Sonia Lisbeth Toral—Minding Her Own Business
“To a new student I would say to use every minute you are in school. Time flies by so meet lots of people (students and instructors), get a job, use the library and all the resources available to you, and have fun!”
CIA Alumni Bio
A 2015 graduate of the CIA bachelor’s in culinary science program, Sonia Lisbeth Toral is the founder of Mókuro, a unique shop specializing in glaciers—delicious shaved ice treats available in a variety of flavors. Based in Guadalajara Jalisco, Mexico, Mókuro offers options for every taste, from refreshing Citrus Extra and Strawberry-Watermelon to tea-based Matcha and Earl Grey to sweets like Cheesecake and Chocolate Cocoa.
Lisbeth’s formula for success blends her experiences growing up in southeast Mexico with the valuable knowledge and contacts she gained from her time at the CIA. Her first taste of shaved ice was Mexican raspados, a thick ice shaved by hand and topped with very sweet fruit concoctions. A friend from Taipei, Taiwan introduced her to a variation topped with ingredients like red bean, jelly, and condensed milk. And as a CIA student, Lisbeth took full advantage of the easy access to New York City to sample the different cuisines of the world, including various flavors of shaved ice popular in Asia—Patbingsu from Korea, Kakigori from Japan, and Taiwanese-style. All this led her to create a distinct business model at Mókuro, offering signature glaciers in flavors inspired by her life.
How did you come to the realization that your life would be in the food world?
When I was very little I would spend my afternoons reading my mom’s cookbooks and looking at all the pictures. After a few years I would start making those recipes. I always knew I wanted to be in the food world, and after my first experience in a professional kitchen, it just became clear.
Why did you choose the CIA?
I used to watch all of Anthony Bourdain’s shows. I admire the way he spoke and saw food and the experiences surrounding food, so when it was time to look for a culinary school I looked into his education background and learned about the CIA. I first went to another culinary school in my home country of Mexico, where I met a chef-instructor who graduated from the CIA. I would borrow his books and was very interested in the experiences he would share about his time at the CIA. That was when I decided to enroll.
How did the CIA prepare you for your chosen career?
During my time in the Culinary Science program I learned about recipe testing and development, which I apply daily in my job. It also gave me the exposure to new techniques and to hospitality leaders who inspire me to create experiences for my guests at Mókuro.
The CIA has very high standards, so it has been easy to go into the industry having that as a base because you are already starting from the top.
What did you like best about your CIA experience?
I enjoyed taking advantage of all of the resources available to you as a student. I used to go to the counseling office, and also enjoyed the library. Even after graduating, I would go back to visit campus and always stop by the library because it was the place I knew I’d find the information I needed.
Something that I am also very grateful for is working on campus. I got to know different instructors while working for them, and had the chance to meet other students who didn’t necessarily share classes with me. It was a great opportunity for networking, and I still communicate with all this people.
What is the best lessons you’ve learned while at the CIA?
To actively participate in activities in addition to going to classes and doing homework—the CIA experience becomes 10 times better if you do this.
What class at the CIA had the most impact on you?
I really enjoyed Sensory Evaluation of Food. I learned so many lessons about individual flavor profiles, and I apply this when developing recipes for new products.
What really cool stuff did you do in culinary science classes?
Being able to work with equipment that was unique on campus and having a lab attached to our kitchen was one of the coolest experiences of my education. For example, we learned about the machines invented for making and storing fried chicken and understanding how they work, and tested different recipes on them to see what other uses they could have in a kitchen. I will always remember one time when each student in my class worked on a dish to present to a group of people visiting our class. We were challenged to make delicious food, using the equipment we had been learning about and presenting to food professionals like Harold McGee, who we got to chat with after the presentation. Working on my thesis was also great because it was a project I was very interested in. For a whole semester I had the chance to develop it while having access to all the ingredients and equipment I needed.
Why do you think The Culinary Institute of America is a great place for students to learn about culinary science?
You are learning in the best school for culinary arts. Culinary Science is that bridge between food science and consumers, so we have a clear understanding of the food world and can apply that knowledge in ways that would make the final product appealing.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Creating and developing flavors as well as getting to know my guests when they come in to the shop.
What are some challenges that students may face in the industry?
Some may feel threatened by the competition, but the only thing you have to do is work harder than you did before—while taking care of yourself—and that will take you far.
What advice would you give to a new student or someone who is considering attending the CIA?
To a new student I would say to use every minute you are in school. Time flies by so meet lots of people (students and instructors), get a job, use the library and all the resources available to you, and have fun!