hugo's huge gift

Houston star chef dishes out $100,400 donation to future food stars

Houston star chef dishes out $100,400 donation to future food stars

James Beard Foundation dinner Tracy Vaught Hugo Ortega
Tracy Vaught and Hugo Ortega. Photo by Quy Tran
HCC culinary arts building Hugo Ortega lobby
The lobby is now named for Ortega. Courtesy of HCC
HCC culinary arts building exterior
HCC's Culinary Arts Building. Courtesy of HCC
James Beard Foundation dinner Tracy Vaught Hugo Ortega
HCC culinary arts building Hugo Ortega lobby
HCC culinary arts building exterior

One of Houston's most celebrated culinary couples has made a major donation to the institution that helped their success. Chef Hugo Ortega and his wife, restaurateur Tracy Vaught, and their daughter Sophia donated $100,400 to the Houston Community College Foundation.

The gift establishes the Chef Hugo Ortega Endowment, which will provide scholarships to students studying in HCC's culinary arts program. In addition, the lobby of HCC's new Culinary Arts Building will be named in his honor. 

Ortega is one of the culinary arts program's most famous graduates. After arriving in America, Ortega began working as a dishwasher at Vaught's River Oaks restaurant Backstreet Cafe. When he showed an aptitude for cooking, she helped him attend HCC to further his knowledge. Eventually, the two fell in love and got married. In 2017, Ortega won a James Beard Award in the Best Chef: Southwest category for his Montrose restaurant Hugo's. The couple also own Mexican seafood restaurant Caracol and Oaxacan restaurant Xochi. 

"My time at HCC was so special and important to me, and it means a great deal that others looking to find their dream and follow their passion will be assisted by a scholarship started by my family in my name. It is a wonderful addition to my American dream,” Ortega said in a statement.

“We made the donation to Houston Community College and its culinary arts program to honor Hugo’s commitment and hard work on behalf of our family of restaurants, to recognize HCC for the unusual, individualized attention that Hugo received while in the program that allowed him to succeed, and to inspire other students to reach for the stars, even if their journey is a difficult one,” Vaught added.

Opened in 2019, HCC Central’s Culinary Arts Building houses both the culinary arts and baking & pastry arts programs. The Ortega lobby, part of the $11 million, two-story, 38,000-square-foot building, features the chef's name in copper letters on a wood-grained wall. 

"Chef Hugo and his family are starting an endowment at the very college that provided the foundation for his extraordinary career so future culinary arts students may also excel," HCC dean of Consumer Arts & Sciences Center of Excellence Suzette Brimmer said. We are proud and honored by his generosity and commitment to HCC."