Austin/ Retail & Industry
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Published on March 05, 2024
Austin's El Naranjo Spells Culinary Evolution as Chef Iliana de la Vega Passes Torch to DaughterSource: El Naranjo Restaurant & Bar

As the culinary landscape in Austin continues to evolve, a significant shift has occurred at El Naranjo, the city's renowned temple of Oaxacan cuisine. Esteemed chef Iliana de la Vega has announced her daughter, Ana Torrealba, as the new chef de cuisine, to carry on the family's culinary legacy. A James Beard Award winner, de la Vega expressed both pride and practicality in the transition. In a statement obtained by The Dallas Morning News, she relayed her long-term plans, "Her dad and I will retire in a few years, so now we're teaching her everything we know."

The Austin eatery, founded in 2012, has been a critical pillar in showcasing interior Mexican food, garnering acclaim and patronage both locally and beyond. Torrealba, having honed her skills at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, brings a blend of traditional influence and formal education. Despite the daunting responsibility of fulfilling her mother's esteemed position, she's set to seamlessly integrate both legacy and innovation into El Naranjo's offerings. De la Vega, now free to flawlessly expand her Mexican Culinary Traditions tours, also remains a wellspring of inspiration and influence to her daughter's culinary endeavors.

The restaurant menu features dishes like huitlacoche, mole negro de Oaxaca with duck, and steak with chintextle, all steeped in tradition yet touched by personal innovation. Torrealba brings a diverse background to the table, having studied food engineering in Mexico City before taking on the family business.

While El Naranjo continues to solidly navigate the challenges of the culinary industry, de la Vega's accomplishments stand as one of her era's pillars. To not only survive but thrive post-pandemic is a testament to de la Vega's resilience and leadership. Reflecting on her James Beard Award, de la Vega told Austin Eater, "I have never been a prize-seeker, but it felt good," adding, "you work hard and are trying to do something that makes a difference, so to get recognition makes me feel proud, but it didn't change much in my daily life."

As the culinary baton is passed, the essence of Oaxaca remains firmly rooted in El Naranjo's kitchen, with the stories of every spice, technique, and recipe woven deeply into the very fabric of the restaurant. With Torrealba at the helm, the establishment is set to continue serving as Austin's gateway to the rich flavors and traditions of Mexican heritage cuisine.