This past weekend, a lineup locally and nationally known chefs, restaurateurs, sommeliers, mixologists, cookbook authors and television personalities descended upon the Austin Food & Wine Festival, so we took the opportunity to speak with a handful of chefs participating in the festival.
Below, Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s, Backstreet Café, and Caracol, in Houston discusses his love for traveling, his James Beard Foundation Award nomination, and his favorite Austin restaurants.
Congratulations on your James Beard nomination. What was your reaction to find out that you were once again featured amongst some of the top chefs in the nation?
Excitement, happiness, and relief. I had told my daughter that she has to come this year to share the experience with my wife Tracy and me if I was nominated.
I hate to ask this question, but I’m going to anyways: if not you, who should win Best Chef Southwest?
Justin Yu [of Oxheart]! Houston is on fire. He goes to the beat of his own drum and works very hard.
How do think you as a chef have changed since the start of your career?
I’m more disciplined and targeted about how I spend my time. I am less carefree but more knowledgeable. I’m less selfish and became a mentor. I’m more confident to meet new challenges.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice as a young chef, what would you say?
Less partying and more learning. Travel, meet people, and try new things.
You’re from Houston, so where do you like to stop and dine when you come to Austin?
Clark’s Oyster Bar, El Naranjo, Lenoir, Qui, Barley Swine and Foreign & Domestic are all on my list. Some are old favorites; some will be a first-time visit.
What are some of your favorite spots to dine in Houston at the moment?
Kata Robata, Himalaya, Pax Americana, and The Pass and Provisions.
What chefs are you most excited to see at the Festival?
There are so many Texas chefs I have never met, and it’s a great place to meet folks in our profession. I’d say I’m most excited to broaden my group of chef friends.
The growing season in Texas is always sporadic, but humor me: what are some of the ingredients you’re looking forward to playing with this season?
Squash blossoms and summer tomatoes.
What’s next for you?
I’ll be traveling to Mexico this coming year and I’ll be bringing some key staff members so we can collaborate and bring new dishes to our menus.