It isn’t every day that you get to ‘meet’ a pastry chef like Malika Ameen. If you don’t know her already, here’s a great chance to get acquainted with one of the country’s finest culinary professionals–and we’re fortunate enough to have her right here with us in Chicago.
Even if you’ve seen her as a contestant on Top Chef: Just Desserts, take a moment to find out what she’s been up to since then. At the end, find out where how you can experience her exquisite line of desserts and even see her this weekend at a Chicago fundraising event.
In this recent interview, I asked her some questions I thought you’d want to ask her yourself :
MHK: How old were you when you began baking? When did you realize you had an exceptional talent for the pastry arts?
Ameen: I have been baking since as long as I can remember. I would bake tarts and cakes when I was 12 years old and invite my family over for tea parties. I realized in 1996 after attending culinary school on New York that I wanted to make pastry arts a career. As far as talent, I can only say that is perceived by those who like and enjoy my creations.
MHK: I read that your father had a great deal of influence on your passion for the culinary arts. Can you tell us more about what he did to motivate you to pursue this as a career?
Ameen: My Father was an amazing cook and very passionate about good food. Cooking in our home was a daily event and everything was made from scratch. We rarely ate out and my Mom was an amazing baker. She would make desserts for my father from Julia Child’s cookbooks. When my parents entertained at home, cooking was a collaboration and each of them would make different items. On weekends we would go to gourmet food stores searching for cheese, exotic fruits, pastries and numerous imported foods. Those are some of the best memories of my life.
MHK: What made you decide upon the French Culinary Institute for your culinary education and how did you choose to focus on pastry arts specifically?
Ameen: I was living in Manhattan at that time and FCI was one of the upcoming and well known schools. After completing a culinary arts degree, I knew that pastry was what I wanted to pursue and it came very naturally to me.
MHK: You became Executive Pastry Chef at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles before returning to Chicago. Did you choose this incredible and historical location or did it choose you? How did it happen and what did you gain from the entire experience there?
Ameen: My job at Chateau Marmont came from my relationship with Andre Balazs who owned the Mercer hotel in NYC. Andre was a fan of my desserts and Mohammad’s food (my husband at the time). He offered us both a job together. Chateau Marmont was an amazing experience for me and living in California is where I really established my pastry style. Living in a place where you have access to farmers markets every day of the year is amazing and is continually inspiring.
MHK: You’re a native of Chicago and recently returned to your home city. What prompted you to return and what would you say is the biggest food-related difference between the two cities?
Ameen: Chicago is my hometown and where my family is. I always wanted to return at the right time, and when I decided to come back in 2007 the timing seemed right with the venture of opening Aigre Doux.
MHK: You have an incredible background, working under many exceptional pastry chefs in some of the finest restaurants in the country. In what ways (i.e. skills, techniques, confidence levels) would you say that those experiences prepared you to open up Aigre Doux (Chicago, until 2009)?
Ameen: Working with chefs and mentors has helped me to grow as a pastry chef and to open my eyes to see the food arts in a more broad perspective. I think nothing can prepare you for opening your first restaurant. It is an amazing experience that requires hard work, dedication, and passion. You actually learn the most when you have your own business through your own trials and errors.
MHK: Everyone wants to know what was it like to be a contestant on Top Chef! Can you give us a behind-the-scenes idea of how you felt to be chosen as a contestant and what the environment was like? What were the other contestants like?
Ameen: Top Chef was an amazing experience, and now looking back definitely one of the most amazing in my life. It was an honor to be chosen and sometimes I still can’t believe it! The Top Chef environment was like what you would imagine your most stressful life situation to be like x 5! You are thrown in a living situation and competing against 11 other of the country’s Top Pastry Chefs who are all in charge of their own kitchens, and believe that they are the best. So, you can only imagine the rest.
MHK: Since Top Chef, you created your own line of pastries which you sell online. Can you tell us a bit more about why you created ByM Desserts, what’s available and how people outside of Chicago can order?
Ameen: ByMDesserts was a natural step forward for me to finally formalize a business that had stemmed from a demand for my desserts since Aigre Doux closed. The website focuses on cookies which can be shipped anywhere in the U.S as well as cakes and custom order requests for local Chicagoans.
MHK: What are your plans for your culinary future? Where will we be seeing more of you? Any plans to return to Top Chef or any other competitive cooking?
Ameen: Right now I am busy with ByMDesserts. No plans for a return to competitive cooking. Just continuing to work and live my passion each and every day.
Malika Ameen will be in Chicago at the Stars for Hope Celebrity Flood Benefit this Saturday, January 16, insha’allah. Her private baking class at your home will be auctioned off during the event. For more information, check out the event webpage here.
My Halal Kitchen will also have auction items at the event- a basket full of products from the MHK line, as well as an In-Home Couples Cooking Class: An Italian Gourmet Dinner. Don’t miss the event– and a wonderful opportunity to help the victims of the recent Pakistani floods. They need our help and support.