He learned to cook without electricity or gas and today he stands out in Houston for his fusion of Mexican flavors

He learned to cook without electricity or gas and today he stands out in Houston for his fusion of Mexican flavors
He learned to cook without electricity or gas and today he stands out in Houston for his fusion of Mexican flavors


The story of Hugo Ortegamarked by its perseverance and passion for the flavors of Mexico, is as delicious as the dishes served in its restaurants. The renowned chef was born in the city of Ortega, a mountainous region between Oaxaca and Puebla, where he grew up with his eight brothers. There he learned, from a very young age, the value of fresh ingredients.

All this thanks to his grandmother, who in a house without electricity or running water taught him the “art of cooking” with firewood and to collect everything that nature offered with very ancient methods. In fact, on several occasions the chef acknowledged that this was his best culinary learning and that, without a doubt, the Mexican customs They shaped his career.

“One of the beauties of Mexico is its geographical location, with coasts in the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, which is connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Florida. From these waters arises a large amount of edible marine life”says Ortega on the Caracol.com blog.

When he grew up he decided to try his luck in the US. Just as hundreds of Mexicans do every year in search of progress and, why not, to live the “American dream”. She washed glasses and plates in restaurants, along the way she graduated from culinary school in Houston Community College and advanced little by little to become executive chef of the Backstreet CafeIn Houston.

This place was founded Tracy Vaught, who later became his wife and partner. Furthermore, this achievement marked the beginning of a journey full of emotions that led Ortega to open several successful restaurants.

Among his most notable projects is Snaila restaurant that pays tribute to the 16 Mexican coasts. Also located in Houston, a place that conquered the chef’s heart.

Ortega tried to capture in Caracol the essence of the marine life that he met on his trips through Mexico, such as the one he made in 2003 to Carmen beachwhen he visited his brother Jose Luis, who worked as a chef at a luxury resort. In fact, Ortega confesses that he chose the name of this restaurant in memory of those days there, preparing snail ceviche.

His other restaurants are Hugo’s, Prego, Xochi and Urbe in Houston, as well as Origen, in Oaxaca.

The menu includes fresh and light dishes as raw and cocktailsfollowed by snacks reminiscent of Mexican street food. The main dishes, which include moles and traditional preparations, are a tribute to the diversity of flavors that Ortega perfected over the years.

Also, their custom wood-fired oven plays a more than important role in the preparation of some of their preparations, such as whole roasted fish and ribs. In turn, the Roasted Oysters, with oysters Gulf and chipotle butterreflect his passion for oysters.

The restaurant’s setting complements the culinary proposal with interiors that They mix rustic and industrial, modern and traditional elements. With a natural color palette of sand, straw and blue, they reference the aquatic life and the beautiful beaches of the Mexican coasts.

Everywhere, including on the custom mat, menus and the logo itself are emblems of Mexican cave paintings historical that pay tribute to the long history of Mexico.

Alongside these old drawings are artworks about aquatic life by the American modernist painter Charlie Harper that adorn the walls.

Hugo Ortega was recognized as one of the best chefs in the southwest andat the James Beard Awards. In fact, it won multiple awards in the Houston Culinary Awards. His ability to fuse the authenticity of Mexican cuisine with the cultural diversity of Houston made him a recognized figure in the city’s gastronomic scene.


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