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Houstonian takes home James Beard Award for 'Best Chef in Texas'

"Chef G" runs a small restaurant on Houston's East End called Street to Kitchen.

HOUSTON — It's not that hard for us Houstonians to believe, but for the rest of the world, we want you to know that the "Best Chef in Texas" is in our neck of the woods.

Houston chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter or “Chef G" was crowned the "Best Chef in Texas" Monday during the James Beard Awards, which are given to the best of the best restaurants and cooks in the U.S.

Chef G runs Street to Kitchen, a small restaurant on Houston's East End with a big reputation for serving authentic Thai food.

The restaurant is a tiny spot with just 10 tables. Waiters work the room as if they were performing in a ballet, squeezing through tight spaces, announcing their moves, “Coming through” or “Corner!”

Who is Chef G?

Chef G is from Thailand, where she started cooking as a kid. She said she's been cooking since she was about 6 or 7 years old because her grandmother had a neighborhood restaurant.

While in Bangkok, she met and married Houstonian Graham Painter. The couple later moved to Houston where they opened their restaurant during the pandemic, originally as a takeout place.

It is unapologetically authentic. No substitutions or changes.

“You can ask for it and we love to say 'no' on it," Chef G jokes.

She explains if the food is missing even one ingredient, the flavor changes.

The spices and herbs are just like back home.

“If you come for dinner, we have mild, medium, and hot spicy and 'grandma spicy,'" she said.

Yep, that's the spicy that makes your nose sneeze and eyes water. Grandma tough!

Street to Kitchen is not fancy. It's on Harrisburg, obscured by a freeway overpass and literally sits next door to a gas station. Chef G said it was perfect for her.

“If you go to Thailand you will find a lot of good restaurants in gas stations. I saw this spot. I feel like home," she said.

The Painters flew their entire staff of 11 to Chicago for the James Beard Awards on Monday.

There were two Houston restaurants that made it to the finals of this year's James Awards. Tatemó was nominated for Best New Restaurant and Nancy's Hustle was up for Outstanding Wine and Beverages. Neither won but proved to the rest of the world that Houston has some of the best food -- and drinks -- on the map.

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