This year just keeps getting better for Hugo Ortega. Since December, the local chef has since his restaurant Hugo's named to Eater's list of America's 38 best restaurants, he opened his Oaxacan restaurant Xochi to wide acclaim — including more national press — and, most importantly, won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in his sixth year as a finalist.
All of that attention means the rest of the country is finally discovering what Houstonians have known for years. They want to eat Ortega's food. Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that San Francisco chef Michael Mina, a James Beard award winner with more than 30 restaurants across the country, announced that he has invited Ortega to collaborate with him on the latest edition of the MINA Test Kitchen.
Dubbed Mi Almita (my little soul), the three-month long test kitchen will take diners on a tour of Mexico that focuses on "soulful food that highlights time honored traditions and rituals" through dishes such as: huitlasquites corn soup; pozole verde with little neck clams, hominy and pumpkin seeds; and pulpo al carbón, grilled octopus with sweet peppers and caramelized onions. Beverage options will include tequila, mezcal, and Mexican wines.
"I had the opportunity to dine at Hugo’s restaurants when I was in Houston earlier this year,” said Mina in a statement. “I was blown away by the hospitality and cuisine. The bold flavors and ingredients worked so well together, and everything was light and flavorful. I knew I wanted to find a way to work with Hugo.”
The test kitchen begins August 23 with seven to nine dishes that will rotate monthly. A five-course meal only costs $39 (additional courses and beverages are extra). Ortega has already begun working with one of Mina's cooks to refine the recipes, and he will travel to San Francisco to conduct additional training.
“It isn’t often that one gets to work with someone they admire greatly from afar, but when it happens it is an absolute honor and pleasure,” added Ortega. “I have enjoyed collaborating with Chef Mina and his team to create an exciting Mexican menu for the discerning diners of San Francisco, and can’t wait to see how they enjoy it!”
Given that 2017 seems to be the Year of Hugo, odds are the Californians will leave their meals pretty happy. Maybe so happy they'll want their own Ortega restaurant.