Ortega’s American Dream story started at Backstreet Cafe, a neighborhood bistro started by Tracy Vaught in 1983. He began his career in the restaurant business first as dishwasher and busboy and later as a line cook before graduating from culinary school and later becoming Backstreet’s executive chef. He and Vaught married, and together, they have created an award-winning Houston restaurant family that also includes Hugo’s and Caracol.
Chef joins us in this episode of Let The Music Play Podcast as we discuss his journey to where he is today, how he cultivates his creativity, and his simplistic wisdom on life, relationships, and great food.
Chef Shota Nakajima began his culinary journey at the age of sixteen, working for a well-acclaimed sushi restaurant in his hometown of Seattle, WA. At the age of eighteen, Nakajima moved to Osaka, Japan to learn about the art of Japanese cuisine. In Japan, Nakajima had the opportunity to work for Michelin Star rated Chef Yasuhiko Sakamoto. As one would expect, this experience changed Chef Shota’s perspective on cooking.
Since returning to Seattle, it has been Nakajima’s dream to convey Chef Sakamoto’s approach to hospitality and Japanese cuisine in the United States.
The son of a Kentucky innkeeper, Dean grew up with grandmothers who knew all about food and who appreciated the finer details of Southern cooking and barbecue. He still uses and treasures their recipes, and they remain one of the most important inspirations of his culinary life. In fact, some of them receive their own unique spin in The Texas Food Bible – which Dean published in 2014.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and following 20-plus years at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dean opened his own Fearing’s Restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas in 2007. Since then, he and his popular menu favorites have been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, Food and Wine, Southern Living, Forbes, Fox News, Bon Appétit, Garden & Gun, Robb Report, The Food Network, Guitar Aficionado and more. He was recently recognized as a “Pioneer of American Cuisine” by The Culinary Institute of America, and was also presented with the Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance by Food Arts.
Dean is a restaurateur who likes to spend as much time as possible at his restaurant. Most days, he can be spotted in Fearing’s wearing a signature crisp white chef’s coat with colorful boot embroidery, blue jeans and brightly-hued, custom-tooled Lucchese cowboy boots. When not in the kitchen, he is often found strumming his vintage Fender Telecaster guitar, one of a collection of several dozen guitars and amps, playing songs from the album created by his all-chef alternative country group, The Barbwires, or by his Dallas-based Lost Coyote Band. He is also known to spend his spare time searching the countryside for Texas culinary inspiration. The state’s rich variety of peppers, dried chilies, jicama, cilantro, tomatillos, fruits and vegetables, cheeses, Gulf seafood and Hill Country wild game play a major role in Dean’s ever-changing cuisine.
Michael Tusk is the Chef and Owner, along with his wife Lindsay, of two of San Francisco’s most critically acclaimed restaurants, Quince and Cotogna. His approach to Italian and French regional cuisine is refined and modern, taking inspiration from the seasonal bounty of Northern California and his close relationships with local purveyors.
A native of New Jersey, Tusk graduated from Tulane University with a degree in Art History and attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After completing his studies, Tusk left for Europe to gain experience in Michelin-starred restaurants throughout France and Italy. His experience in Italy’s Barbaresco region resonated most profoundly and was the catalyst for his sustained interest in Northern Italian regional cuisine.
Tusk returned to the United States in 1988 and settled in the San Francisco Bay Area where he contributed to the success of some of the country’s most pioneering, influential restaurants including Stars and Chez Panisse. In December 2003, Tusk and his wife Lindsay opened Quince, and the restaurant quickly became one of San Francisco’s top fine-dining destinations. In November 2010 they opened Cotogna, a bustling, rustic Italian restaurant adjacent to Quince.
The James Beard Foundation has recognized Tusk’s contributions to the industry and named him “Best Chef: Pacific”. Under Tusk’s helm, Quince has also been awarded four stars by the San Francisco Chronicle, three stars from the Michelin Guide and is a distinguished member of Relais & Châteaux.
Cooking a meal — There’s fast food and there’s slow food. One satisfies a craving and the other satisfies the soul. As long as your phone isn’t nearby, you just might find some peace chopping vegetables and you may even enter a rhythm of being that’s quite serene and wonderfully human.
Smiling at strangers — Try this out for size. We’re not so strange after a gratuitous acknowledgment of the other’s presence.
Writing, stamping, and mailing a handwritten note — Over 3,000 times today you were sold something. How many times today were you told something in handwritten ink on paper? I rest my case.
Look and SEE — There’s looking and then there’s seeing. I don’t think we see if we’re not looking. Try out a game of ‘I Spy’ in your life, relationships, and business.
Be Silent and Still for two to ten minutes — Try out Headspace for 10 days. When you learn to see and hear the noise you’ll find how to navigate around it and through it. When’s the last time you simply sat still? This will shift things for you.