2017 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award: Hugo Ortega | Southern Foodways Alliance arrow left envelope headphones search facebook instagram twitter flickr menu rss play circle itunes calendar


Each year, the Southern Foodways Alliance celebrates men and women whose lifework enriches Southern food culture. Seven SFA awards and honors recognize these cultural standard bearers.

2017 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award: Hugo Ortega

Each year, the SFA honors one of our leading lights, a man or woman whose lifework has proved a beacon for us all. And, each year, in recognition of that life of work, we commission a portrait by Oxford, Mississippi artist Blair Hobbs and we toast their life and their work on Saturday night.

The SFA’s Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award goes to an individual whom all thinking eaters should know, the sort of person who has made an indelible mark upon our cuisine and our culture, the sort of person who has set regional standards and catalyzed national dialogues.This year we honor Hugo Ortega, a son of Mexico who endured profound adversity to claim the South, a man who now so fully and completely claims his now hometown of Houston that the mayor, on learning he won the 2017 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest, proclaimed a citywide day of celebration, in his honor.

Those of you who do not already know this son of the New South, began to get to know him over lunch today. And what better introduction for a chef than the food of that chef, inspired by his grandmother, inspired by his beloved Mexico City, and inspired by his fidelity to Texas and its peoples.

Hugo Ortega is now executive chef/co-owner of four Houston restaurants—Backstreet Cafe, Hugo’s, Caracol and Xoch. In addition to his 2017 James Beard Award, Ortega is the author of two cookbooks, Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico and Backstreet Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes From Our Neighborhood Café.



The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


Alex Raij Txikito

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