Star Chef Daniela Soto-Innes, Victor Cruz, and Cooking With a Purpose

Nasha Smith

Chef Daniela Soto-Innes is, to borrow from sporting parlance, in the zone. The 30-year-old is enjoying a remarkable run, which started in 2013 when she was tapped by her mentor Enrique Olvera to run the kitchen of Cosme, his Manhattan-based contemporary Mexican restaurant. 

Since then she has won a Rising Star Award from the prestigious James Beard Foundation in 2016, been named the World’s Best Female Chef in 2019, and partnered with Olvera to open the more casual haunt Atla. Two more eateries will be commanding her attention soon — Las Vegas’ Elio and an as yet unnamed Los Angeles location.

Now the Mexican-born culinary superstar is teaming up with former New York Giants wide receiver and Super Bowl champ Victor Cruz along with Belgian brewer Stella Artois to bring a gourmet gameday experience to football fans. Starting from October 14th, Stella Stadium Bites will be available to order for the New York faithful just in time for the Giants’ October 22nd game. 

The menu consists of several of Cruz’s preferred stadium fare reimagined by Soto-Innes — grilled burgers topped with chipotle mayo, seasoned beef sausage hotdogs with melted raclette cheese, classic crispy waffle fries with a side of Stella-infused dipping sauce, chicken wings tossed in spicy honey-based sauce, topped with cilantro and scallions, and of course fried churros coated in Mexican cinnamon with a warm chocolate sauce for dipping.

The collaboration between the former football star and in-demand chef makes perfect sense and not just because of their Latin roots. Soto-Innes was a former competitive swimmer until the age of 20 and brings an athlete’s mentality to the kitchen.

“I think being an athlete prepares you to do whatever you want to do in life,” she explained. “Part of being an athlete is working with a team and constantly being coached and constantly wanting to do better and evolving at all times. So for me being an athlete is not only about doing 100 push-ups, it's about the mentality. So I think if you do sports or have that competitive team personality you can implement that wherever you go. Being a chef is very similar to when you're in a game.”

Soto-Innes’ cuisine is heavily influenced by her Mexican heritage. And as tends to happen with most accounts of culinary inspiration, it all started with grandma. Or in Soto-Innes’ case her great grandmother, grandmother, and mother. Some of her earliest memories include sitting on a table in her grandmother’s bakery tasting bread before she could even walk.

“My great grandma traveled all over Europe to learn how to cook because she really loved cooking and she was very lucky to be able to do so. But when she came back to Mexico it was the Mexican Revolution so she couldn't really follow her dream. And then when my grandma was born, she also loved cooking and she wanted to pursue it but in Mexico it was not a respected profession. And the same thing was my mom. She went to school to be a chef, she loved it so much and her dad was like that's not a profession. So when they saw that I started cooking I think they were just like, yeah do it!”

Food is probably one of the most important elements of the fan experience and the pandemic has robbed stadium-goers of that communal gathering of bonding over long concession lines. But Soto-Innes contends that anyone can upgrade their favorite stadium food by swapping out certain products for a fresher substitute.

“Switching the regular hotdog bun or the hamburger bun for a potato bun is always a winner because it just melts in your mouth,” she shared. “Or getting really nice ripe avocados or ripe limes, the nice products from the market. The most important thing for me is to just make sure that it is delicious. For instance, with the hot dog we put New York cheddar cheese that goes super good with the hot dog. Just adding little ingredients that are different from the regular stadium food.”

And naturally, all the dishes are infused with hints of her homeland. “In Mexico we put pico de gallo on top of hot dogs so I wanted to make sure that the Latin people that were watching the game felt like they were back at home. My friends from Venezuela told me that they eat the hot dogs the same way so that's really fun.”

Soto-Innes moved to Texas at the age of 12 and studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Austin. To say that football is popular in the Lone Star State is an understatement. The city of Katy lays claim to the most expensive high school stadium in the country with a price tag of approximately $70 million. And the Dallas Cowboys have anointed themselves ‘America’s Team’. So was it weird working with an NFC East rival in Cruz?

“I was not really focused on football when I was in Texas. I was more into swimming, in my defense,” she laughs. “And my cooking mentor was more of a Texans fan. The Giants was one of the teams that when I moved here [New York], I was like okay I want to know about the Giants. That was the team that all New Yorkers went for. So when they told me that Victor Cruz was going to be part of this program and I said this is amazing. Sounds great, let’s go.”

This was also her third project with the beer brand she loves because it reminds her of the “easy, crisp, and flavorful” taste of Mexican beer. It’s a venture which allows her to combine her love of cooking with philanthropy. “It’s really amazing because not only are they doing such a great deal, it's also working with the New York Food Bank and also working with the James Beard Foundation. So they're donating a huge amount of the already amazing deal that they're giving. And that's the type of thing that I really love about being involved. It's not just cooking with Stella, it's cooking with Stella for a purpose.”

Stella Stadium Bites will be available in Manhattan only starting today via for the New York Giants game on October 22, while supplies last. The cost of a pack will include two Stella Stadium Bites bites from the menu, 2 chalices, a mini cooler and a 6-pack of Stella Artois Lager totals $25.00 with all proceeds donated to the New York Food Bank.