'The Oscars for Chefs' highlights Hispanics
The James Beard Foundation Award has announced its semi-finalists, and Hispanics are prominently mentioned.
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The next premiere award night for the nation’s top chefs includes several prominent Hispanic chefs.
Hispanic influence in cooking continues to grow.
The James Beard Foundation (JPF) Award, called “the Oscars of Cooking”, has recently revealed its semi-final list for the 29th annual James Beard Awards taking place on Wednesday, March 27. This year, Hispanics will be well-represented.
First, the host will be Hugo Ortega; Ortega is a previous JBF Award winner.
His remarkable rags to riches story starts in Mexico City, where he was born, according to his profile in Star Chefs.
“In 1984, Ortega immigrated to Houston with a cousin and a friend. He had no contacts or job leads but was determined to make a life for himself in America.” The profile noted further.
Continuing, “After an unexpected turn of bad luck and unemployment, a friend took Ortega to Backstreet Café, where he found employment as a dishwasher and busboy… Tracy Vaught, owner of Backstreet Café and Prego, was impressed with Ortega’s positive attitude and willingness to learn. Ortega worked diligently, familiarizing himself with every aspect of the kitchen. Vaught not only promoted him to the kitchen at Prego, but offered to enroll Ortega in the Culinary Arts program at Houston Community College; he graduated in 1992 and assumed the role of chef at Backstreet Café, where he became executive chef in 1995. Ortega became a U.S. citizen in 1996.”
He and Vaught married in 1994 and have opened three restaurants in the Houston area, most recently Hugo’s, which has been near universally lauded, “being named a “Top Table” by Bon Appetit and making both the “Where to Eat Now in 30 American Cities” and “Restaurants We Love” lists in Gourmet,” the profile further noted.
This is not new. In 2016, NBC ran a profile of the burgeoning Hispanic chefs, featuring five Hispanic chefs.
Featured then was Daniela Soto-Innes.
“Only 5 years old when she started taking after-school cooking classes in her native Mexico, she participated in the professional culinary program offered by her high school when she moved to the States with her family. Internships in Texas, New York and abroad followed, eventually taking her back home to Mexico City to work with chef Enrique Olvera at the world-renowned Pujol,” NBC said in its previous profile.
Soto-Innes won the 2016 Rising Star Award. At the time, she was the head chef at Cosme.
The Rising Star Award goes to chefs under 30 years old.
This year, Soto-Innes, still in her twenties, has made the semi-final round of the Best Chef in New York City, where the field has been narrowed down to 20.
She is now the head chef at Atla, which received a review in New York Eater, which was called “A Single Taco at Atla Costs $12, But It’s Worth It”.
Other prominent Hispanics in line to win big include Maricel Presilla, the first Latin American woman to be invited as a guest chef at the White House.
Presilla is a semi-finalist for Outstanding Chef.
"As a Cuban refugee from a small town, this feels like a fairy tale moment," Presilla told NJ.com in 2015. "But philosophically, I embrace it gratefully with eyes wide open and with a sense of joyful responsibility, because I am also representing the entire Latin America and people who have contributed so much to the American food scene."
That year, she was named on JBG’s list of Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America list.
Other Hispanic chefs who have made the semi-final list include: Don Guerra, a chef at Barrio Bread, in Tucson, Arizona. Guerra is nominated in the Outstanding Baker category.
Juan Contreras, who is the chef at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, California, was nominated in the Best Pastry Chef category.
Ana Castro, who was recently named a co-sous chef at Coulette in New Orleans, Louisiana, was nominated in the Best Rising Chef of the Year category.