In a Year that Celebrated Female Chefs, Two Latinas Shine Bright at the James Beard Awards

Read more

The culinary world is still a male-dominated industry, but this week, women came out on top at the 2016 James Beard Awards, aka the Oscars of the food world. Three of the top prizes – Outstanding Chef, Rising Star Chef, and Outstanding Pastry Chef – all went to women for the first time in 12 years during a ceremony that took place Monday night at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, according to The New York Times. And Latinas won 2/3 of the biggest awards. Los Angeles native Dahlia Narvaez won the Outstanding Pastry Chef award for her work at Osteria Mozza, and Cosme’s Daniela Soto-Innes won the Rising Star Chef award.

The James Beard Foundation previously nominated Narvaez for her pastry work. Her career started at the Conga Room, where she ended up lying about her skills to get the job. Though she calls that moment “probably… not the smartest thing I’ve done for my career,” it gave her the preparation she needed for when she moved on to La Break Bakery. There, she walked in and asked for a job behind the counter, but she ended up doing pastry – an area that might seem unlikely given that her mother never made desserts. “I actually didn’t grow up with a ton of homemade desserts,” she told JBF. “Dessert just wasn’t something my mother made. But she did make good food, getting complex flavors out of simple ingredients.”

Narvaez keeps her Instagram private, but Soto-Innes used her account to give us a little peek into the ceremony. In a photo where she holds up the medal up to her face, she dedicates it to her mother – whose dreams of becoming a chef were thwarted. 25-year-old Soto-Innes grew up in Mexico City, and has been honing her culinary talents since childhood. She helped her mother make lime custard cakes as a kid. “Growing up in Mexico City, though, it didn’t matter if your mom wanted to be a chef or not,” Soto-Innes told Refinery 29. “You walked down the street and there were tacos and bakeries everywhere. It was just natural for me to fall in love with it.”

Her career officially started in high school. She heard a chef speak at her school, and tried to get him to take her on. Though he kept rejecting her because of her young age, she kept going back until he let her cut the tops of strawberries for free. Eventually, they hired her. Soto-Innes started working at Cosme in 2014, and she now runs the day-to-day cooking for the Mexican restaurant.