Leading up to the upcoming Resy x Franks dinner (Aug.14) in the boisterous backyard garden of Frankies Spuntino 457, we caught up with Daniela Soto-Innes of Cosme and ATLA, who will be cooking alongside Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese) and, of course, Frank Castronovo and Frank Facinelli. As the sole returning chef from last year’s Franks’ Backyard Chef Series, Soto-Innes shared some insight on what makes this event so special and what she’s looking forward to this time around.
Resy: Can you talk a little bit about your experience participating in last year’s Backyard Chef Series — what you liked about it and what you learned from it?
Daniela Soto-Innes: First of all, it was so much fun—it was so much fun. I love the Franks—they’ve been the most generous and supportive chefs and friends, even before we opened Cosme. So any chance that we get to work together, it’s amazing. Also, [we have] a very similar way of thinking in the kitchen: they cook with love and have a lot of fun. So, [it’s great to] be able to be in their kitchen, and bring my staff around their staff.
We were also with Chris Bianco, whom I admire so much. I have family who live in Phoenix, so I grew up going to the pizzeria, and finally getting to work with him was really awesome.
How is it unique from other events that you’ve participated in?
The Franks definitely know how to have fun! [The dinner] is always about the food being super delicious with a really fun environment. It’s never stressful, which is a good thing. That’s the way we work at Cosme and ATLA, although it functions differently in a day-to-day restaurant situation. When you’re cooking, it should always be fun and simple. So with the Franks, it’s feels like you’re cooking with friends who care more about people being happy than showing off impressive new techniques.
How does collaboration keep you and your team on your toes?
It’s always good to be outside of your own environment, [in a space] where you feel comfortable. To cook with friends and chefs that you admire– it’s something that is an honor, and collaboration is always helpful. We view things differently and I get to see different perspectives, including how chefs talk to their staff, and what their staff is doing… you always learn something, and, of course, it opens a door to form new friendships, or imparts an opportunity to revive old ones.
Have you collaborated with Danny Bowien before?
Well, Danny eats at ATLA almost every day. So I feel like he’s my neighbor. I don’t think we’ve ever [cooked together], but I see him all the time, so it seems like we collaborate—just by talking.
Is it a challenge to cook with chefs who are known for cuisine that is so different from yours?
No, I actually love it. You see new things, and understand new flavor profiles—even the same ingredients can be used in a completely different way—there is no right or wrong. And when the chef, other than being a great cook, is a really great and interesting person, [the thought] ‘Oh my God, this is going to be so hard or so complicated’ never crosses your mind. Instead, it’s like ‘Yes, I get to cook with these amazing chefs, and it should be so much fun!’
Is there anything that you’re particularly excited about for this upcoming dinner?
Are you going to to be doing a spicy dish?
Maybe, I don’t know yet. I’ll have to see what Danny is cooking. I’ll have to do something that goes with the flow, but we always use some type of chiles, whatever is on the market. And we love fish, so maybe something with fish.
How do you stay inspired on a daily basis?
With my team. They make me want to be better. I work for them to be better, so I need to [always be] working on myself to do something different, to entertain them—or entertain myself. Every day you have to wake up and say, today is a good day… with the people who surround you, it’s not always about food, it’s about personalities. What should people be eating? How should they nurture themselves? I read a lot, I work out, I eat a lot.
Between running two restaurants and participating in pop-ups, what is your ritual for staying energized throughout it all?
I’ve always been an extremely hyper person. I have to maintain myself doing a hundred different things at the same time. I need to work with people that are better than me, surround myself with very talented people, make sure that I’m always on top of everything. I just don’t like to be bored. I don’t like to be doing just one thing for a long time, I need to keep moving. Two restaurants, yes, it’s a lot. But I talk to my staff every day. It’s nice to be present. When you are doing something you need to do it right, or get the most out of it. Also, when you have time to rest, do it right. Rest. Have fun. I don’t know how I find time for everything.
What’s on your radar right now?
I’m excited about my upcoming trips with World’s 50 Best—one is in Peru, and one is for their 50 Best Talks in San Francisco, where I’ll be giving a talk with Enrique [Olvera] on our work promoting Mexican culinary traditions.
What are some of your NYC haunts? What about neighborhoods?