September is going to be a busy month for Chris Shepherd.
On the first of that month he’ll open One Fifth Mediterranean, the third part of his five-year, five-concept voyage that replaces One Fifth Romance Languages (which closes tonight). On the last day of that month he’ll host Southern Smoke, his annual festival celebrating barbecue, though that’s not all that the event will feature. And sometime in between, he says, he’ll open Georgia James, the long-awaited steakhouse in the old Underbelly location.
“Late September for Georgia James,” Shepherd said Monday. He added that once his One Fifth Mediterranean staff is trained, he’ll turn his attention to the steakhouse staff.
In some ways a spinoff of One Fifth Steak, the first of Shepherd’s One Fifth series, Georgia James will continue with cast-iron-seared steaks and bring back the Baller Board, but will also reflect a more personal side of Shepherd. We’re not just talking about naming the restaurant after his parents, but also about how he wants to serve patrons.
“What would it look like if you walked into my home? That’s the idea we’re trying to translate,” he said. It’ll be upscale for sure, but you might be enjoying a meal set to the music of Billy Squier, or later at night, Metallica. “There are a lot of steakhouses that are classically driven, and that’s not what I want. I want something that’s going to push the soul.”
“Super fun,” is another way he’s putting it. So there’s that, but getting One Fifth Mediterranean open will come first. For research, Shepherd traveled to Philadelphia and visited with Israeli chef Michael Solomonov, a multiple James Beard Award winner who has earned plaudits for his inventive takes on traditional Israeli cuisine.
In preparing the menu, Shepherd first aims to “do the classics right,” from baba ghanoush to the simple cucumber-tomato-red-onion salad that can be altered and interpreted about a thousand ways depending on where in the Mediterranean you’re eating. “We’re having to learn a whole new realm of words, and a realm of history about where things are coming from,” he said.
For Shepherd, that’s probably more fun than trying to roll pasta. “My hands are like 170 degrees. Pasta just started melting,” he said about some of the more challenging work at One Fifth Romance Languages, which specializes in Italian, Spanish, and French cuisines. That closes tonight with a final family meal in which diners are at the mercy of the kitchen.
Shepherd said he learned a lot with Romance Languages, and that both chef de cuisine Matt Staph and pastry director Victoria Dearmond “just crushed it.” But he was taught in French cuisine and of course always thought he’d want to open a French restaurant. The result?
“It was fun, but would I do it again? I don’t know,” he admitted.
When compared to everything else Shepherd has going on, Southern Smoke is a familiar friend. Now in its fourth year, the festival that began as a fundraiser to help boost awareness of multiple sclerosis has evolved into a full celebration of, basically, looking out for one another.
“Our motto has always been ‘Taking care of our own.’ We want to see how we can push that even further,” he said. So the festival both gives to the National MS Society and back to food-service-industry workers who are hit with an emergency that isn’t covered by insurance.
This year’s festival, held on September 30, is headlined by Matthew Rudofker, director of culinary operations at Momofuku, and Tae Strain, executive chef at Momofuku CCDC. Maybe on that day Shepherd will get to relax and bask in the glow of two new restaurants and another successful festival. Or maybe that glow will just be the plumes pushing out of the smoker. Soon we’ll know.