Two years after leaving Cosme in New York, Daniela Soto-Innes is putting down roots in Mexico with Rubra, her debut restaurant in her home country. 50 Best catches up with The World’s Best Female Chef 2019 about her milpa-focused cuisine, building a female-led team and achieving ‘the American dream’
Daniela Soto-Innes is starting over. Having left Cosme, the busy New York City restaurant where she won countless accolades, she has swapped the Big Apple for a sleepy Mexican surf town straddling the beach and the jungle in the coastal state of Nayarit. There, inside the W Punta de Mita resort hotel, she plans to open à la carte restaurant Rubra in the first or second quarter of the year, serving what she is calling ‘tropical cuisine’.
“I’ve been asked many times to open a restaurant, but until this opportunity came along, there wasn’t something that felt right,” says the 32-year-old chef, speaking from Mexico City. “It’s a rooftop overlooking the ocean and it’s really beautiful. It’s a surf town too so it’s a very ‘peace-and-love’ area, which is really cool.”
Rubra’s cuisine will focus on the foods of the milpa, the Mexican agriculture system where complementary crops are grown around corn. With her signature combination of bold, bright flavours and plenty of spice, she’ll make dishes from corn, beans, squash and chillies, as well as herbs from a farm that the team are setting up for later in 2023. While the menu is still in development, it is sure to feature tacos and tostadas, with Soto-Innes’s previous creations including plenty of vegetables and fresh fish, like abalone with pine nut and sweetcorn with trumpet mushrooms.
As to whether the food will be similar to her cooking at Cosme, she says: “Cosme is my food, the way I cook. It has the same paintbrush, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same dishes. It’s a constant evolution.”
Razor clam tostada: a dish Soto-Innes created while working at Cosme
A ‘woman-powered project’
The name Rubra has several meanings, the main one being ‘incarnate’ or ‘embody’. It is also the colour red and the Latin name of a native Mexican plant with pink flowers that is abundant in the area. Soto-Innes says it’s a ‘strong, feminine name’, which chimes with the fact that the restaurant, like all her endeavours, is predominantly ‘woman-powered’.
Joining her from Cosme are Estefania and Valentina Brito, the Venezuelan sisters known affectionately as ‘the Chikis’, and Mexican chef Hugo Vera, who was chef de cuisine at Cosme’s sister restaurant, Atla. Former Quintonil sommelier Andrea Hernández will be beverage director, curating an exciting wine list including bottles from Baja California, while bartender Eli Martínez Bello will run the cocktail programme, and Elisa Zubia will be general manager.
Architect Ana Paula De Alba is designing special chairs for Rubra with local materials
The design comes from architects Pablo Kobayashi and Ana Paula De Alba and will feature local art, with tableware created by a local ceramicist. Everything from the tables to the plates is being made from scratch, with materials including tezontle, a reddish-coloured volcanic rock. “I think of the restaurant as a womb, not because of its looks but because I want it to feel like someone is hugging you,” she says.
Nestled between the beach and the jungle, the W Punta de Mita is a 40-minute drive from the nearest major town, Puerto Vallarta, so getting produce to the restaurant is difficult. “You have to go through rough, undeveloped roads so it’s a whole different deal,” says Soto-Innes, adding that she is excited for the challenge.
She is also looking forward to cooking above ground with a view of the ocean and the sunset, in contrast to the basement kitchen where she cooked at Cosme. Rubra will seat 50, and will play neighbour to Spice Market, a restaurant from Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Rubra will feature bespoke pottery made from tezontle, a volcanic rock
Achieving the American dream
“I’ve always wanted to come back to Mexico,” says Soto-Innes, who was born in Mexico City and moved to Texas at the age of 12. “Cooking in the US for me was the American dream. Being successful in New York was my dream and I didn’t think I was going to achieve that at such a young age, but when I did, I wanted to start over again.”
She has certainly achieved a lot. After winning the James Beard Rising Star Award at the age of 25, she was named The World’s Best Female Chef at 28, having led Cosme to No.23 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019. After a stop-start period of opening and closing her restaurants during the first year of the pandemic, she left New York in early 2021 and has worked on various projects, but Rubra is her first major restaurant opening since leaving Cosme.
Soto-Innes received The World’s Best Female Chef Award in 2019
As for whether she plans to stay in Mexico long-term, she hasn’t ruled out a return to the US at some point. For now, she is looking forward to a more relaxed pace of life in a place she can call her own. “I spent so many years in the city that I just wanted a different pace of cooking,” she says. “It’s really nice to be next to the water, surrounded by trees.”
Laura Price is a contributing editor for 50 Best, a food journalist, podcast host and book author. Listen to Soto-Innes talk about Food and Identity in the podcast Life in Food with Laura Price.
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