From Dishwasher to Renowned Chef: Hugo Ortega's Journey

ByLaura Taglialavore KTRK logo
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
From Dishwasher to Renowned Chef: Hugo Ortega's Journey
Chef Hugo Ortega moved to Texas when he was 18. He worked his way up from dishwasher to busboy to line cook and now owns and operates four high-end restaurants.

Hugo Ortega's name is well-known in Houston. He's executive chef/co-owner at four top local restaurants - Hugo's, Backstreet Café, Xochi and Caracol. Last year, he won Best Chef of the Southwest at the prestigious James Beard Awards.

But he never forgets his roots. Growing up in rural Mexico, he herded 300 goats and learned to grind corn for masa. He credits his grandmother with being the primary influence on his traditional Mexican cuisine.

As a teenager, Ortega crossed the border into Texas and eventually found a job as a janitor. He spent a short time homeless before he got a job as a dishwasher at Backstreet Café in River Oaks. It was there that he met executive chef Tracy Vaught, a woman who would change his life.

ABC13 & You caught up with Chef Hugo Ortega to hear about his journey to becoming a celebrated chef.

Ortega's four restaurants are all participating in Houston Restaurant Weeks from August 1 - September 3. The month-long fundraiser for the Houston Food Bank features discounted menu prices at many of Houston's finest restaurants.