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The winner of Best Chef: Southwest at the prestigious 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards started with very humble beginnings.  Hugo was raised in Mexico City and Puebla, Mexico, and learned his love of cooking from his mother and grandmother, a revered mole maker. At age 17, he left Mexico for Houston and began his career in the restaurant industry as a dishwasher and busboy at Backstreet Cafe before graduating from culinary school and later becoming its executive chef and owner, along with wife Tracy Vaught. His American Dream continued when they opened Hugo’s in 2002, featuring regional Mexican cuisine; Caracol, a Mexican coastal kitchen, in Houston’s Galleria area in 2013; and Xochi, celebrating the flavors of Oaxaca, in early 2017 in the Marriott Marquis Houston Downtown. Hugo has published two cookbooks: Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico (2012) and Backstreet Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Our Neighborhood Cafe (2013). Ortega was a James Beard Award finalist for six consecutive years, 2012-2017, before becoming the first Mexican-born chef to win the award.  Ortega is one of Houston’s most acclaimed chefs and believes that a chef is only as good as the last meal he cooked. He remains a fixture in his four restaurant kitchens, is an avid bicyclist, and enjoys spending time at the beach with his family.

More about Hugo Ortega

What is your ultimate comfort food?Tamales de Elote, Pozole, Tacos de Chicharrones y Guacamole, Fried ChickenIf you weren't a chef, what would you be?If I wasn't a chef, I'd want to be a composer or musicianWhat three things are always in your pantry?Pickled jalapenos, popsicles(not exactly a pantry item but I love them), cereal, peanutsIf you could cook with anyone in the world, who would it be?I'd love to cook with Thomas Keller (living) or James Beard and/or Julia Child (deceased)