By Daniela Soto-Innes, as told to Shalayne Pulia
Updated Sep 19, 2018 @ 12:00 pm
Daniela Soto-Innes
Credit: Maureen Evans

I grew up in Mexico City around women who loved to cook and men who ate too much. In every single corner of Mexico there's a stand of delicious food. Even my sisters, who are terrible cooks, have an idea of what good food is. Every single weekend my grandma would come up with a theme just to have a party and I would help decorate the cakes. I started cooking at her bakery when I was 4 or 5. I probably ruined everything we made, but she was happy that I was interested.

I continued cooking when I immigrated to Texas around 2003. And four years later, when I was 17, my grandma offered to pay for culinary school. Before I got there, I spent almost all the money she gave me on traveling without telling my parents. Culinary school, to be honest, is not something that I recommend to everyone who's interested in cooking. I'd been traveling ever since I was younger, and I believe that everything connects to food. I think you get the most knowledge from going to small villages and learning how to cook from the experienced elders. When I got to school, though, I tried to be the best student. I really paid attention.

Then, by 19 or 20, I burned out. I was at my first sous chef job, being second in command, and I felt extremely insecure about being so young. I wanted to prove myself. So, I lied about my age all the time and pretended to be 25. I moved next door to the restaurant. I worked 18 to 20 hours a day. I didn’t delegate any work. I was very unhappy. I didn't even see my family on Christmas. After six months, my mentor, [award-winning chef] Chris Shepherd, said, "I'm opening a new restaurant. Come with me."

I accepted. Then, in 2011, while in New York for a cooking class with other chefs from Texas, I met Cosme’s now owner Enrique Olvera. I was supposed to go back to Texas that night, but I ended up changing my flight like always (it's a thing; I never miss an opportunity). Enrique invited me to his restaurant Pujol in Mexico City. And before I knew it, I was back in Mexico. After a couple days, he convinced me to stay and study at Pujol for about six months. I had to work for free, but I was happy there. I went back and forth between Texas and Pujol until I felt like I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Then I told Enrique I wanted to try New York, and a couple days later he said, "Alright, you're moving to New York, we're opening a restaurant." I had done four restaurant openings in Texas before then, but I primarily worked on the menus. This time I was 23 and I didn’t know anybody in New York or the first thing about stuff like which kind of toilets we needed or what contractors actually did. Google became my best friend.

It wasn’t easy, but I’m a very competitive person, and opening this restaurant with Enrique was a competitive challenge. That’s how Cosme happened in 2014. And two years later, I earned the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award, which is like an Oscar in the food world. It made me realize that getting recognition is amazing, but you need to have the knowledge to back it up and you need to balance it by staying in touch with the people who helped you succeed.

I promised myself after that first sous chef job that my kitchen would never be a military kitchen. It would be a fun place where people are excited to learn, and where I could give people the same opportunities that I had. And now, at 28, I embrace being young and in charge as a partner at Cosme. I think it’s cool that I'm inspiring the “next generation” of chefs while I'm still their peer. I believe if you have a couple of years in the kitchen with a chef that really wants you to succeed and be happy, then you can be an incredible cook. My cooks see me working hard, and they want to do the same thing — I want to go to their restaurants one day.

I also want to change the way that people view cooks. We are so cool! We listen to good music. We work with amazing ingredients. We know how to use a knife. We know how to make a romantic dinner. We're just fun people. I think everyone assumes we’re all rude, grumpy chefs — sometimes we can be like that because we are in a 120-degree basement all the time. But we care so much about people. We should care as much about ourselves. I think if we really make the men and women behind the kitchen both feel secure about themselves and their chance at success, then we won't be talking about unequal opportunities anymore.

It may not be an easy path to follow, but I don’t think I’m going to change paths anytime soon. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.