It takes a culinary mastermind to come up with a dessert like malted crème fraîche ice cream with pistachio, gianduja, and dark chocolate. So it's no surprise that this dish's creator, Meg Galus, was recently chosen as a James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef finalist. Galus, who's been nominated twice for the Jean Banchet Best Rising Pastry Chef Award, is currently leading the pastry team at Boka in Chicago, Ill. dreaming up decadent and innovative sweets. Below, the accomplished chef answers a few of our burning questions.
What's your earliest cooking memory?
My grandmother was the baker in our family. I remember her teaching me to make Parker house rolls as a kid, and I still insist on having my day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches on them. Some time earlier than that, there's a picture of me standing on a chair in her kitchen, at about age 3, licking cookie dough off a beater with a slightly guilty look on my face.
Who is the chef you admire the most and why?
There are so many I admire for different reasons. Michael Laiskonis, who led the way for contemporary plated desserts when I was just getting started and continues to lead through teaching, experimenting, continuing his own education and then passing that knowledge on. Many of my pastry chef peers, chefs I have taken classes with and competed against, like Chris Ford, Jen Yee, Melissa Coppel, Ramon Perez—we push and support each other, inspire each other to keep creating. The chefs I work with on a daily basis—Lee Wolen, Chris Pandel, and Mark Hellyar. They each approach food and our restaurants in such a different way, it's a very rich experience for me.
What made you become a chef?
I have a degree in theater and at one point entertained dreams of being on TV or Broadway, but that didn't really pan out. In my early 20s I realized I wanted to be able to do something I loved every day; something that would make people happy. I loved baking, and as a kid would make and decorate cakes for all my relatives, forced my parents to eat at my "restaurant" in our dining room, and even made my Barbies go to work at their ice cream parlor and vanilla-scented kitchen! Once I stepped into a professional kitchen, I knew that was it.
I have a massive collection of cookbooks, and used to read them like novels. I've found inspiration between many covers. But the one nearest to my heart is the coverless, tattered church cookbook from the '70s that my mom used almost every day. The pages are filled with my favorite childhood meals, along with notes scribbled in the margins and stains on the most popular pages. She died when I was 24, and it's one of my most treasured possessions.
Who do you follow on Instagram for inspiration, or even just some laughs?
I follow a lot of European chefs and pastry chefs, as well as those across the U.S. and of course in Chicago. It's important to me to keep up on what's going on in our industry all over the world. I also follow a lot of other artists—photographers especially.