Houston Hero Hugo Ortega Reveals Xochi, His New Oaxacan Restaurant
It's coming next month.
For a young Hugo Ortega, the beloved chef behind Hugo’s in Houston, days were spent herding 300 goats and celebrations sealed with crocks of smooth, deeply rich mole made by Ortega’s grandmother and her friends. This was life in Oaxaca, the vibrant culinary region in the basin of Mexico.
Now Ortega, along with his brother and pastry chef Ruben Ortega, sommelier Sean Beck and restaurateur Tracy Vaught, is giving locals a taste of his Oaxacan childhood with Xochi, his newest restaurant opening in January inside the new Marriot Marquis Houston.
The restaurant, whose name is a riff on the Nahuatl word for Goddess of Flowers, zeroes in on Oaxacan ingredients like chicatanas—flying ants, which will appear in one of the restaurant's six to eight rotating moles.
There's also Oaxacan cacao, which Ruben is roasting and grinding for deserts like a nut- and praline-filled chocolate tart. The Ortegas are importing many of these ingredients themselves.
Xochi will also feature Oaxaca's iconic street foods, like thin tlayudas fired in the wood-powered oven and topped with pork or mushrooms, as well as tacos and tamales.
As for drinks, Beck is throwing the spotlight on smoky mezcal and introducing new Mexican wines to the state.
For Hugo, the recipe development process has been a journey home, and into his past. “Every time I revisit these recipes, I’m not alone,” he says. “She’s here cooking with me.”
That’s the power of a grandmother’s mole.