When Daniela Soto-Innes, James Beard Award-winning chef-partner of New York City’s Cosme, visited JWU’s College of Culinary Arts last October to do a demo for the Club of Culinary Excellence, she made sure to thank Providence alum Josh Ulmer '17, who works in recipe research and development (R&D) at the restaurant. “Josh is so proud to be here, and he’s always telling us how amazing Providence is!” She turned to Josh: “I’m going to embarrass you, Josh!”
While Josh and Cosme pastry chef Isabel Coss plated up tasting portions of the James Beard Award-winning restaurant’s justifiably Instagram-famous dessert, the corn husk meringue, Soto-Innes shared her philosophy of life, joy, and learning to become a leader: “Leadership is not something that is taught — it is acquired by experience.”
At Cosme, Soto-Innes and chef-partner Enrique Olvera (Pujol) emphasize a joyful work environment where focus and hard work is tempered by a sense of fun and camaraderie. As she puts it, “Confident cooks make food taste better!”
That exuberance and strong sense of teamwork are what drew Josh to apply to Cosme for an internship. After a whirlwind 8-hour shift to test out the working environment, he quickly understood that Cosme would set him up for success and push him to elevate his skills to new heights. He also loved the restaurant’s familial culture. Josh’s internship soon turned into a full-time position.
While there’s no such thing as a “typical” day at Cosme, which was named to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2018, Josh shares his favorite projects, biggest takeaways and pride at working in such an innovative kitchen with deep roots in traditional Mexican techniques:
I’m from Medford, New York, which is on the eastern part of Long island. It’s very much your very typical suburb.
Growing up, my parents didn’t cook a lot. What was made was mainly from a box; chicken nuggets were a staple. When my mom had time, she would make simple “meat and potatoes” type dinners.
I started cooking because I got tired of eating the same things all the time. Once I was old enough to start cooking dinner, that’s how I would spend my afternoons after school. I would get very creative, if I didn’t have something I needed, I would figure out how to do something with what we had. No real “aha” moment, per se — but my interest in cooking grew to the point where it was all I wanted to do.
When deciding on my pastry internship, I wanted to get into fine dining, so I e-mailed a plethora of restaurants.
I received a reply from Cosme, so I set up a stage. During my stage I was able to do production, learn and even plate during dinner service. I also received a note on discipline and making sure — above all else — that both myself and my station always had to be clean and organized. In my 8-hour stage, I knew Cosme not only would allow me to do more than prep work, but also that it would push me toward being a better cook.
I think the most eye-opening thing about Cosme’s culture is probably how everyone says “hello” and “goodbye” to each other every day. It’s small but it’s a way that every single cook talks and connects with each other on a daily basis. It sparks camaraderie, which goes a long way. After just a week in the kitchen, there is no-one you don’t know.
Taste everything. Whenever I find something new I taste it, no matter what.”
A position was hinted to me by the pastry chef at the time [of my internship] but it wasn’t until Daniela sat me down during family meal and offered me a position that it really set in that I’d be working in a world-renowned restaurant. I don’t get outwardly excited often but I definitely was freaking out in my head. When I was offered the position, it included that I’d come back and be doing R&D — I did a few projects over the summer that I think helped make that possible.
So, my typical day at work. I set up and organize the station for lunch service, which includes baking bread, cookies, meringues and spinning ice cream. Then I simultaneously work lunch service and do the production for the station. Then, I divide and roll half the masa for dinner service’s tortillas with the PM pastry cook, and finish up any production for the day.
The tricky thing with doing R&D in a restaurant — well, Cosme at least — is that I have to find time between all of that to work on projects. So either I’ll fit it into my day of production or I’ll stay late working on something. For us R&D is working on new dishes and petit fours. My role in this is either I have an idea for a dish and I’ll work on it, plate it and have Isabel, then Chef Daniela taste it. If it needs work, I fix it. If not, we put it on the menu. Alternatively, sometimes Isabel will have an idea or a project for me, I’ll do it and the same process ensues. A lot of it is also figuring out how to either make something Mexican or at least utilize a Mexican ingredient.
For students interested in R&D, my best advice is read a lot — anything that you can get your hands on. Or watch cooking documentaries or scroll through chef’s Instagrams. Any time you see a technique or formula you like, write it down. Lastly, taste everything. Whenever I find something new I taste it, no matter what. It just gives a lot of starting points. Being so young, I don’t have a ton of experience necessarily, so the more I expose myself to, the more I can create.
The jobs I think are best for R&D are ones that you’re really passionate about. If you love the food and are inspired, you’ll push yourself to make sure to make time for side projects and there’s more pride in creating something that becomes even more special when it hits the menu.
I would say the most important skills are the most basic ones, because everything revolves around basics. So, for pastry to me, that means knowing and understanding mixing methods, being able to make an anglaise easily, knife skills and ratios. I believe you have to be able to do the basics before you start messing with them.
The dish I am most proud of is a Tristar strawberry raspado (like a shaved ice) we had on the menu for spring/summer. It was seasonal and captured a lot of Mexican ingredients and techniques.
TOP: The JWU and COSME crews. Photo by karin Lucier. // Below: Daniela Soto-Innes, Isabel Coss and Josh Ulmer of Cosme NYC. // The Instagram-famous corn husk meringue. // 4 Cosme dishes that Josh worked on (clockwise): Squash 3.0; strawberry raspado; olive oil panna cotta with rhubarb; Pan de Muerto donut filled with cajeta, orange sherbet and cinnamon.