Chris Vandewater were the witnesses along with Ryan’s wife, Camille. Before the ceremony, there were snacks and champagne at Brennan’s. After the ceremony there was a champagne toast with a mug, Brown’s favorite, followed by cocktails at French 75. Of course, the couple went to Pêche for dinner on the wedding day.
“Of course we wish our families could have been with us,” says Brown. “But we don’t know when any of this will end. That’s why we pulled the trigger.”
As the couple look to the year 2021, they hope not only for an end to the pandemic, but also for a celebration to mark their wedding. After all, there’s the little thing that Brown doesn’t have a wedding ring.
“If I give that to her,” says Shepherd, “then it’ll be okay to have a big party.”
Wedding dress: Ulla Johnson “A random purchase on Goop.com about a month ago,” said Brown
Bridal flowers: a prop from one of Julie’s recent photo shoots
Groom’s outfit: Hamilton shirts
Witnesses: Julie Soefer, Chris Vandewater and Camille Prewitt
Conference location: House of Luz
Celebrant: Ryan Prewitt
Cocktails and food: C.Hampagne and snacks at Brennan’s, cocktails in the French 75 Bar, dinner at Peche
New Orleans Hotel: House of Luz
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