Daniela Soto-Innes, a 2015 StarChef’s Rising Star, comes from a long line of women cooks. Growing up in Mexico City, she spent her formative years at food markets and restaurants with assorted aunts, cousins and relatives — and loved every bit of it.
She was in cooking classes starting at seven and knew, even then, that this would be her career path. Soto-Innes had her first internship at 14, and then, at 15, worked in an intern capacity for The Woodlands Waterway Marriott in Woodlands, TX; she would stay with Marriott for three years total.
A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin, she staged at restaurants in Texas, New York City, and Europe working under a series of illustrious chefs. Among them: Mark Cox (Marks Restaurant) and Danny Trace (Brennan's of Houston). Her career took her to a sous chef position at Triniti Restaurant (Houston) before moving to Houston’s Underbelly under Chris Shepherd. It was there she realized she wanted to go back to her roots which led her to Pujol and Nicos in Mexico City. When Enrique Olvera, who she worked with at Pujol, decided to expand to New York City, he brought her along as his opening chef de cuisine.
One thing that came with her: a spoon collection which she started in 2005 when she first tried to do an ice cream quenelle.
“I started collecting spoons everywhere I traveled and staged,” she said. “European spoons from thrift shops are my favorites! It makes me happy when I use the spoons I bought when traveling around the world. I usually end up giving them away to cooks, letting them know the story behind the spoon.”
Soto-Innes said you’d be surprised how territorial cooks can be with spoons, especially if they were given to them. For her, they are a treasure and a reminder of where she’s been.
Symrise sat down with her — dare we say it? — between spoonful’s to talk ingredients, inspiration and hard work.
Symrise: How do you get your inspiration for your creations?
Daniela Soto-Innes: It is always a team effort, without a team we wouldn’t have a restaurant. We base our menu ideas on the products available during the season and like using techniques that are used in Mexican cuisine. We mainly use Mexican ingredients like dry corn, dry chiles, and beans.
Symrise: What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with and why?
Soto-Innes: Any kind of citrus, herbs, dry chiles; they are pretty much in every dish my mother would make when I was growing up.
Symrise: Any new ingredients or flavor combinations you are working with?
Soto-Innes: Finger limes. We use the juice vesicles for our raw fish dish instead of squeezing lime, and dehydrate the skin to microplane on top.
Symrise: Do any particular chefs inspire you?
Soto-Innes: Enrique Olvera of course. He makes me realize that with hard work, everything is possible. Also Massimo Bottura, I had the privilege to go with Enrique to cook a dinner with him, and the way he talks about food makes me very happy.
Symrise: Do you have a favorite thing you like to make?
Soto-Innes: I like to butcher. I lived in Texas for 10 years and worked with Chef Chris Shepherd who has a restaurant where we would receive whole animals and make the menu depending on which animals arrived that week; it was very exciting.
Symrise: What is your go-to recipe for cooking for family and friends?
Soto-Innes: I always cook different things.
Symrise: Do you have a kitchen tool you favor?
Soto-Innes: Spoons, I collect them, I think that is the most important tool to have during service.