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Our Latest Fellow is Putting Hospitality at the Forefront

Sofia Mendoza is making the Michelin-starred experience accessible

Morgan Carter

August 05, 2021

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Photo of Sofia Mendoza against a black and white background
Photo: Michelle Giang

For decades, cooking at the James Beard House has been an aspiration for many chefs and is considered a career milestone. In May, we launched the Beard House Fellows program, presented by Capital One, which re-envisions the potential of this historic space into a hub of training and professional development for talented emerging chefs.

The program’s pilot, beginning in May and running through November 2021, launched in partnership with the Food Education Fund (FEF). Our initial class of seven Fellows will all be alumni of FEF’s New York-based partner high schools.

Each Fellow has a one-month residency at the Beard House, and receives training in financial and legal matters, public relations, policy and advocacy, social media, and more. Fellows also develop a Beard Box meal kit in collaboration with Great Performances, available for purchase and shipping across the continental U.S., with special perks for Capital One cardholders. Sign up for the waitlist to get your Beard Box.

Our newest Fellow is Sofia Mendoza. Sofia’s interest in food started at an early age thanks to her mother who would show her love by cooking up Mexican delicacies including chilaquiles, mole, and chiles rellenos. After pursuing a culinary degree at Monroe College and working in various award-winning restaurants in New York, including The Modern and Restaurant Daniel, Sofia found her true passion in hospitality. Working at Eleven Madison Park as an HR manager and guest relations specialist, she helped to cultivate guest experiences while reinforcing the strength of her team. After working with The Dinex Group, the restaurant group of chef Daniel Boulud, Sofia joined the human resources team at Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group where she is focusing on building company culture and DEI initiatives. But as the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact the industry, and in particular, the Latino community, Sofia began to think about how to make the Michelin experience accessible for all. With the dreams of opening up a Mexican cafe, Sofia hopes to create a space where people can visit for a taste of home. 

We asked each Fellow a few questions about their culinary dreams and signature dishes. Read on to learn more about Sofia’s favorite ingredients and her favorite (but semi-controversial) food combination.  

James Beard Foundation: Do you have a signature dish?

Sofia Mendoza: I do not have a signature dish, but my family and friends enjoy when I cook Mexican food for them.

JBF: What is your earliest food memory?

SM: I was six when I learned it is taboo to eat pineapple on pizza. I grew up eating it all the time and was baffled when I heard the news that most people do not like that combo. I think it is heaven.

JBF: What is an item you think everyone should have in their pantry?

SM: Corn flour! Tortillas are super easy to make and it is a pantry item that is underused in the arts.

JBF: What is one culinary destination you hope to go to one day?

SM: Thailand. I would love to explore their cuisine more and eat my heart away at the night markets and food halls.

JBF: What is your favorite or least favorite current food trend?

SM: Using chickpeas for everything. I think chickpeas are so underrated and I am happy they finally get their time to shine.

Sign up for the waitlist to get Sofia’s Beard Box, on sale August 17

Learn more about the Beard House Fellows program, presented by Capital One.

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Morgan Carter is the content manager at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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