Keynote Conversation: Johnny Hernandez & Hugo Ortega
Join two award-winning and well-respected Texas chefs for an in depth conversation on food, family, culture, and our industry. Chefs Johnny and Hugo will discuss how they each find inspiration and translate that into infectious loyalty and culture within each of their businesses and restaurants. We'll also hear about their commitment to the communities they are apart of, both in Texas and Mexico, and also the friendly competition of food between San Antonio, where Chef Johnny Hernandez calls home, and Houston, where Chef Hugo Ortega lives. You won't want to miss this dynamic conversation!
Chef Johnny Hernandez is a celebrated chef, entrepreneur, and founder and President of Grupo La Gloria and True Flavors Inc.. He is one of the premier Mexican cuisine chefs in the United States and a recognized authority on Mexican cuisine and culture.
Chef Hernandez first garnered notoriety as a rising star on the culinary scene in 2010 with the launch of his acclaimed flagship concept, La Gloria. His culinary ventures have since expanded to become Grupo La Gloria, a diverse and growing portfolio of signature restaurants and culinary projects.
Chef Hernandez was born and raised in a community of first-generation Mexican-American families and grew up surrounded by the foods and traditions of interior Mexico that made their way across the border. Encouraged by his father to become a chef, he attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York. Johnny began his career at a number of exclusive resort destinations, including the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada and the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara, California. Upon returning to San Antonio in 1994, he opened his first venture, True Flavors Catering which earned national recognition for catering excellence.
The most profound influence on Chef Hernandez’s culinary style has been his extensive travels throughout Mexico. His time spent exploring the cultural nuances of each region’s art, agricultural, and street foods has shaped his vision to create authentic and accessible interior Mexican cuisine for American diners. His mission is to celebrate and preserve traditional Mexican food, ingredients and techniques. This mission serves as the guiding principle for creating unique dining experiences that reflect the rich and diverse flavors and culture of Mexico.
Chef Hernandez has received acclaim in publications such as Texas Monthly, Bon Appetit, Poder, Saveur, Travel & Leisure, Food & Wine, Martha Stewart Magazine, Garden and Gun, NBC Latino, Tasting Table and Southern Living. He has been featured as a guest judge on Bravo’s Top Chef and has appeared on the Cooking Channel’s Man Fire Food and Simply Ming, as well as Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and Food Paradise. In 2016, Chef Hernandez showcased his culinary expertise and the flavors of Mexico at the White House as Guest Chef for President Barack Obama.
The winner of Best Chef: Southwest at the prestigious 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards started with very humble beginnings but is now considered a premier Mexican/Latino chef. 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, and recently opened in The Street Food Hall by Michael Mina on Honolulu, Hawaii.
Hugo was a James Beard Award finalist for six consecutive years, 2012-2017, and took the top prize in 2017. He has been invited twice to do guest chef dinners at the acclaimed James Beard House in NYC, has participated in numerous James Beard Celebrity Chef Tours across the country, and was recently asked to prepare the main course for the James Beard Foundation Awards Media & Journalism gala dinner in NYC.
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.