This month, we're connecting with Said M'Dahoma of Said the Pastry Nerd - a Neuroscience PhD & self-taught pastry chef who provides recipes from his French and Comorian background and hosts online pastry classes.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN THE WORLD OF FOOD? WHAT IMPACT DO YOU OR DO YOU HOPE TO MAKE?
I am a self-taught pastry chef and a food writer. What started as a hobby when I was working as a Neuroscientist became a full time profession! I now provide pastry classes and sell pastries at pop-up events in Calgary.
I grew up in Paris, France where since my youngest age, as all the French people, I would eat pastries and bread all the time. One thing I noticed though is how people would deliberately avoid bakeries run by people of color (POC). I heard things such as “It’s not in their culture, they cannot make bread like us”. My hope is to change these people’s mind and to normalize the fact that baking bread, making pastries is for everyone, POC included.
WHAT FOOD OR RECIPE PROVIDES YOU WITH A SENSE OF NOSTALIGA, COMFORT, OR OTHER FEELING?
Every time I smell vanilla, I get a strong sense of nostalgia. My grandmother was a farmer who dedicated her life to this orchid. Every time I eat something that contains vanilla, the smell and the taste bring me back to Comoros. It’s almost like I can see her triaging her vanilla beans. For this reason, every pastry made with vanilla is comfort food for me.
When it comes to savoury food, Comorian Pilaw (rice cooked with spices and meat) is something I deeply cherish. It is a very complex dish with strong flavors. Not a lot of people are able to make it. My mother, who was an incredible cook, knew how much I loved it and would always cook it for me whenever I would go back to France for vacation. I already know that I will miss this pilaw for the rest of my life.
WHAT DOES KEEP FOOD ALIVE MEAN TO YOU?
I get the sense that a lot of us are disconnected from the food we eat. We don’t know where it comes from or how it is grown. For me, Keep Food Alive means taking the time to understand these aspects: knowing where our food comes from, respecting the farmers who are working hard to provide us with beautiful, fresh produce. It is doing our best to make sure that none of the food is wasted. It is about keeping traditions and cultures about food – alive. Behind every dish the history of a country, its terroir is also being told.
DOES YOUR BACKGROUND & PhD IN INTEGRATE INTO YOUR BAKING? IF SO, HOW?
When you do a PhD in Neuroscience, one of the most important things you need is accuracy, especially when you are doing experiments. On that aspect, pastry and lab experiments are very similar: if you don’t weigh a component properly, you are definitely in for a disaster. Of a slightly lesser extent for pastry :) My background also helps me understand the chemical reactions happening between different ingredients, which is very useful when I want to create new recipes.
WHO IS SOMEONE FROM THE FOOD COMMUNITY YOU'RE INSPIRED BY AND WHY?
Bryan Ford (@artisanbryan) is an inspiration to me. Just like me, he switched careers to become a baker. He now creates bakes, which are inspired by both his Honduran and American heritages. He is proof that having multiple cultures is a strength, something to be proud of.
LEARN MORE ABOUT SAID THE PASTRY NERD
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It is with deep respect and gratitude that we create, build and operate our business in the communities of Southern Vancouver Island, which as a business we acknowledge is located within the ancestral and unceded territories of the lək̓ʷəŋən (Lekwungen) (Esquimalt and Songhees), Malahat, Pacheedaht, Scia'new, T’Sou-ke and W̱SÁNEĆ (Pauquachin, Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum) peoples.