Main content starts here, tab to start navigating

Hugo Ortega

Executive Chef/Owner

The winner of 2017 Best Chef: Southwest James Beard Foundation Awards started with very humble beginnings.  Hugo Ortega was raised in Mexico City and Puebla and learned his love of cooking from his mother and grandmother, a revered mole maker. At 17, he left Mexico for Houston and began his career in the industry as a dishwasher and busboy at Backstreet Cafe before graduating from Houston Community College Culinary Arts program and later becoming its executive chef and owner, along with wife Tracy Vaught. His American Dream continued with openings of Hugo’s, Caracol, Xochi and URBE. Hugo has published two cookbooks: Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico and Backstreet Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Our Neighborhood Cafe. Tracy and Hugo are investors in Origen restaurant in Oaxaca, and created the menu for Hugo’s Cocina at IAH airport. Hugo is the first Mexican-born chef to win a James Beard Award, and June 20, 2017 was declared Hugo Ortega Day in Houston by Mayor Sylvester Turner in honor of the award; and Hugo was bestowed the 2017 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award from Southern Foodways Alliance.  In 2019, Vaught established the Hugo Ortega Endowment Houston Community College’s Culinary Arts Program to support current and future HCC culinary students, and the lobby of the new building is named in Hugo’s honor.