RACHEL DEVOR / THE EAGLE
Although Mary Soto is a Terrace Dining Room chef by day, she spends her nights chowing down on microwaveable popcorn.
“You wouldn’t believe what chefs eat,” said Soto, Bon Appétit’s executive chef at AU. She is sometimes known as “Chef Mary.”
Soto held cooking lessons for students on Feb. 24, showing them how to cook like a chef in the dorms.
Soto prepared spicy black bean chili, teaching students how to seed a jalapeño and a tomato, how to use a knife most effectively and how to sauté a dish.
“When you first sauté, try not to be a culinary rock star,” she told students as she flipped vegetables in the pan.
Soto’s cooking class was interactive, allowing students to taste the food and help sauté the ingredients.
Soto’s first job as a chef was at the governor’s mansion in Florida. She later owned a restaurant in Baltimore.
She said she never imagined herself working for a big corporation, but Bon Appétit changed her mind.
“I loved what they stood for,” she said. “And basically I get to cook from scratch. I get to do everything as if it was in a restaurant. It’s a chef-run company, so I still write the menus and I’m still a hands-on chef.”
Soto said she often has problems keeping portions small when she’s off the clock.
“I have a really hard time cooking for two,” she said. “It usually ends up being for 15 or something.”
She said she cooks without a recipe, enjoying the improvisation of making new dishes.
“That’s why I’m not a baker, because I never measure,” she said.
Soto said her favorite part of working at TDR is interacting with students and knowing they enjoyed the food.
She particularly loves having the flexibility to accommodate students with special needs and food allergies, to give them the same college food experience as other students.
“[The best part is] being able to make them feel like they’re no different from anyone else, to cook for them and make their college experience just like everybody else’s,” she said. “Because when you have a restriction, some people feel like they can’t eat in TDR, and I know it’s a social place to be.”
Soto denies being TDR’s “Sassy Chef,” the name signed by the person who replies to students’ comment cards in TDR.
“I can’t reveal who Sassy Chef is,” she said. “Sassy Chef will never be revealed.”
1. She originally dreamed of being a doctor.
2. She grew up in Louisiana and loves southern food, like gumbo and frog legs.
3. Her Italian and Mexican grandmothers inspire her cooking.
4. She does not watch cooking shows.
5. She is not Sassy Chef.