New York based Pastry Chef Mame Sow draws her inspiration from seasonal, local ingredients, spices, colors, the juxtaposition of sweet and savory flavours and her love of architecture. Born and raised in Dakar, Senegal, she moved to New York City in her early teens. After a stint at the celebrated International Culinary Center, Chef Mame’s talents were cultivated at the Townhouse Restaurant Group under Marcus Samuelsson, including Aquavit, Riingo and Merkato55. She has also worked as pastry chef at luxury hotels around the country such as Hotel on Rivington, Bardessono Hotel and Spa, SLS Hotel South Beach/ The Bazaar by Jose Andres and culinary director for 1000Museum by Zaha Hadid in Miami. She was pastry chef at Spot Dessert bar when it won Best Dessert Bar NYC 2010 and at Cecil/Minton’s when it was named best new restaurant in the country by Esquire Magazine. Chef Mame’s favorite ingredient to work with is chocolate. She aims to show the immense diversity of African flavors in her desserts.
She runs Shoebox Bakery in NYC is an Afro-Asian-American Sweet Bar - a sweet, edible culinary adventure that mirrors the footprint of the African diaspora throughout Africa and beyond. Celebrating African traditions, flavours, cooking techniques and traditions, updated recipes come to life through the lens of creativity and inspiration and modern contemporary confections.
She talked to us about her food, the rise of female chefs, and how her Dakar childhood has shaped her food sensibilities. And shared a recipe from her award winning repertoire of desserts.
On her childhood in Senegal and how it shapes her food
For us, in Dakar food is a celebration, it’s a way for us to show love and welcome people, I use that as an influence in creating my desserts. Growing up, I used to help my aunt cook for our family and that helped me to fall in love with being in the kitchen. The journey to becoming a pastry chef has been a unique one. I started whilst in high school and working in restaurants after school and my passion grew from there.
When I draw from my African roots for desserts, there's really no specific recipe I follow. For me it’s about using base recipes as my building block to adjust it to what I want to create. For example, the Gateaux Dakar we offer at Shoebox Bakery is inspired by my childhood in Dakar during the summertime eating hibiscus and baobab popsicle. I use baobab, hibiscus, peanuts and vanilla, chocolates and different spices.
I like to be more intentional about what I cook and to teach people about my culture through food.
On being a part of 1000 Museums by Zaha Hadid in Miami
I was approached by the GM after he saw my resume and heard of me from around. He told me about the concept of the building and what they wanted to create for the tenants. For me it was such a special and amazing experience. Zaha Hadid was one of my heroes and someone I greatly admire. I created a breakfast menu with viennoiseries and other breakfast pastries in her honour. I also created a tapas menu that we paired with wines.
On female chefs, being a woman in a male-dominated field, and facing sexism on the job
There's a lack of female chefs heading restaurants. Though the numbers have definitely risen over the past few years, but it definitely can be better. We are just as capable of making right decisions and working under pressure , after all we are natural born multi-taskers with an amazing flair for creativity.
I’ve faced it [sexism] unfortunately in the past and it is something that I always made sure to address early on. I certainly do not tolerate it.
On the need for sustainability and how the pandemic has affected her work
The pandemic has certainly forced a lot of people to reflect. For me personally, it made me realise I need to slow down , be more present and focus more, this has certainly been reflected in my current work at Shoebox Bakery at Alkebulan.
I think without sustainability our planet will not survive. As chefs, we need to be more conscious of our choices when we are creating menus and the relationships we establish with vendors, and check if it aligns with those choices. There’s a lot farmer's markets around now which is where I prefer to get my ingredients from. They are there in most cities I’ve lived in, and I think it’s great to have those not just for chefs but also for everyday people. It encourages us all to make better choices. Personally, I love going to farmers markets, events and pop ups to try different foods.
On her go-to meal at home
Tuna Tartar and Roasted Chicken, hands down - no competition.
The dish that defines her childhood
It would be the famous chicken yassa dish. I absolutely love that dish.
Favourite food market in Miami
There’s a place called Sanguich De Miami and it has some of the best sandwiches ever. My favourite is the Pan Con Bistec.
On her future plans
Definitely to have my own chocolate shop and hopefully a pastry school in Senegal, that would be the ultimate dream.
Cinq Centime Cookies
20g peanut paste
200g whole eggs
740g ap flour
20g baking soda
500g chopped Dulcey chocolate
400g chopped peanuts no skin
1. Cream butter, peanut paste, sugar.
2. Add in eggs and mix well.
3. Add in remaining ingredients and mix until combined.
4. Chill dough.
5. Weight into 65g balls.
6. Freeze overnight before baking.
7. Bake at 165 degree celsius until done.
8. Whilst hot, decorate with pieces of toasted peanuts and sprinkle maldon salt on top.