by Iyath Adam
Pâtissier Mariyam Saaliya Mohamed – Saali – is famous for making Basque burnt cheesecakes. Have a look at her Instagram feed and you'll find many flavours and versions of the cheesy delectable dessert. We recently caught up with Saali to find out more about her pastry journey so far, and her vision for the future.
Lonumedhu: First things first, tell us a little bit about yourself. What are you upto right now?
Saali: Right now, I am managing The Detox Bar, which is where you can get my cakes. You can get slices of my cheesecakes there. And I’m baking at home for orders as well now.
Lonumedhu: How did you get into the culinary field? And specifically, pastry making – what interested you about it?
Saali: I left school a bit earlier, so I had a lot of time on my hands before I got a job, which was when I started baking. I developed an interest in it, so I started reading books about it. Then I started baking and selling cupcakes.
Lonumedhu: Specifically, why baking though? Why not savoury cooking or anything like that?
Saali: I don’t know why I gravitated towards sweets, specifically. Maybe because I have a sweet tooth.
Lonumedhu: Ahaha, in that case, what’s your favourite dessert?
Saali: It’s hard to pick one, because I like a lot of things. But I think mille-feuille is one thing that I really, really love.
Lonumedhu: I noticed on your Instagram page that you’re taking pre-orders only at the moment. What products are available for pre-order currently? Other than your delectable cheesecakes, of course.
Saali: I make custom birthday cakes, carrot cakes, banana bread, pretty much anything. If you have a particular request, and if I can accommodate it, I can do it for you.
Lonumedhu: Is it difficult to get the kind of high-quality ingredients you need for pastry making here in Male’?
Saali: Yes, it’s very difficult. And whatever is available here is very expensive.
Lonumedhu: So how do you combat these difficulties?
Saali: I find substitutes whenever necessary. But there have been about two instances where I just couldn’t get cream cheese in Male’. And for a month I didn’t bake any cakes because I couldn’t get it anywhere. There was only one brand that was available – I didn’t really like its taste, so I just didn’t bake for a while.
Lonumedhu: Wow, that must have been very difficult.
Saali: Yes, it was.
Lonumedhu: So, I know that you worked in a commercial kitchen before, during your studies, yes? How does that experience and working/baking at home compare?
Saali: Working in a commercial kitchen, it’s the best feeling in the world. My dream is to have something like that in Male’, where I can make very high-quality, very luxurious desserts.
Lonumedhu: What’s your favourite ingredient to work with?
Saali: I would say butter. Butter makes everything better. If you add butter to anything, it instantly becomes more delicious.
Lonumedhu: There must be many chefs that you admire or look up to. Who would you say is your favourite chef or “food hero”?
Saali: I have a few, actually. There’s Cedric Grolet, who makes small entremets and desserts that look really cool, with an illusion element. For example, he might make a dessert that looks exactly like a pear, but when you cut into it, it’s a whole different thing with many components and different flavours. Then there is Christophe Morel, he does chocolate work. He and Amaury Guichon – I think everyone knows Amaury Guichon – they both do chocolate work really well.
I also really look up to one of my trainers from college. His name is Tan Wei Loon. He participated in the World Pastry Championship a few years ago. And what happened was, maybe before five minutes before he was supposed to present, the sculpture collapsed. But then in 2019, he participated again, and he won that time – which I find really inspirational.
Lonumedhu: What is something you really enjoy making?
Saali: I really loved to do chocolate work while I was studying. I once made a chocolate sculpture – a duckling – and I sculpted it myself. It was completely by hand, and it was something I really enjoyed doing. I didn’t know that you could handle chocolate like that and make it so detailed.
Lonumedhu: What is the most difficult dessert or product that you’ve made?
Saali: The hardest thing I’ve ever made is a sugar sculpture. Because you have to work in a very warm environment, and the sugar itself is so hot. You can get blisters, and once the sugar crashes, you can’t fix it. The first time I did it, the sculpture collapsed thrice. And I had to start from scratch every single time.
Lonumedhu: I’m curious. What actually caused it to crash though?
Saali: It has to do with balance, and it takes some time to stick. If the sugar is hot – even the slightest bit in the middle – it will fall. So what we do is, we blow it with a hair dryer in the cold setting until it’s completely cold.
Lonumedhu: That’s so interesting! As someone in the field, with these kinds of experiences under your belt, what would your advice be to aspiring young pastry chefs in the Maldives? Or even kids who want to go out into the culinary field?
Saali: I think people have a very bad misconception about baking or working in the kitchen. And people don’t think it’s a good career move. But if you do it right, it’s going to be amazing. And if you have the passion for it, just go for it. Because you’ll feel so accomplished and so happy about your work – which is how I feel about it, at least.
Lonumedhu: Before we wrap up, what’s your vision for the future? Should we expect to see a culinary institute or your own restaurant in the future?
Saali: You know those intricate looking desserts – the ones that you just want to take a picture of when you see them? They’re currently only really available in resorts at the moment. I want to make those kinds of desserts available in Male’ as well – that kind of high-quality desserts. So that everybody can enjoy it, and you don’t have to spend a lot and go to a resort to enjoy that.
Lonumedhu: We’d love to see that too and hope you can make it true for us in the future! Thank you so much for your time, Saali. We wish you wonderful times ahead!