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Chris Shepherd is a chef, a tireless promoter of Houston and gives back to a slew of good causes, including Southern Smoke. He founded Southern Smoke in 2014 after his friend Antonio Gianola was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In three years, Southern Smoke has become Houston’s most high profile food event (award-winning chefs from around the country cook each year), and the organization is the largest third-party fundraiser for the MS Society in five states. But it’s not just one event that defines his character or leadership skills. He opened a restaurant based on people in Houston who inspire him and hangs their photos on the wall in the restaurant. He inspires his 200 employees to be better cooks and run better restaurants.

Chris opened Underbelly, his restaurant, to tell the story of Houston food. He highlights not only the people and cultures throughout the city that inspire him, but also the farmers, ranchers and fisherman that supply the restaurant. He uses his skills to highlight others—that’s his personal mission.

In addition to the work he’s done and money raised for Southern Smoke, he dedicated a summer hosting charity dinners to raise money for one student’s tuition for the Art Institute of Houston, his alma mater. He hosted a memorial service (at no charge) for a farmer whose son died in a motorcycle accident. He works directly with farmers and not large corporations to buy food so he can personally know them and impact their bottom line financially. In fact, he has three farmers that only grow for his restaurants—he supports them completely. At work, he takes care of his employees—he’s given large cash advances to employees to buy a house or buy a car to get them to work. He’s paid legal bills for employees that need citizenship. He sends his sous chefs to work in restaurants around the country so they can learn from other chefs in other places. He is dedicated to making people’s lives better in any way he can.

I don’t know anyone with a bigger heart. He gives and gives and gives. He’s also the hardest working person I know.

It would mean an additional $50,000 that can be donated directly to the MS Society in honor of Antonio. He’s spoken to so many people living with MS that have been helped by the MS Society, and the money raised through Southern Smoke will go to research for a cure.

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