Executive Pastry Chef
James Beard Award-nominated Pastry Chef Ruben Ortega was raised in Mexico City and Puebla, Mexico, and learned his love of cooking and baking from his aunt, who taught him how to knead dough by hand in a hollow tree trunk. At age 17, Ruben left Mexico for the United States, landing in California and eventually joined his older brother Hugo in Texas. Ruben studied at the Culinary Arts Program at Houston Community College, and won first-place honors at the Texas Culinary Federation’s statewide contest in 1993. Ruben was the opening pastry chef for 4 of the award-winning H Town Restaurant Group concepts – Hugo’s, Caracol, Xochi and URBE – and has also redeveloped the pastry programs at the two other concepts, Backstreet Cafe and Prego. He also established a full bread and pastry program at URBE, which opened in 2021. Ruben has referred many people to HCC’s culinary program to further their skills and passions, and has hired recently graduated students from HCC to work in the various kitchens, several of whom have gone on to be pastry consultants or open their own businesses. He was named Pastry Chef of the Year at 2019 Tastemaker Awards hosted by Culturemap, and Pastry Chef of the Year at the 2003 Houston Culinary Awards. He worked with brother Hugo Ortega and sister-in-law Tracy Vaught on two cookbooks – Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico (2012) which he co-authored and was named an essential cookbook by Saveur magazine, and Backstreet Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Our Neighborhood Cafe (2013) – and is known for his amazing, made-from-scratch Mexican chocolate and creative and whimsical desserts. Ruben is a semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef for the 2022 James Beard Foundation Awards. In May 2022, Vaught established an endowment in Ruben’s name Houston Community College’s Culinary Arts Program to support current and future HCC culinary students.