It's impossible to get the scoop from Malika Ameen on how long she lasted as a contestant on Bravo's new series "Top Chef: Just Desserts."
"I can't tell you; I signed my life away to the station," she says with a sigh. But she can tell you that it meant time away from her kids and she'll hint just a little bit. "I've never been away from them for such a lengthy time. It was quite some time."
Ameen, pastry chef and single mom to three boys, age 2, 5 and 7, made her first foray into reality TV with the series, which kicked off Sept. 15, but was filmed in advance in Los Angeles. While waiting for the show to air, she took a few minutes to talk with Chicago Parent about her television debut and her life as a mom.
I know you can't tell me how you did on "Top Chef," but can you tell me what it was like?
"Top Chef" was very intense; there's a lot of pressure to perform and you're completely out of your element. You have no recipes. That was really hard for pastry chefs because our recipes are our Bible. Pastries are very scientific; it's about formulas. If you don't have your formula right and you put it in the oven, you're in trouble. Put a group of pastry chefs out of their element and then the pressure of "Top Chef," I can only say, watch the drama unfold.
I love the show "Cake Boss"-all the arguing in the kitchen while they make the cakes. Is that what it was like for you?
I haven't seen that show, but a kitchen is a very intense place. There's the pressure of time and perfection. ... Every human emotion you can go through, I went through it on "Top Chef." It's very surreal. It'll be interesting to watch myself and the other contestants on the show.
Where did you learn your love of cooking?
It has to come from my parents. My parents are Pakistani, and cooking in our home was a very important daily ritual. We never ate out. Weekends were big in cooking; they always cooked together. ... My mom used to make French desserts out of Julia Child's cookbooks. She'd make souffles and desserts. She always ventured into something different.
What kind of food do you cook for your boys?
I cook American and all types of ethnic cuisine. My philosophy with my kids is not to give them anything that I don't really like.
Are you teaching your boys to cook?
I am in an apartment right now and I have a really small galley kitchen, so it's sometimes hard to cook with them. But they like to crack the eggs and my elder son is always asking to make pastry with me. They have a fascination with meringue.
What do you always have in your kitchen?
A variety of vegetables that I either put into foods, like one-pot meals, or we'll do raw vegetables in salads or steamed vegetables. And I always have Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. When I'm trying to do easy food for the kids and I don't want to mask the flavor, like something with pasta and chicken or warm spinach, this is perfect to add.
Now that the show's over, what's next?
I'm working on my own online cookie business at malikaameen.com. I'm going to be selling high-end gourmet cookies.
Liz DeCarlo is the senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.