The Untold Truth Of Daniela Soto-Innes

The story of Daniela Soto-Innes sounds like a fairy tale. But the 30-year-old is no Cinderella. Sure, Soto-Innes' story involves a grandmother who taught her to cook in her native Mexico, but no magic wand enabled her quick rise to restaurant royalty. According to Starchefs magazine, she has already run one of the world's best restaurants and earned the title of world's best female chef. She beat the odds and busted restaurant stereotypes with hard work and talent. And despite all her food industry trophies, Soto-Innes refused to bask in the praise, giving credit instead to her largely female, mostly immigrant kitchen staff. She went out of her way to make sure the employees at her New York restaurants were happy. She was doing all this in a world where other head chefs were still perpetuating a culture of sexual harassment and taking advantage of vulnerable immigrant employees. Soto-Innes seems too good to be true, after all.

The chef even has a fairy-tale marriage — not to a prince, but to a peer. Husband Blaine Wetzel is another young, decorated chef, currently running the Willows, on Lummi Island, Washington. The couple have been working on opposite coasts until recently, and The New York Times mentioned that Soto-Innes had never worked with her husband. You have to wonder what she would think if she had.

Daniela Soto-Innes was drawn to cooking from a young age

Daniela Soto-Innes always loved to cook. It ran in her family, especially among the women. "I grew up with a line of really strong women that love to cook," she said in an interview with 50 Best. Her mother's cooking ambitions were thwarted when she decided to become a lawyer, but Soto-Innes' grandmother ran a bakery where the future New York chef first learned to cook, she told Bird in 2018. She moved with her parents to Houston at age 12 and enrolled in a career-focused technical school. She knew she liked cooking and chose to pursue culinary arts. A chef visiting the school gave Soto-Innes the inspiration that launched her life's work. He was happy, not like the other chefs who had come to the school, and he promised a life of good food, good wine, and travel.

Soto-Innes found the hotel where this chef worked and asked for an internship. She didn't bother telling them she was only 14 years old (via The Cut). The kitchens where she worked during her teen years were intimidating, male-dominated places. She didn't like the environment, Soto-Innes told 50 Best, but she loved to cook. "I just knew that it was the thing that made me the happiest," she said.

Soto-Innes creates a happy environment in her kitchens

Daniela Soto-Innes took charge of her first restaurant at the age of 23, opening Cosme in New York in 2014 with her mentor, Enrique Olvera (via 50 Best). New York and the world embraced Cosme and Soto-Innes both. World's 50 Best Restaurants ranked Cosme 25th worldwide in 2018, and in 2019 the organization anointed Soto-Innes world's best female chef, according to The Wall Street Journal. She did it all while exploding the toxic-masculine restaurant culture she had grown up in. When she was in culinary school, she spent a summer working for a chef in New York who angered her by telling her he didn't normally hire women.

As a corrective to that attitude, Soto-Innes made a point of lifting up women at Cosme and her second New York restaurant, Atla. Two-thirds of her staff were women, according to Fine Dining Lovers. She also made her kitchens happy places, creating a party-like atmosphere with music and dancing. As her grandmother taught her, food tastes better if you make it with joy (via 50 Best). "It's important to make sure that everyone is set and happy around you," Soto-Innes told Starchefs. She even gives all employees personality tests so she can better understand what they will need from her. "Watching them dance and sing from the top of their lungs — I'm the proudest I could ever be for making someone's life so happy while they're doing their job," she told 50 Best.

Daniela Soto-Innes and Blaine Wetzel are two chefs in love

Daniela Soto-Innes met Blaine Wetzel at a bar in Bilbao Spain, the night before the 2018 World's 50 Best Restaurants awards event (via The Wall Street Journal). It was love at first sight. Soto-Innes reported on Instagram that the couple had a spur-of-the-moment wedding ceremony in January 2020. In an Instagram post to Wetzel from December 2019, Soto-Innes wrote, "I admire you soooo much, one day I will be like you."

In that post, Soto-Innes complimented Wetzel's achievements at Willows that season. It's unclear whether she knew at the time about the workplace culture Wetzel was allegedly fostering at the Pacific Northwest restaurant. The New York Times told of a chef accused of sexual harassment, racial slurs, and wage theft. Wetzel denied the allegations in the article, but two Asian chefs quit in 2020 after confronting Wetzel about his use of a slur against them. Male staff allegedly plied female employees as young as 16 with drugs and alcohol and pursued them for sex, according to the accounts of 35 former employees who spoke to the Times. They also claimed Wetzel has never promoted a woman to chef. Wetzel used his wife in his defense: "I support female chefs with all my heart (so much so that I married one). Anyone that would claim that I don't support female chefs is lying."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

She left her successful New York restaurants behind

The COVID-19 pandemic forced chef Daniela Soto-Innes to temporarily close Atla and Cosme, aka "the happiest kitchen in New York" (via 50 Best). Her new Las Vegas restaurant had to close as soon as it opened, due to the pandemic, and plans to open a Los Angeles restaurant were postponed during the lockdowns. Soto-Innes used the enforced downtime to reflect. "I think this period has been about re-evaluating how to move the world around you, and what you really want, and how to do it properly," she told The New York Times Style Magazine.

Then, in December, Soto-Innes announced on Instagram she was leaving her New York restaurants. She's also no longer associated with the two L.A. eateries she was planning to open with Enrique Olvera, according to Grub Street. Olvera and Soto-Innes' Las Vegas restaurant Elio lasted only five months, closing in January due to a pandemic-related downturn in business (via Eater Las Vegas).

Her name no longer associated with any restaurants for the first time in 16 years, Soto-Innes retreated to Washington State to be with Wetzel, according to The New York Times. Some of Soto-Innes' New York chefs moved with her, to work at the Willows after multiple chefs had quit the establishment to protest what was alleged to be Wetzel's workplace culture. If Soto-Innes left her restaurant empire behind to rescue her husband's business, then maybe she's something even rarer than a happy chef. Maybe she's a saint.

Soto-Innes makes her TV debut in 'The Globe'

Daniela Soto-Innes may not have a restaurant to run currently, but she's not unemployed. She broke into television this month, appearing as the regular judge on the new Robert Irvine show "The Globe," which debuted on Discovery+ July 17, according to a press release from the streaming service. "The Globe" is a cooking competition show masquerading as a food travel show. Competing chefs will virtually travel, via LED screen backdrops, to destinations around the world, then try to make authentic dishes using local ingredients from those places. The first episode features the cuisines of Beijing, Tel Aviv, and Accra, Ghana. Helping Soto-Innes are guest judges familiar with the cuisine the chefs will try to create. The drama comes as trained chefs try to apply their talents on ingredients and equipment they have never used before.

Irvine told AMNY in an interview that "The Globe" is intended to promote a better understanding of different cultures. If that's the case, we can understand why Soto-Innes signed on to be a part of it.