Hugo Ortega Named a 2012 James Beard Award Finalist

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After racking up an impressive amount of semifinalist nods for the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards, Houston had only one finalist for the annual "Oscars of food," announced today in Las Vegas.

One of the most interesting things about the six semifinalists was how accurately they represent the current culinary climate of Houston: Three of the four chefs were foreign-born, cooking the type of well-received ethnic food in high-end restaurants that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago.

The fourth chef, Grant Gordon of Tony's, represents the slew of talented young turks who have come back home to Houston to shake up the food scene. And seeing Anvil Bar & Refuge in the Outstanding Bar Program category only gives more fuel to the driving force of young bar owners like Bobby Heugel and Kevin Floyd who are equally intent on shaking up the spirits world one drink at a time.

This year, it was Hugo Ortega of namesake restaurant Hugo's who made it through as a finalist in the Best Chef: Southwest category.

At Hugo's, Ortega pioneered both upscale and interior Mexican food in Houston. He also has been a vital voice in the ongoing local foods movement. The restaurant, which Ortega owns with his wife Tracy Vaught, has been widely regarded as one of the city's best restaurants for almost a decade.

And in the journalism categories (which were also announced today), longtime Houston food critic Alison Cook -- who was also the Press restaurant critic for many years -- was nominated for a Craig Claiborne award for her reviews at the Houston Chronicle. The Craig Claiborne award is named for the revered New York Times food critic and is considered one of the most prestigious categories in the entire awards program.

Winners will be announced at the James Beard Foundation Awards on Monday, May 7, at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.

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