Daniela Soto-Innes comes from a long line of women who love food and cooking. Visiting food markets and restaurants in Mexico City from a young age, she was instilled with curiosity for flavors and interest in baking.
The cooking career of Daniela Soto-Innes officially began at 15 when she interned at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott, where she continued working for the company for three years. Then she moved to Austin, Texas where she graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. After traveling and staging at restaurants in Texas, New York, and Europe, She joined Brennan’s of Houston where she worked throughout the whole kitchen helping Chef Danny Trace create tasting menus.
Two years later, she joined the progressive American restaurant Triniti, and the charcuterie driven restaurant Underbelly with Chef Chris Shepherd. Following a stage in the kitchen of Pujol, Soto-Innes was offered a full-time position working alongside Chef Enrique Olvera. As an opening Chef de Cuisine at Cosme, she will work alongside Chef Olvera and fellow chef de cuisine, Mariana Villegas, to create dishes and lead the kitchen. She believes that the simplest food can inspire the imagination most of all, and makes her dishes meaningful by “finding the secret life in each ingredient.” We recently had the pleasure of interviewing the 2016 James Beard Foundation Rising Star of the Year Winner for this month’s Chefcetera.
Who or what inspired you to start a career in the restaurant industry and where did you study culinary arts?
My great grandma went to school at Le Cordon Bleu in France. She didn’t do it because she wanted to be a chef. She just wanted to learn how to cook. Old Ladies in Mexico wanted to know how to cook. And then my grandma, when I was little, she used to manage a bakery and she would just take me to the bakery. Finally my mom wanted to be a chef. Her parents didn’t want her to be a chef so she would take me to her cooking classes when she didn’t have anywhere to drop me off.
I moved to Texas and I really wanted to be a chef. So I was taking a culinary class that is six days a week, where in high school a home economics class takes 45 minutes. The teacher brought the only master chef in Texas at that moment into class. I was so inspired by him but here I am at 14 years old trying to get a job and they just laughed at me and said “you can’t, you’re not even legal, and at your age you can’t work”. Eventually they gave me my first kitchen job and I literally washed lettuce and cut strawberry tops for the first six months.
You’ve worked with both Chris Shepard and Enrique Olvera. How did you get started with them and how have they influenced you and your career path?
Chris Shepard is one of the guys that I consider my mentor. The whole time I was at Brennan’s, I was butchering with him. He’s very into whole animal butchering. He told me “I’m finally opening my own restaurant and I really want you to come with me.” So I started working with him at Underbelly in Houston. It was amazing; every week we would get a whole cow and three pigs. All the animals you could think of, they were in that restaurant.
After a year I felt like I needed a challenge. So my mom said, “You should write to a chef you really, really admire. Someone you think you would never get the chance to work with”. And I said well, I will write to Enrique (Olvera). And he answered back the next day. When I got to Pujol, I stayed for six months. And then I went back to Underbelly because I promised Chris. Six months afterwards, Enrique told me “you’re moving to New York next week. You’re opening my new restaurant”. Then I was here next week. I remember I landed on a Tuesday at 11pm and I had a meeting at 8am with investors the next day.
What do you consider success in your restaurant?
We want people to be happy, we want people to enjoy the food, have something that is not pretentious but simple and delicious. The best thing to me is to come into a restaurant where people are smiling.
You’re this year’s JBF 2016 Rising Star of the Year Winner! It’s quite an accomplishment.
I can’t believe it. I got chills. I thought I was going to get that one day, but 30 years from now, not now. My mother was very happy but she still said she wouldn’t give me my favorite recipe until we get our Michelin Star.
How do you source what you need? Are you going to the market and using seasonal ingredients?
In Mexico, you cook with what you have around you. If we have amazing rhubarb at the market, it doesn’t matter that it’s not Mexican. It’s around us and we’re using it how we best believe to.
How are you building your menu at Cosme?
The menu is built by just looking at what’s around, looking at what the ingredients are. We also listen to our guests a lot. We see a pattern and if we really like a dish, but we see a pattern that people do not prefer, we have to change it. We are 100% a team so everything we do, we consult each other. If I make a dish, I go around the whole kitchen shoving a spoon in their mouths saying “taste it, what do you think?” In the kitchen you’re allowed to say what you think.
Looking down the road, where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I think we’re just going to focus on Mexico and New York. I’m sticking with Enrique for a while. He’s been very good to me. In the future I want to have a Montessori school for little kids so they can learn how to cook. I also want to open a Mexican butcher shop.