Houston had a banner year of James Beard Award semifinalists, with chefs including Anita Jaisinghani, Manabu "Hori" Horiuchi, Grant Gordon and Hugo Ortega all making the long lists — Jaisinghani even made it twice, for Best Chef Southwest and Best New Restaurant for Pondicheri. Anvil Bar & Refuge was also a semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program.
On Monday, Ortega was named a James Beard Award nominee in the Best Chef Southwest category for the first time. The Houston success story — Ortega started as a busboy before rising to executive chef/owner of Hugo's — is nominated alongside Bruce Auden of Biga's on the Banks in San Antonio, Top Chef Texas winner Paul Qui of Uchi in Austin, Arizona's Kevin Binkley, Bruce Davaillon of Dallas' Rosewood Mansion at Turtle Creek and Jennifer Jasinski of Denver's Rioja.
Ortega joins an elite group of Houston chefs: Monica Pope of t'afia and Reef's Bryan Caswell have been nominees in the past, along with Robert Del Grande, who is the only active chef in Houston to win a James Beard Award.
"I am so honored. In shock right now," tweeted Ortega after his nomination was announced live via webcast and Twitter.
One other Houstonian is a James Beard nominee as well: On the journalism side, Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook is nominated in the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award category for her review of Ava Kitchen & Whiskey Bar.
Congrats to all Houston nominees!