El Naranjo Chef Iliana de la Vega Shares Camarones Enchipotlados Recipe
The 2022 James Beard Award winner reflects on her monumental achievement and offers cooking tips to readers
By Avery Matschek
Chef Iliana de la Vega has had a 2022 to remember. After receiving the first-ever James Beard Award for Best Chef: Texas in June, the El Naranjo chef has enjoyed a warm response from restaurant regulars, as well as an influx of new guests visiting her authentic Mexican eatery. Here, de la Vega reflects on her victory and invites readers to get in the kitchen with her Camarones Enchipotlados recipe, which can be found on the menu at El Naranjo.
Congrats on the Best Chef: Texas James Beard award! What was it like to receive that recognition?
It was amazing. I could not believe it. My husband Ernesto and I went to Chicago to see what [the ceremony] was like and to have a fun weekend, but not even in my dreams did I imagine being the winner. I have never been an award seeker, so it was a big surprise when I heard my name. Ernesto was sitting next to me and we hugged, kissed and laughed!
What has the reaction from your guests at El Naranjo been like following the award?
I have received a very warm response from all our guests. First, our long-time customers who were rooting for me are extremely happy and supportive, and many were sending me beautiful messages. And of course, we have new guests who have read about it come and talk about the James Beard award and how they enjoyed the food and the story!
What is the inspiration behind this Camarones Enchipotlados recipe?
We serve traditional Mexican food at El Naranjo, so this is a traditional recipe from Veracruz. It is so simple and delicious that no one can resist it! Shrimp, chipotle chiles, Mexican crema and a good tortilla – it’s like heaven on a plate.
In general, what is your process in creating a recipe that ends up on the El Naranjo menu?
First, it needs to be Mexican or heavily Mexican-inspired. It must have something that resonates with Mexico – flavors that will be remembered and create a craving for more – but it’s also important to get the right ingredients for preparing it.
What are your tips for people who want to cook Mexican food at home?
Read the recipe carefully, prepare all the ingredients and enjoy the cooking. ¡Buen provecho!
© Iliana de la Vega, 2022
Serves two as an appetizer
1/2 cup heavy cream
1-2 chipotles en adobo (canned)
1/2 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove minced
8 oz. small shrimp, peeled and uncooked
2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
4 warmed white corn tortillas or tostadas
Salt to taste
1. Puree the chiles and mix with the cream. Reserve for later.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onion until translucent.
3. Add the garlic and the shrimp and sauté until the shrimp is cooked.
4. Add the chipotle crema and heat through.
5. Season with salt to taste.
6. Mix in the cilantro and add a splash of lime juice.
7. Remove from heat and serve immediately with warmed tortillas or tostadas.
Note: To serve as a main course, use larger shrimp and serve with white rice.