Eight tortilla ladies, a pastry master and ‘Beyoncé’: meet the team behind the World’s Best Female Chef

Laura Price

25/04/2019

Supporting the newly crowned elit™ Vodka World’s Best Female Chef is a group of talented men and women from all over the world, ranging from 18 years old to mid-60s. Here, Mexico City-born cook Daniela Soto-Innes introduces us to just a handful of the characters who have led New York restaurant Cosme to No.25 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list

 

Valentina Brito and Estefania Brito AKA the Chikis, 28 @chikichiki4

Kitchen Manager and Sous Chef

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Valentina Brito (left), Daniela Soto-Innes and Estefania Brito (image: Sara Beth Turner)

“The Chikis are the love of my life – after Blaine [Wetzel]. They are my sisters. They’re two of four quadruplets from Venezuela and they pretty much run Cosme. [Their other two siblings don't work at the restaurant.] They’re the fastest, cutest, most fun cooks I’ve ever seen. They’re not identical – one of them is dark with brown hair and the other is blonde and like Goldilocks. I call them the Chikis because they’re chiquititas [‘tiny’ in Spanish].

“Valentina is the kitchen manager so she pretty much manages everyone, plus my agenda. She wrote the cookbook Tu Casa Mi Casa with me. When she first came to Cosme two years ago, she was a travel agent and didn’t know how to hold a knife, but she learned how to cook with us.

“Estefania is a sous chef and she’s a beast. She’s incredible. She previously worked in Spain with Martin Berasategui and has been with us for about three years. They’re very quiet but super fun and cute.”

 

Isabel Coss AKA Chabela, 27 @chabelacoss

Pastry chef

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Enjoying a quesadilla with Isabel Coss (Sara Beth Turner)

“Isabel is an incredible pastry cook. She made a mandarin raspado with palm seeds soaked in mezcal with fermented chilli with mandarin sorbet. She is the spark. We’re like the clowns of the team, we’re always joking and making everyone laugh.

“Isabel is my best friend. I met her before Cosme opened. She was the pastry chef at Empellon with Alex Stupak. She is from Mexico City and she worked at Pujol when she was 17, although we didn’t work there at the same time.”

 

Gustavo Garnica AKA Gus, 29

Chef de cuisine

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Soto-Innes with Gustavo Garnica (Sara Beth Turner)

“Gus and I have known each other for seven years and he’s like my brother. He’s the most responsible of all of us – we call him grandpa. He is very calm all the time, while I’m the crazy one, so it’s super balanced. He’s from Mexico City too.

“He started at Cosme about three years ago but he became chef de cuisine a month ago. He wanted to work at Cosme from the beginning but he went to Japan. Then he was working at Aldea and he would come to Cosme and just help us to clean the kitchen, because we were a staff of five feeding 300 people. He’s incredible.”

 

Sonia Urbano, Vicky 'Nancy' Solis, Guadalupe 'Lupe' Pelaez, Consuelo Tejada, Dulce Romero, Zita Lima, Citlali Sorrosa and Lucia Casa Mayor

The tortilla ladies

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Sonia Urbano with Vicky Solis (Sara Beth Turner)

“The tortilla team are all ladies aged 40 to 60. They’re all Mexican, apart from one from Peru and another from Honduras. There are eight of them and they rotate, with two or three working at a time. If you add together all the tostadas, tlayudas, totopos and tortillas, they are making about 7,000 a day.

“They are strong and sweet, all of them. They’re just willing to work so hard. Put the tortilla ladies next to a young person who just came out of culinary school and that person won’t have a chance – they’ll eat them alive. They just have this maña – it’s like folk wisdom, real skill.”

 

Luis Lares AKA Pav, 33 @luislares

Sous chef

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Luis Lares with Soto-Innes (image: Cosme)

“Pav has been working with us for two years now. He started as a prep cook and a year ago he became a sous chef, running the prep team and morning team. He used to have a food truck in Venezuela and is very famous there. He’s still a partner for the food truck.

“Pav is just someone that people can relate to, it’s really easy to feel comfortable around him. He knows how to nurture people and he’s very calm. He’s the oldest, but still lots of fun.”

 

Francisco Carlos AKA Pancho, 27

General manager

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Francisco Carlos (Cosme)

“Pancho has been with us since the beginning and has grown with us. He just became GM a month ago but he started as a floor manager. He has also worked at the NoMad. He loves music and shoes – he has so many shoes.

“Pancho is someone who is extremely serious on the floor. He listens well and gives you good feedback. He hired pretty much everyone on the front of house team so he’s like the big brother of everyone here. He has the ability to lead people who have zero idea of how to work in a restaurant – he shapes them and teaches them about fine dining.”

 

Naseem Mays, 27

Chief of staff

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Naseem Mays (third from left) with the Cosme team (Sara Beth Turner)

“Naseem is like Beyoncé. She is so smart and a multitasker. She manages absolutely everything, she’s our accountant for Cosme and Atla, she’s also our social media person, a fashion person, my personal adviser. She gets things done – that’s what her title should be.

“Even if she doesn’t know it, I bet if all the people from the kitchen suddenly left, Naseem would be able to do all the positions in the kitchen and look good doing it… and have high heels on.”

 

Jorsand Díaz, 33 @jorsand

Head bartender

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Jorsand Diaz (Cosme)

“He’s our main bar genius and he’s from Peru. He is the creative side of the mezcal programme in both Cosme and Atla. He is completely sweet and so hard working and just has this incredible love for Mexico and especially Oaxaca and all the mezcaleros. He really cares about the educational part of things, not just getting drunk with mezcal. He has been at Cosme for four years.”

 

Santiago Perez, 31

Managing partner

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Santiago Perez (Cosme)

“Santi Perez is so smart. He is the mind of all our future projects, including the one in Los Angeles. He’s the one who has the eye for what’s happening next. He’s also been my mentor throughout this. He’s always one step ahead, he’s the nicest person. He’s from Mexico City. He’s always helping me with my growth and advising me with things. Santiago, Enrique and I are the ones who do all the openings.”

 

Enrique Olvera, 43 @enriqueolveraf

Chef partner

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Enrique Olvera with Soto-Innes at #50BestTalks in San Francisco

“Enrique is someone who is always laughing and smiling. He has been able to give me the liberty of expressing myself and expressing my creativity; he has let me be the chef of the restaurants, which is something that I’m extremely grateful for. We have very similar ways of always trying to create teams.”

 

Alonso de Garay

Architect and designer

“He’s another of the partners in the management company and he is extremely amazing. He is probably one of the most famous designers in Mexico. He builds stadiums and huge buildings, and he designed both Cosme and Atla.

“Every time he comes here with his brother – they’re both partners – they bring their mom, and their mom brings us a Virgin Mary for every restaurant opening. She’s so sweet. They’re always willing to do absolutely anything for us, with so much ease and always with a smile. They’ll just come downstairs and say hi to the kitchen.”

Hear from Daniela Soto-Innes and see some of the Cosme team in this video:


Now go behind the scenes on the 50 Best shoot:


Soto-Innes will receive the award in Singapore on Tuesday 25th June at the awards ceremony for The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2019, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna. Follow on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter for more news, videos and interviews.

Eight tortilla ladies, a pastry master and ‘Beyoncé’: meet the team behind the World’s Best Female Chef
  • Laura Price