MEG GALUS, CHEESE OF SOMERSET AND BOKA, CHICAGO
Meg Galus could have become an actress, but it’s finally in the kitchen that this hyperactive spirit gives free rein to her talent. At the head of the sweet offerings at the all-new Somerset and trendy restaurant Boka in Chicago, this young chef works behind the scenes to create original and gourmet pastries, which she designs according to the universe of each restaurant.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A PASTRY CHEF?
When I was little, I wanted to become an actress but also president of the United States, rock-star, stylist, architect … I had a lot of ambition! (laughs). What is certain is that I was considering a profession in the limelight. So, at the age of 20, I asked myself and filled in a list: on one side, a column with what I knew how to do and on the other, a column with what I liked. And the job of pastry chef came out as obvious!
WHAT DOES FRENCH PASTRY REPRESENT?
France is the mother of pastry. This is the country that sets the rules for the technique. But in recent years, pastry is exported worldwide and French chefs are not the only ones to excel. I think something is happening right now, in France, in the United States, and everywhere else. What is very interesting is all this creativity but at the same time, this permanent return to the techniques of French pastry chefs.
WHO ARE THE FRENCH PASTRY CHEFS WHO INSPIRE YOU?
Oh, there is an endless list! But for example, Yann Couvreur. He is one of the pastry chefs who do very classic things with a very contemporary interpretation. What I like in his shops is that his pastries evolve during the day: there are pastries for breakfast, for the afternoon, for dessert … With his team, they work in front of us, interacting with the customer. It is very current and new!
AND YOU, WHAT IS YOUR OWN WAY OF REINTERPRETING PASTRY?
This is a very difficult question. I was trained by French pastry chefs, so I acquired a very French training and technique. But I’m a Midwestern girl! I grew up 100 kilometers from the city, in the wheat fields, so I am very American! (laughs), and I think I’m able to bring these two worlds together. For example, with pumpkin mousse: The technique is totally French but behind it is a dessert with an American taste universe, an American sensibility.
IS THERE A “MEG STYLE?”
As pastry chef of Somerset, of course I have something to say but I do not decide on the style of the desserts. My priority is to make sure they are in sync with the map. I would not want people to sit down at the restaurant and say, “these are Meg’s desserts” because it is first Somerset or Boka! It must make sense. It’s not like entering Yann Couvreur or Christophe Michalak. The restaurant is a different approach. It’s part of a global experience. Look, for two years I was the pastry chef of Swift & Sons, a steakhouse of the same group. My desserts were very different from the ones I’m doing now. I also opened the Japanese restaurant Momotaro, and I went out with Japanese desserts. So I do not think I have a single style; I have tools that I use in different ways.
WILL YOU OPEN YOUR OWN PASTRY SHOP ONE DAY?
Yes, it makes a lot of noise in my head! After, it’s a story of profitability. Business is not easy. In Chicago, we have few bakeries; it’s very hard to run a business, and I do not want to end up making wedding cakes for a living! But, whether in the restaurant or in a pastry shop, it’s a team work and that’s great.
THE MIX BETWEEN TRADITION AND MODERNITY — IS THAT WHAT YOU LIKED IN SOMERSET AND BOKA?
Yes, after working in very classic hotels, I wanted to integrate a small restaurant and everything made sense with Boka. This is my favorite restaurant in Chicago and, becoming their pastry chef, I never even thought of it! It was a dream. Boka and Somerset are two very different concepts. Boka is intimate, a very creative one-Michelin-star table. In Somerset, I make pastries, and I love it! It is a real challenge to think about the two ways to make desserts, the different ways to express themselves in each restaurant.
WHAT DO YOU KEEP FROM YOUR YEARS AT THE FRENCH PASTRY SCHOOL?
Until 2005, I had the best lessons with chefs Jacquy Pfeiffer and Sé bastien Cannone. I think it is not possible to make pastry without these fundamentals; those who try do not really succeed. I learned there the demands, the base of the profession and also about gesture and tools. It is also during these years that I discovered Matfer Bourgeat, like many students. Since then, I have continued to use their products and it’s a bit like I’ve always worked with the brand.
IS THE DIVERSITY OF TOOLS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
It’s fundamental. The culinary chefs also make fun of the pastry chefs because we need a lot of space to store our pie circles, silpats, molds … (laughs). It’s true that we need so many tools, and what I like about Matfer is that there are very specific products that respond to every way of working. And then, quality is at the rendezvous. Matfer is an expensive brand that we all want. For the needs of pastry chefs, this is the best one can find. I can not buy my equipment everywhere!
IT’S FUN TO SEE HOW YOU DIVERT THE FUNCTIONS OF SOME TOOLS. FOR EXAMPLE, THE COOKIE CUTTERS YOU USE TO MAKE YOUR GIANDUJA PETALS, HOW DID THIS IDEA COME TO YOU?
Before, I used an old-fashioned technique to make my chocolate flowers, by doing rustic-type curls with ice cream spoons, but the result was very weird! So, I took the cookie cutters! You know, pastry chefs hijack their equipment because they have to think in terms of space and expense! We are full of resources!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TOOL?
There are plenty of tools that I only buy from Matfer. For example, I only use the Matfer dough cutter. Or the adjustable “to die for” rolling pin that allows for different thicknesses of dough. But if I had to pick one, I’d say the Bowl Scraper.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE EXOGLASS?
I use two sizes of pie circles in Exoglass; they are great. It is an indestructible material, neither too rigid nor too flexible. I like it because there is no solder, so no mark on the pastry! And the coloring on baking is uniform. In addition, it is more hygienic and easy to clean. I also use Chinese Exoglass, I appreciate the mesh of the filter. I like the whole range of Exoglass, really!
Prior to cooking, Meg Galus completed a degree at Weslyan University in Illinois to earn a Bachelor of Theater Arts degree. Once graduated, the uninteresting small jobs quickly got the better of her ambitions. At the dawn of turning 20, she joined the French Pastry School in Chicago from which she graduated brilliantly in 2005. Meg then joined the most prestigious establishments in the city: She worked for five years in the restaurant two Michelin-star Tru , before being appointed Executive Pastry Chef at Sofitel Chicago in 2010, then at NoMI at Park Hyatt, a year later. At the same time, this outstanding competitor garnered many awards: the 2011 StarChefs Rising Star Award, which names the young hopefuls of the new American culinary scene, and first prize at the Chicago Restaurant Pastry Competition in 2013. In 2015, she was one of the finalists in the “outstanding pastry chef” category at the prestigious James Beard Awards. But Meg doesn’t rest on her laurels; she felt the need for change. She joined the Boka restaurant group three years ago. Today, she oversees the pastry offerings of the various entities and is Executive Pastry Chef at Boka restaurant and Somerset.