Hugo Ortega - Hawaii Food & Wine Festival

TENTH ANNUAL - SAVE THE DATE – OCTOBER 2-25, 2020

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Hugo Ortega

Mi Almita Cantina at The Street Food Hall by Michael Mina - Houston, TX

The Best Chef: Southwest at the prestigious 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards, Hugo Ortega started with very humble beginnings. Ortega was raised in Mexico City and Puebla, Mexico, and learned his love of cooking from his mother and grandmother, a revered mole maker.

At 17, Ortega left Mexico for Houston and began his hospitality career as dishwasher/busboy at Backstreet Cafe before graduating culinary school and becoming its executive chef and owner, along with wife Tracy Vaught. His American Dream continued when they opened Hugo’s, Caracol and Xochi. Hugo is author of two cookbooks, “Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico” and “Backstreet Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Our Neighborhood Café.” The Ortegas are investors in Origen restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico, created the menu for Hugo’s Cocina at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, and have partnered with celebrity chef Michael Mina to create a new concept, Mi Almita, currently open in Honolulu and opening soon in Los Angeles.



 

WHY DID YOU BECOME A CHEF?
Cooking and food is a part of who I am. My mom and grandmother cooked every meal we ate as a family, every day. I learned from them and translated well to the US. I could get a job doing that even without knowing the language well.

HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COOKING IN THREE WORDS?
Layered, complex, sense of “place.”

WHAT’S THE BEST HONOR YOU’VE RECEIVED AS A CHEF?
James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southwest 2017.

WHAT IS YOUR GO-TO MEAL AFTER A BUSY DAY?
Pasta.

HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR TIME WHEN YOU’RE NOT IN THE KITCHEN?
Biking and spinning.

WHAT THE ONE LOCAL INGREDIENT YOU’RE EXCITED TO COOK WITH DURING HFWF19?
The local pineapple is amazing.

HAVE YOU BEEN TO HAWAII BEFORE? WHAT ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO DURING YOUR VISIT?
Yes, I have been to Hawai’i a few times and I always look forward to returning. I love the food, the people, the Aloha spirit and you can’t beat the beaches and the nature that surrounds you. It is truly paradise!

IF YOU WERE NOT A CHEF, WHAT WOULD YOU BE AND WHY?
Soccer player because I loved that sport since I was in school back in Mexico.