Some time ago I sat down for coffee with the very talented local pastry chef, Uzma Sharif. I had just approached her after noticing she was donating her ‘East meets West’ chocolates to a charity event we were mutually involved in, though we had never met.
She was energetic and enthusiastic about our meeting and was thrilled to share her story with me so that it could be told right here with all of you, as well. During our coffee, she offered a couple of sample bags and boxes of her exotic and unique brand, Chocolat Uzma Sharif. I felt they were too pretty to open, so my first instinct was to photograph the packaging- what a gorgeous gift these will make. In fact, I waited a couple of days before trying anything because I simply enjoyed how the eco-friendly packages were decorated.
Uzma Sharif was born and raised in Albany Park (a Chicago neighborhood) of Pakistani parents. Her maternal grandfather was a renowned baker who set up shops all over Pakistan to sell European and traditional pastries. She says baking is in her blood since all her aunts and uncles also bake and cook and it’s been done so well for so long in her family.
After high school, Uzma decided to head to culinary school to attend the Colorado Mountain Culinary Institute’s Culinary Arts program. During the last six months of her program she elected to work at Keystone Resorts where she became the lead pastry cook, tweaking recipes at 11,500 feet and developing a keen skill for recipe testing, innovation and implementation, something she would take with her further to develop a thriving culinary career.
After graduation from culinary school, Uzma spent time traveling through Spain and other parts of Europe where she developed a fondness for the art and life abroad, influencing the style she would later implement into her beautiful craft of chocolate creation later with the Chocolat Uzma Sharif products.
After traveling for some time, Uzma returned to the U.S and began work as a catering chef for an existing company where she was responsible for cooking everything from food to pastries, a great segue into the Chicago food scene she is now a part of.
Uzma says she returned to Chicago to live and work because she loves it, and because it’s home. Though she’s no longer working as a catering chef, she is doing what she enjoys- teaching Chocolate Basics classes at Triton College and developing Chocolat Uzma Sharif, an online chocolate boutique which she began in her spare time while teaching chocolate courses.
Though she dreams of one day having a brick and mortar chocolate shop where she can sell her lovely halal chocolates, she says her focus is on ensuring her customers always have a quality product that they are 100% happy with.
Because of all her experience as a pastry chef, world traveler and business woman, I asked if she had any advice for aspiring pastry chefs, particularly chocolatiers. Her answer was quite simple: “Anything is possible in the U.S.” and “Do what you like, not what you love.”
Chocolat Uzma Sharif is a chocolate product line that illustrates this chef’s love of chocolate and of the artistic patterns reflected in the creation of each one. The biodegradable packaging, (some) organic ingredients in the chocolates and the fact that none contain alcohol, is the sum result of one savvy entrepreneur whose products speak to the demand of high quality, uniquely flavored, halal (though not yet halal-certified) products right here in the heartland of America.
I tried the coriander hazelnut praline and jasmine tea (where else are you going to get those?) and just couldn’t believe all of the flavors going on at once. As if the very high quality chocolate isn’t enough, with Uzma’s chocolates you’re blessed with more and more flavor combinations that are incredibly rare in commercially sold sweets.
Simply amazing chocolate. One pretty artistic chef. Masha’allah.
WIN some of Uzma’s delectable chocolates for yourself!
Just follow these simple steps and you’ll be entered to win a TRES PETITE HATBOX , Uzma’s signature chartreuse eco-friendly hatbox full of chocolate (a $45 value) which is a 6-piece exotic chocolate collection that includes 1 hazelnut crunch bar -milk
1 hazelnut crunch bar- dark
1 Istanbul bar
4 oz. chocolat croquant
Deadline for entries is May 30, 2011. Winner will be selected randomly from the lot of commentors who answer correctly.
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- Follow us on Twitter: My Halal Kitchen (www.twitter.com/myhalalkitchen) and Chocolat Uzma Sharif (www.twitter.com/chocolat_uzma)
- Answer this question correctly in the comments section below:
“Why is white chocolate not considered chocolate?”
Uzma Sharif currently teaches pastry arts classes (Chocolate Basics) at Triton College and sells her products online at www.chocolatuzma.com. Insha’allah some of her products will also soon be availble here at myhalalkitchen.com. If you’re in the Chicago area, you can purchase Chocolat Uzma Sharif products at the Marion St. Cheese Market.