How a World Reknowned Chef Landed in Jackson Hole and Agreed to Make Chocolate Chip Cookies for The Clear Creek Group
What’s the secret to Oscar Ortega’s Clear Creek chocolate chip cookie recipe? – Macerating real vanilla instead of pouring in vanilla extract, using 89% of the butter the recipe calls for but whipping it at room temperature and mixing it with single region chocolate, meaning chocolate that comes from the same tree and the same year of harvest and costs $14 a pound vs. $4 for your average semisweet chips. Bake them at 350 degrees for 5 minutes in a full rotation oven and poof.
You may wonder how The Clear Creek Group got so lucky to get one of the best pastry chefs alive to bake the light and airy chocolate chip cookies that greet you when you stay at one of our properties. It is a story of tragedy and luck as bitter sweet as the cacao Ortega puts in his confections.
His destiny was fulfilled here thanks to a his former wife who lured him to Jackson in 2001, his son who has kept him here and a patron who has supported him in running his own kitchen, opening two of the finest chocolate shops anywhere and competing in Europe to become one of the top pastry chefs in the world. In 2015 Ortega won best praline, in 2014 he won best chocolate cake. Competing both for his native and adopted countries, he was awarded the best Mexican and the best American pastry chef at Mondial des Arts Sucres, and he has also been a judge. More than a dozen trophies and honors hang on the walls at Atelier Ortega.
“You are already winning when you go to these elite competitions,” he says. “I always wanted to be the best in the world.”
Ortega’s late mother, who fostered his love of food, always told him he should be a chef because his cooking was better than hers. But when Oscar was 17, his mom died in a tragic fall from the stairs when the railing gave out at their home in Mexico City. Soon thereafter, he left to pursue his dream.
He studied international journalism, but he kept coming back to the kitchen. Once his cooking books outstacked his books on international politics, he decided to do both, until the chef he apprenticed under had a heart attack. He survived, but at that moment Ortega found himself in charge of 22 line cooks from France, Portugal and all over the world ready to cook for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at a world fair.
Ortega studied fine cuisine at Cordon Bleu in Mexico City and received his masters in Italian cuisine from the Cast Alimenti in Italy. When he attended a practice for the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie, he found his passion for pastry and chocolate.
“I said, this is it. This is what I want to do for life,” he says. “When you eat food at a competition, it is just perfection. At a restaurant the last motive is financial. At a competition, the last motive is being the best in the world. I was completely thrilled.”
Despite his success, Ortega has always remained humble and grateful to his mother. So when Morgan Bruemmer, the founding partner of The Clear Creek Group came to him with a chocolate chip cookie recipe from his great, great grandmother, it struck a chord.
“Oscar Ortega is a true master of his craft,” says Laura Cuddie, The Clear Creek Group’s director of business development and marketing. “He took Morgan’s family recipe and paired it with his expert touch and the highest quality ingredients for amazing results – the cookies are devoured by our guests and refills are regularly requested! All of his creations are not only delicious but they are true works of art.”
Visit Coco Love on Glenview Street across from The Wort Hotel or Atelier Ortega on Scott Lane to taste Ortega’s chocolate confections, gelato and pastries and bring some cookies home to your mom.