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Jimmy Kimmel Presents $1 Million Check to Celebrity Chef, But Chris Shepherd’s Vital Nonprofit is the Real Big Winner

Houston-Hatched Southern Smoke Gets a Who Wants To Be a Millionaire Moment

BY // 11.30.20

The cheers erupted across Hay Merchant Sunday night when New York chef David Chang correctly answered the final question on ABC’s Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, thus winning $1 million that he had pledged to Houston chef Chris Shepherd’s Southern Smoke Foundation.

Shepherd and his fiancee Lindsey Brown hosted a socially-distanced watch party at the Montrose haunt where an excited celebration ensued when Kimmel advised Chang that indeed Benjamin Harrison was the first president to have electricity in the White House.

The founder of the Momofuku empire, author and television personality made history that evening as the first celebrity to win the big prize.

The $1 million is a windfall for the foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund that is helping hospitality workers whose jobs have been upended by COVID-19. With typical Southern Smoke grants at $2,000 each, the prize potentially provides financial relief to 500 individuals in crisis. This the second million dollar contribution made to the foundation since the coronavirus pandemic closed restaurants and bars across the nation last March.

“I’m so honored that Dave chose Southern Smoke as his charity,” Shepherd says in a statement. “Now, more than ever, with indoor dining shut down in many parts of the country and temperatures dropping and prohibiting outdoor dining, food and beverage industry employees are desperate. These funds will help so many people.”

Chang and Shepherd nourished their friendship when Chang participated in the Houston chef’s first Southern Smoke fundraiser in 2017.  He has since been a fan of the aid that the foundation provides to hospitality workers across the country. So it was a natural for him to choose the foundation as his recipient.

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“The real issue isn’t about me or restaurants but the people who work the restaurants and the fact that they don’t have a safety net,” Chang said in an interview with USA Today. “Unfortunately, a lot of the assistance is being bogged down by politics. We need to be helping the people in need.”

The foundation resources continue to grow as the Houston Lexus Dealers Association is contributing a 2021 Lexus IS, valued at $45,000, for the Southern Smoke ALL IN Luxury Vehicle Raffle. The $100 tickets are available here. The winner will be announced on January 1.

Since its founding in 2017, Southern Smoke has provided close to $6 million to hospitality workers in distress. Chang’s $1 million gift will surge that total to just shy of $7 million.

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