Iliana and Ernesto married in Mexico City and shortly after moved to Oaxaca, where Iliana had deep family roots and where she wanted to open a restaurant specializing in Oaxacan cuisine. Ernesto was a trained architect and initially lacked professional experience in the kitchen, but jumped in, and, as he says, “became her best student.” At first, there were many trials and tribulations, but by May 2003, their food was featured on the cover of Bon Appetit magazine with the caption:"The Soul of Mexico: bold flavors, romantic places, and rich traditions." The restaurant flourished until 2006, when the community experienced a period of political unrest, causing Iliana and Ernesto to sell their restaurant and move to the United States.
Not long after their arrival to Austin, Ernesto began planning the El Naranjo trailer as a first step to learn about the Austin market and its culinary scene. Meanwhile, Iliana was offered a position as a cuisine specialist and chef instructor at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, on the newly opened campus in San Antonio, where she hosted the first cooking classes dedicated to Mexican Cuisine. She is frequently asked to make national appearances to chime in on various aspects of Latin American cooking and to help people understand Mexican food beyond tacos and Tex-Mex. As she often says,"If you talk to me about authenticity, I don't know what you mean. If you say tradition, then I'm with you."
Chef De La Vega
James Beard Semifinalist for Best Chef Southwest (2019)
Recipient of Ohtli Award, the Mexican government’s highest honor given to Mexicans living abroad (2014)
Named Hispanic Female Entrepreneur of the Year by the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (2014)
Appointed Culinary Institute of America’s first Specialist for Mexican/Latin Cuisines (2007-2012)