There are many famous female chefs that have gone before us. Paving the way, bursting through the glass ceiling, breaking all the rules of what women can accomplish as head chefs and restaurant owners. Thanks to our trailblazers, we have been able to pave the way for some of the most amazing female chefs in the world, allowing them to finally express themselves in the kitchen. Although the cooking world still remains a very male-driven industry, many women are too passionate about their food creations to let that stop them. One of which is Daniela Soto-Innes.
At almost 30 years old, the young Daniela Soto-Innes was named the Best Female Chef In the World at the 2019 World’s 50 Best Restaurants event (1). Since then, she has been the talk of the town and for good reason – her incredibly authentic, soulful Mexican food with American influence, many of which have deemed her restaurant the best in the world. Devoted to what she does, Mexican chef Daniela Soto-Innes takes a humble approach to her title, and instead uses it as a platform to encourage unity in the kitchen and dining room.
A Fresh Start
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Daniela was born in Mexico City to two lawyer parents. When she was 12, her family packed up and moved to the United States. They lived in Austin, Texas, a mecca of incredible food, and when she was in her early 20’s she studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, Texas. After igniting her long-standing passion for Mexican cuisine, she decided to train in both Europe and New York under renowned chefs Chris Shepherd, Danny Trace, and Enrique Olvera.
In 2014, she helped open her home restaurant Cosme in New York City and serves as the Chef de Cuisine there. She also started successful restaurant ATLA in 2017 in partnership with Chef Enrique Olvera and assists with it as her sister project, while majority of her time is spent working at Cosme – a fancy restaurant well worth the wait if you can land a reservation(2).
Cosme: A Good Vibe
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When starting the restaurant, Cosme, Daniela had one important aspect at the forefront of her mind, to create a space where staff and kitchen could work together and create a family-like work community. For her, it’s not the awards, recognition, or magazine covers that she considers her great victory. Instead, it’s having the privilege of leading a happy, dedicated team to success.
The young chef points out that while rankings do matter in terms of bringing in the right talent to their door, it’s about retaining that talent that matters. Knowing what kind of music they like, what their families are like, what they did on the weekends, are all important things that chef Daniela has been striving for since the day Cosme opened. The best place to start in owning a successful restaurant is having a team of fun loving, good-vibes people. Because at a young age, the rising chef already knows that keeping your work team happy will leak into everything they do: from the food they create to the guests they serve, a staff that loves where they work will ultimately make them more successful together.
Many consider her leadership style a ‘breath of fresh air’, as it takes a break from the dictatorial, aggressive leadership styles that have lived on for so long in the kitchen. Because of her ability to lead her kitchen and staff so effectively, she has very little turnover in her restaurant. In fact, many servers that have worked there have made note of the fun vibes and awesome work culture that Daniela has built at Cosme. They have just as much fun behind the kitchen doors, if not more so, than in the dining room.
No White Linens
While Cosme is consider a beautiful, fine dining establishment, Daniela also works to get away from the ‘white linen’ feel that many luxury restaurant implement. Instead of placing an importance on the ambiance of her restaurant, which is still undeniably exquisite, she instead focuses her energy on understanding the products, ingredients, and freshness of everything that comes through her kitchen.
The goal is to create a bright, colorful, happy environment to immerse her guests in the authenticity of her food and the Mexican culture (3). She created her own Mexican cuisine, influenced by generations before her, gave it a feel of her personality, and served it in a restaurant where excellent leadership is held to a higher standard than the over-garnishing of a dish.
Her Biggest Critic
Growing up as the youngest in a traditional Mexican family, Daniela was taught at a young age to never make the same mistake twice. She often cooked in the kitchen with the women in her family, but there is one critic that stands out from the rest: her grandmother Carmen. Her grandma is the one who started her on this food journey by teaching her how to cook authentic Mexican food at a young age. Not only was she a key to her culinary passion and education, but she was also her harshest critic. Often, her grandmother Carmen would scold her if the dish wasn’t quite right and would help her make necessary corrections. She taught Daniela the importance of making a Mexican dish perfectly, and would send her letters with recipes passed down from her great grandmother.
With generations of traditional Mexican recipes, ingredients, and techniques passed down throughout the years, Daniela works not only to bring Mexican food to the cutting edge, but also to honors those who walked before her, taught her the ropes, and contributed to her success today. As she steps forward as the Best Female Chef in the world, she chooses not to hold on to her success, but rather teach, educate, and guide those around her to seize good opportunities and climb the ladder to success.
The importance of being a good leader is not to keep the knowledge for yourself, but to help others reach success as well. Chef Daniela rather, submits herself to the humble position of serving those around her and helping them reach their full potential.