Photo: Chef Iliana de La Vega
Deep in the heart of Austin’s historic Rainey Street, El Naranjo restaurant tells a tale of Mexican ancestors, traditions and flavors, a cultural richness that chef Iliana de La Vega defends dish after dish.
El Naranjo maintains the essence of its beginnings in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1997, a restaurant whose success transcended borders to be covered by The New York Times and Bon Appetit magazine.
“Unfortunately we had to close El Naranjo in Oaxaca in 2006 because of a conflict that went on and on for months, the teachers’ protests. The situation went out of control that year, the city was under siege and there was social and economic chaos that it’s still recovering from,” De La Vega told Efe in an interview.
Enamored of cuisine since she began cooking with her mom for fun in her native Mexico City, Iliana de La Vega grew up in a well-off family where an abundance of ingredients like chiles, frijoles, meat, tomatoes, cilantro, maize and more were always available.
“My mom was a very good cook, she did everything real fast and really good. More than cooking, the great experience for me was going to market with her. She encouraged me to play with food. It was easy to invent and to learn” that way, the 53-year-old chef remembered.
“What I found in the United States is that a lot of food they call Mexican here, isn’t. It’s good food, I believe it’s a regional food that is also from Mexico, call it Tex-Mex or Cal-Mex or New York-Mex or Chicago-Mex, and it naturally has every right to exist, but it’s a long way from the concept of real Mexican food. With every one of my dishes I try to say…this is Mexico,” De la Vega said.