Chef Hugo Ortega Happy to be Back in the Kitchen and (Sort Of) Back on the Bike
Ortega's brother-in-law snapped this photo shortly after the accident.
Photo by Rafael Espinal
At the beginning of July, Chef Hugo Ortega of Hugo's and Backstreet Cafe was injured in a bicycle accident. He was out of the kitchen for about ten days while he recovered, and he tells us that the accident helped him re-evaluate his priorities and change his exercise routine.
"I love my bike," Ortega says, "But when you ride faster, the margin of error is very limited. I had a bad day that day, but things are much better now."
Ortega broke two ribs in the accident, but the primary injury was to his clavicle, which required eight pins at the time of the injury. He now has a six-inch metal plate in his clavicle. He chuckled when asked how long the plate will have to stay there and if it's a permanent addition to his body.
"Hmm, that's good question," Ortega says. "I'm concerned about that. I have an appointment in six weeks, so at that time I'll ask the doctor about it."
Not to worry, though. A newly bionic Ortega is already back at work planning his next restaurant, Caracol, which will open in the new BBVA Compass Plaza complex sometime in the fall. Ortega isn't quite ready to talk about it yet, but he did give us some insight into getting back to work after an injury that required major surgery.
"It was quite difficult," Ortega explains, "because just like any job, you depend so much on your hands. For cooking, it's essential that you have your arms and hands free to do whatever you love to do. But I learned a couple of tricks to use my right arm more and my right hand more."
After the July 11 accident, Ortega was forced to cancel an Umami dinner in conjunction with chef Hori of Kata Robata that had been scheduled for July 14. At the time, we reported that the event would be rescheduled, but so far there's no word on a new date.
"I need to talk to Chef Hori and apologize for what happened," Ortega says. "Thanks for reminding me! Hopefully we'll reschedule."
In the meantime, Ortega isn't getting back on his bike any time soon. Not the bike from the accident, at least. Apparently it was stolen shortly after Ortega's mishap. Ortega says he came home one day and the bike was just gone. He does admit to keeping up with his exercise regimen on a stationary bike, though, which is all he's ready for at this point.
"I think I should stay off the bike for now," Ortega says. "I'm just getting in shape again, and when things get quiet, I'll try it again."
And then he adds, laughing, "And hopefully I won't fall again!"
"Sometimes when you have big accidents, you feel thankful for what you do and the opportunities you have," Ortega says, more seriously. "I don't take anything for granted now."
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.