Chef Chris Shepherd’s first cookbook serves as the James Beard Award winner’s loving tribute to the vast, sprawling diversity of Houston’s restaurants. Cook Like a Local: Flavors That Can Change How You Cook and See the World (Clarkson Potter), which came out last fall and was coauthored by food writer Kaitlyn Goalen, focuses on his own recipes as well as those from restaurants across the city, resulting in a work that feels at the same time incredibly personal and representative of Houston as a whole.

Throughout the book, Shepherd shares stories about opening (and closing) his first restaurant, the highly regarded Underbelly; eating his way through Houston’s Chinatown; and traveling the world in search of good food. Fans of his restaurants (he currently has four: UB Preserv, Georgia James, One Fifth Mediterranean, and the Hay Merchant) will be pleased to see recipes for UB Preserv’s pickles, the Hay Merchant’s pozole, and his signature braised goat and dumplings. He also includes recipes and profiles from favorite Houston restaurants like Saigon Pagolac, Asia Market, Kong Ju Rice Bakery, London Sizzler, Mala Sichuan Bistro, and more.

Cook Like a Local is divided into six chapters, each focused on a staple of Houston cooking: fish sauce, chiles, soy, rice, spices, and corn. The chapters begin with a primer on the focus ingredients, outlining their origins, how they’re used, and by whom. The recipes that follow elaborate on the versatility of each ingredient; for example, the chiles chapter includes recipes for Sichuan spicy cucumbers, Thai papaya salad, Indian-inspired “puffy tacos,” Italian cauliflower agrodolce, Korean stuffed peppers, Vietnamese crawfish boil, and more. This is the perfect book for those who are dearly missing Houston restaurants and could use some international inspiration for their pantry cooking.

One standout recipe is Vinegar Pie, which Shepherd says was the most popular dessert at Underbelly. He writes: “It’s based on an old Appalachian recipe, modeled after a chess pie. Vinegar stood in for citrus, which was historically expensive and out of reach for the Southern farming class. In this way, it reminds me of so many of the immigrant recipes that I love, where culinary substitutions and adaptations are a necessity to approximate the flavors of home with different ingredients and equipment.”

Vinegar Pie from Cook Like a Local by Chris Shepherd and Kaitlyn Goalen.

Chris Shepherd’s Vinegar Pie

This favorite dessert from the Houston chef’s Underbelly days is based on an Appalachian recipe modeled after a chess pie.


  • 1 thirteen-inch tart pan



  • 11 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • nonstick cooking spray


  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup Korean apple vinegar or neutral-toned vinegar of your choice
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  • Make the crust: In a medium bowl using a handheld mixer, mix the butter and sugar until creamy and completely combined. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Mix in the flour and salt until just combined, making sure not to overmix. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 13-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with nonstick spray.
  • Place the chilled dough on a flour-dusted work surface and roll it into a ½-inch-thick round.
  • Transfer the dough to the prepared tart shell, and trim the edges.
  • Line the shell with parchment or aluminum foil and fill with weights of your choosing (dry beans or rice work well).
  • Bake for 15 minutes, or until the edges start to brown.
  • Remove the pie weights and parchment or foil and finish baking until the bottom of the crust is completely cooked, about 10 more minutes.
  • Make the filling: In a large saucepan, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Add the cornstarch, lemon juice, and salt, whisking until there are no more clumps. Mix in the vinegar and water and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Let it boil for 1 full minute, then remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla. Pour the filling into the baked tart shell and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pie to prevent a skin from forming. Chill overnight before serving.