How to Become a Chef de Cuisine By Twenty Five
A passion for cooking has been in Daniela Soto-Innes' family for generations, but it’s her own drive and work ethic that led her to become chef de cuisine at New York’s Cosme at the age of 25. Daniela’s desire to keep learning proves there are no boundaries that can’t be broken.
Where are you originally from?
And how did you get into cooking?
Cooking has always been part of my family. My great grandma went to Le Cordon Bleu culinary school just to learn how to cook. She wasn’t a chef, and she didn’t work at a restaurant. After she studied there, she came back to Mexico. From there, she taught my grandma to cook.
My grandma managed a bakery in Mexico, and so my mother was always around cooking and food, as well. My earliest memories are of me in my grandma's bakery, looking at all the pastries and watching the bakers work.
My mother wanted to be a chef, but her father wanted her to have a more traditional career so she became a lawyer. She always took cooking classes, though, and would take me along with her.
When I entered kindergarten I went to a Montessori school that my mom’s best friend owned. They had so many creative classes, but also had a cooking class. That was always my favorite.
“I would always remember something my dad told me all the time: talent should not be measured by gender.”
That sounds like an amazing school!
I loved it. It was very simple, of course… putting frosting on cookies and things like that.
When I was in high school, my family moved to Houston and I enrolled in a school that really focused on careers. I was able to enter a culinary program.
Speakers would always come to give talks. I remember a head chef coming to talk to us, and all the things he said were negative. He said if you became a chef you would have no life and not to do it. But we had another chef come through who was amazing; he was so in love with his career. He worked at a hotel in Houston, and after his talk I asked him if I could work for him. Of course, he laughed because I was only 14. After school I kept turning up at his restaurant, begging him to let me work in the kitchen. When I turned 15, they finally let me do an internship. I worked there for 30 hours a week—it was crazy but I loved it so much.
And you were still going to school? That’s a crazy amount of work.
Yes, I was still in school. I was sleeping about three or four hours a night, but I had the energy to do it because I was so inspired. By the time I graduated high school, I had already worked for almost three years in kitchens.
I decided to move to Austin and go to Le Cordon Bleu, but I still kept working before and after school. I worked from 5am to 1pm, class started at 1:30pm, and then I would work again afterwards. I was 18 and living by myself; it was so fun and crazy.
Were your parents supportive of what you were doing?
Super supportive. I know it was sometimes hard for my mom to see me so tired and with burns on my arms and hands, but she knew I really loved what I was doing.
Did you feel like you already knew most of what they taught in cooking school?
Sometimes I did, but it was good because it allowed me to really take advantage and learn faster. The teachers were amazing and really took me under their wing.
Once I graduated, I traveled around Europe asking kitchens if I could stage for a couple of days.
What is staging?
It can be anywhere up to 6 months of working for free in a kitchen, so you can learn and see different ways of working. It was awesome going to different parts of the world and seeing how much you actually don’t know.
I came back to Texas and worked for a little while at a very small restaurant called Mark’s. I wanted to work there for free so I could learn more. I worked in the pastry department.
There was a restaurant called Brennan’s that was really old but had previously burned down and was being reopened. I went in to interview and they kept trying to push me into pastry again. I really didn’t love pastry, but did it for a year, and then I was able to slowly transition into savory.
I ended up doing tasting menus for the chef’s table at Brennan’s. It was a huge restaurant and there was a table for 10 seats. The chef there would take me to his TV show that he did once a week. I was so proud, and was telling my mom all about it. Then I realized that they really took me along because I would say banana “frosties” instead of banana “fosters”.… they made fun of my accent.
I got an opportunity for my first sous-chef job when I was 20. It was such a huge job for me because it was an opening of a very, very beautiful restaurant. It was my first real management position. It was exciting but I was hitting a wall, it was so much work. I worked from 6am to 2am, six days a week. I learned so much, but I wasn’t used to delegating. I didn’t know how to be a boss, I didn’t know how to tell people what to do because I was so young.