In 1983, geologist-turned-restaurateur Tracy decided to forsake the plotting of America’s geothermal energy fields for a more people-oriented profession when she opened her first restaurant, Backstreet Cafe, with her uncle in an old house on the edge of Houston’s River Oaks. It was the turning point of her career and life. She met and married Hugo Ortega, whom she hired to work at Backstreet Cafe, and together they have opened Hugo’s (2002), Caracol (2013) and Xochi (2017), and published two cookbooks: Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico (2012) and Backstreet Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Our Neighborhood Cafe (2013). The Houston native has been recognized for her accomplishments by the Houston Business Journal and The Wine Enthusiast, is a two-time semi-finalist for Outstanding Restaurateur for the James Beard Foundation Awards, was named Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year by the Texas Restaurant Association and Restaurateur of the Year at the Houston Culinary Awards. She also recently was selected to serve on a special three-person “She Means Business” panel event sponsored by Facebook. Tracy is currently a board member of the Texas Restaurant Association. Tracy is also co-operator of Third Coast Restaurant and conference center, located in the Texas Medical Center, and part owner of Prego restaurant in Rice Village and Origen restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico. Tracy and Hugo were approached by celebrity chef Michael Mina in 2017 to do a “pop-up” concept at his Mina Test Kitchen in San Francisco, and Mi Almita was born. The concept will become a brick and mortar restaurant in Los Angles in early 2019. They and their team also created the menu for Hugo’s Cocina which is located in Terminal C at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.
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). Tracy and Hugo are also investors in Origen restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico and with their team created the menu for Hugo’s Cocina in Terminal C at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. In 2017, Hugo was approached by celebrity chef Michael Mina to do a “pop-up” concept at his Mina Test Kitchen in San Francisco, and Mi Almita was born. The concept will become a brick and mortar restaurant in Los Angles in early 2019. He was a James Beard Award finalist for six consecutive years, 2012-2017. Hugo 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.
Executive Pastry Chef
Ruben 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. A 1991 graduate of the Culinary Arts Program at Houston Community College, Ruben won first-place honors in 1993 at the Texas Culinary Federation’s statewide contest. He spent two-and-a-half years with chef/restaurateur Michael Cordúa and his award-winning Américas and Churrascos restaurants as pastry cook before becoming pastry chef at Aries restaurant. He was named Pastry Chef of the Year at the 2003 Houston Culinary Awards, and has worked with brother Hugo and sister-in-law Tracy on two cookbooks: Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico (2012) and Backstreet Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Our Neighborhood Cafe (2013).
Director of Operations
Carlos comes from a family of restaurant/hospitality professionals, including his parents and grandparents on both sides. He started his own career at age 16 as an expediter at Hugo’s. He went through all of the front-of-house positions at Hugo’s, including bartender, busser, runner, server and eventually manager by age 20. He then was General Manager of Backstreet Cafe for two years before returning to Hugo’s in 2009 as General Manager, and in 2013, with the opening of Caracol, was promoted to Director of Operations over the three restaurants. Carlos enjoys learning more the business side of the industry in his current position, working side-by-side with Tracy Vaught. The native Houstonian bases himself at Caracol, where you can still find him “working the floor” on weekend nights. Carlos says that was part of the agreement in taking the Director position – “it’s just in my blood.”
Like many college students, Sean worked as a waiter to supplement his income, but he quickly discovered his love of and talent for wine. Born in Rochester, New York, Sean graduated from the University of Houston’s prestigious Honors College, majoring in English and History. The full breadth of his palate and talent can be seen in the distinct wine and beverage programs he has created and continually refreshes at Backstreet Cafe, Hugo’s and Caracol, which consistently win accolades in national competitions. Sean has been invited to sit on judging panels locally, nationally and internationally, and Charles M. “Bear” Dalton of Spec’s Fine Wines & Spirits has referred to Beck as the “Dean of Houston Sommeliers.” He has been awarded Serviceperson of the Year and Favorite Mixologist and Outstanding Wine Service Award at the Houston Culinary Awards. Nationally, Beck is one of just seven sommeliers picked to represent www.wineanswers.com, an industry-run site dedicated to getting more people into drinking and enjoying wine.
Beatriz is one of the newest members of the H Town team, but she has already proved herself invaluable. She works side-by-side with Chef Hugo as he develops dishes and updates menus, assists with event preparation and teaching new recipe to kitchen staff. Beatriz was born in Guadalajara, Mexico to a family who loved to gather for celebrations which always included wonderful food. She always knew she wanted to be a chef, and after marrying and moving to the U.S. in 2001, she made that dream come true. She is a graduate of the Art Institute of Houston Culinary Arts Program with associates degrees in Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry. Though she lives and works in Houston, Beatriz first met Chef Hugo and Chef Ruben at El Cellar de Can Roca in Girona, Spain when she had an apprenticeship there and the brothers were also there to work in their award-winning kitchen by invitation of the Roca brothers.
Director of Human Resources & IT and assistant to Tracy & Hugo
To say Taj is a jack of all trades would be an understatement. She handles everything from menu layout and email campaigns to payroll and Human Resources…and everything in between. Taj first began working at Backstreet Cafe as hostess in 1999 and, except for a short year-and-a-half break at Bank of America, has been a part of the H Town family ever since. Taj works hard to take care of our little family that has gone from 50 employees to almost 500currently. She was born in Reno, Nevada and raised in Houston, where she is raising two young sons.