My Montrose: Hugo Ortega

By | April 17, 2017

Ortega was recently received his fifth straight nomination for Best Chef-Southwest by the James Beard Foundation. (Also nominated is Jianyun Ye, the chef at Houston’s Mala Sichuan). The winner will be announced on April 24.

Congratulations on yet another nomination!

Thank you so much. What can I say, it’s an amazing run. I’m just happy to be in this position.

Do you think this will be the year you win?

I can’t say. I take it to heart every time I’m nominated, because you never know if it will be the last time. I enjoy it, and of course I hope with all my heart that it happens. But if not, it’s okay.

A Houston chef has won the award for two of the last three years—Underbelly’s Chris Shepherd in 2014 and Oxheart’s Justin Yu last year. It seems like the James Beard Foundation has a love affair with Houston.

Chris and Justin have worked very hard, and they earned it. There’s no easy way to get that award, and I’m just happy it happened for them. It’s great for our community, it’s great for our city, and I thank the James Beard Foundation for noticing that we’re working very hard here in Houston. We’re expressing ourselves in a big way, culinary-wise. We’re just so culturally rich, and it’s amazing how many types of food you can find here.

Your new restaurant Xochi is getting wonderful reviews, including recently in Texas Monthly.

I always follow my heart when it comes to new opportunities. Things fell in place for Xochi. I was very happy we were able to express our love for Oaxacan cuisine. Oaxaca is an amazing place, culturally and culinary-wise. It’s as rich as any part of the world. Xochi is my tribute to Oaxacan cuisine.

Your menu is pretty adventurous—there are ants and grasshoppers in some of the dishes.

Our city is ready for it. People are ready for all the delicacies that Mexico has to offer. Eating grasshoppers in Oaxaca is like eating popcorn—people pop handfuls of them in their mouths at a time. It’s a snack.

You now have three restaurants in Houston: Hugo’s, Caracol, and Xochi. Are you looking to open any more?

I would never say no to a good opportunity. But it has to come from the heart. That’s the most important thing.

Okay, thanks so much for speaking with me! I’ll be rooting for you to win the James Beard Award on April 24.

Thanks. And listen, please let me know when you want to come to Xochi and try some of the grasshoppers, or the mole made with chicatanas [ants].

Okay, I may take you up on that!

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