When up-and-coming filmmaker Emily Harrold asked Daniela Soto-Innes if she could follow her for a documentary series about inspiring women, the 25-year-old chef was shocked. “I never expected someone to be interested in what I’m doing,” she says, sitting cross-legged at one of the low tables of Manhattan's new go-to Mexican restaurant, Cosme, where she runs the kitchen. “I’m always interested in what other people are doing, so that was a different experience.” Well, people are about to get very interested in Soto-Innes: She'll be featured in a film about her life at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary, commissioned by the female-empowerment campaign ActuallySheCan℠ and created with Tribeca Digital Studios (find out more on the campaign's website). “One of the amazing things about Daniela is she proved that all the boundaries young women experience don’t have to exist,” says Harrold, who is also 25. “With Daniela, they don’t exist because she doesn’t see them. There are obviously boundaries, but she just steps past them. She proves that you can be really successful, really happy, and love what you’re doing.”
Soto-Innes grew up in Mexico City, the youngest of three girls, and was always around food — going to cooking classes and the market with her lawyer mother (whose father had thwarted her own culinary ambitions). It wasn’t long before little Daniela was helping her mom make lime custard cakes. “Growing up in Mexico City, though, it didn't matter if your mom wanted to be a chef or not,” says Soto-Innes. “You walked down the street and there were tacos and bakeries everywhere. It was just natural for me to fall in love with it.” She started her career while in high school, moonlighting after classes in the kitchen at a Marriott. “I heard the chef speak at my school, and I told him I wanted to intern with him. He laughed because of my age,” she recalls. “But I just showed up every day until they finally let me cut strawberry tops. So I started from there: cutting strawberry tops for free until they hired me.” Soto-Innes eventually ended up at the kitchen in Mexico City’s Pujol, which is widely considered the best Mexican-food restaurant in the world. And when Pujol’s founder Enrique Olvera wanted to open a sister restaurant in New York, he asked Soto-Innes to lead the charge. She arrived at Cosme in 2014, and its perfectly grilled fish, pork carnitas, and bright ceviches led to months-long waiting lists.
But it hasn’t been easy. The food world is notoriously male-dominated and sexist. “Of course, I’ve experienced sexism,” she says. I remember when I was 16 I came to New York for a job at — I'm not going to say the restaurant. But the chef told me, ‘You know we don’t hire women.’ I got the job, but I was like, 'You know, forget you! I’m not moving here and getting paid nothing for you not to believe that women can do this job!'” Fortunately, not many guys have tried to push Soto-Innes around. (She says she was running a cooking line of 40-year-old dudes when she was 16.) And with her unbeatable combo of talent, hard work, and genuine warmth — she greets every member of her kitchen with a hug in the morning — she hasn’t had much trouble making her way to the top of New York’s culinary scene. But she says what really drives her — what drives anyone — is passion. “I’m always wanting to learn more and more and more, and with cooking, you never finish learning,” she says. “I think that’s true with all different careers. You have this little thing inside you that wants to keep going, and nothing can stop you.”