New York’s top pastry chef Mame Sow talks about female chefs, sustainability and the memory of baobab popsicles

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New York pastry chef Mame Sow draws inspiration from local seasonal ingredients, spices, colors, the juxtaposition of sweet and savory flavors and her love of architecture. Born and raised in Dakar, Senegal, she moved to New York in her early teens. After a stint at the famed 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 a pastry chef at luxury hotels across 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 when it was named Best New Restaurant in the Country by Esquire magazine. Chef Mame’s favorite ingredient is chocolate. She aims to show the immense diversity of African flavors in her desserts.

She runs Shoebox Bakery in New York, an African-Asian-American sweet bar – a sweet and edible culinary adventure that reflects the footprint of the African diaspora across Africa and beyond. Celebrating African traditions, flavors, cooking techniques and traditions, updated recipes come to life through the lens of creativity and inspiration and modern contemporary confections.

She told us about her cooking, the rise of female chefs, and how her childhood in Dakar shaped her food sensitivity. And shared a recipe from her award-winning dessert repertoire.

On her childhood in Senegal and how she shapes her food

For us in Dakar, food is a party, it’s a way for us to show love and welcome people, I use it to create my desserts. Growing up, I used to help my aunt cook for our family and that helped me fall in love with being in the kitchen. The journey to becoming a pastry chef was unique. I started in high school and worked in restaurants after school and my passion grew from there.

When I draw on my African roots for desserts, there is really no precise recipe that I follow. For me, it’s about using basic recipes as a building block to adjust it to what I want to create. For example, the Dakar Cakes we offer at Shoebox Bakery are inspired by my childhood in Dakar during the summer eating hibiscus and baobab. I use baobab, hibiscus, peanuts and vanilla, chocolates and different spices.

I like to be more intentional in what I cook and teach people about my culture through food.

Be part of 1000 Museums by Zaha Hadid in Miami

I was approached by the General Manager after seeing my resume and hearing about me. 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 admire a lot. I created a breakfast menu with pastries and other pastries in his honor. I also created a tapas menu that we paired with wines.

On female bosses, being a woman in a male-dominated field and dealing with sexism in the workplace

There is a lack of female chefs at the head of restaurants. Although the numbers have certainly increased over the past few years, it can certainly be better. We are equally capable of making good decisions and working under pressure, after all, we are born multitaskers with an incredible talent for creativity.

I faced him [sexism] unfortunately in the past and it’s something I’ve always made sure to address early on. I certainly do not tolerate it.

On the need for sustainability and how the pandemic has affected his work

The pandemic has certainly forced a lot of people to think. For me personally it made me realize that I need to slow down, be more present and focus more, this has certainly reflected in my current job at Shoebox Bakery in Alkebulan.

I think without sustainability our planet will not survive. As chefs, we need to be more aware of our choices when creating menus and the relationships we build with vendors, and check to see if it aligns with those choices. There are a lot of farmer’s markets now, that’s where I like to source my ingredients. They’re there in most cities I’ve lived in, and I think it’s great to have them not only for chefs but also for ordinary 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 his meal at home

Tuna tartare and roast chicken, hands down – no competition.

The dish that defines his childhood

This would be the famous chicken yassa dish. I love this dish.

Favorite food market in Miami

There’s a place called Sanguich De Miami and it has some of the best sandwiches ever. My favorite is the Pan Con Bistec.

On his future projects

Definitely having my own chocolate factory and hopefully a pastry school in Senegal would be the ultimate dream.

RECEIPTS

Five Cent Cookies

Ingredients
220g of butter
20g peanut paste
500g of sugar
200g whole eggs
740g plain flour
10g salt
20g baking soda
500 g chopped Dulcey chocolate
400 g chopped peanuts without skin

Instructions
1. Creamed butter, peanut paste, sugar.
2. Add the eggs and mix well.
3. Add remaining ingredients and mix until combined.
4. Cool the dough.
5. Weigh into 65g balls.
6. Freeze overnight before baking.
7. Bake at 165 degrees Celsius until done.
8. While hot, garnish with chunks of roasted peanuts and sprinkle maldon salt on top.

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