Iliana de la Vega’s restaurant and cooking school in Oaxaca, El Naranjo, placed her on the map gaining worldwide acclaim for her exquisite cuisine inspired by Mexico’s most mouthwatering dishes.
In 2019 she became a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Southwest, and in 2020 she was a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef in Texas.
While growing up in Mexico City, de la Vega saw that European cuisines were considered elegant and the best meals to be served at restaurants. In contrast, Mexican food, like most Latin American foods, was supposed to be prepared at home for the family because it wasn’t “fine dining.”
According to the chef, her grandmother used to send boxes full of Oaxacan delicacies, including earthy, smoky chiles and bags filled with oregano and cinnamon. Something she describes as “Christmas day for me.”
“My mother was traditional with her cooking, hand-picking each ingredient from the market and traveling around Mexico with my family, tasting picadas in Veracruz or cemitas in Puebla. I found the flavors of Mexico complex, diverse, and soulful; nothing if not elegant,” she explains in Mexican Culinary Traditions.
Hoping for others to see how worthy and tasteful Mexican food can be, Iliana moved to Oaxaca and opened her first restaurant, El Naranjo, in 1997. “I opened a cooking school as well,” she said
Due to political unrest, de la Vega and her family moved out of Mexico and reopened El Naranjo in Austin, Texas, in 2012. She later opened Mexican Culinary Traditions to keep her dream of sharing the food and culture of Mexico with the world alive.
Iliana is also a passionate teacher and served as the Mexican/Latin Cuisines Specialist for The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) from 2007 to 2012.
In 2014, the Mexican Government granted her the prestigious Ohtli award for her work with the Hispanic population and for furthering Mexican gastronomy.
The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce named her Hispanic Female Entrepreneur of the year that same year. She also serves as a consultant for the prestigious Stanford University Dining Enterprises.