This Chicago Chef Pivoted From Selling Pies to Feeding Frontline Workers
Through her sweet and savory pies, and now cooking classes and frontline worker-meal efforts, Chef Maya-Camille Broussard is on a mission to make life as sweet as possible for as many others as possible.
Launched in 2014 in honor of her dad, a criminal defense attorney, her company Justice of the Pies is "a social mission in a culinary art form."
"Food has always been such an integral and important part of our family. My dad, Stephen, and my aunts grew up relatively poor in the housing projects on the West Side of Chicago, and food was scarce because my grandfather battled alcoholism and would spend his paycheck at the tavern and not at the supermarket. My Grandmother would literally walk down to the tavern, knock my Grandfather out and then rummage through his pockets for the remainder of his earnings so that she could replenish the refrigerator," Broussard explains.
The trauma of that scarcity inspired Broussard's dad to ensure that there was always enough for his family. It wasn't always the most nutritious, though.
"He meant well when it came to providing me meals, but they weren't always smart and healthy options. He made a lot of boxed dinners—the brown ground beef, add water, noodle and spice packet-type. The eating habits I acquired while I stayed with him is one of the reasons why I'm so passionate about doing my part in fighting food insecurities," she says.
The one thing she does remember her late father put his heart into making from scratch were quiches and pies.
"This is one of the healthiest dishes he made and he was incessant about them being perfect. He never called himself the 'Boxed Dinner Master,' but he did call himself 'The Pie Master.' It was the one thing that he did, indeed, master," Broussard says.
The goal of Justice of the Pies is to positively impact the lives of others through food. Or you could think of it like improving and sweetening lives, one slice at a time.
They do so, in part, by leading culinary and nutritional development workshops called I KNEAD LOVE for kids who reside in lower-income communities. In addition, Justice of the Pies hosts a yearly "Pie Drive" to support Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA). CGLA serves the legal needs that arise from lack of opportunity, criminalization of poverty, and racial inequity experienced within Chicago's Cabrini Green community. Her dad always was a firm believer in second chances and equality.
To fund the programming, prior to the pandemic, Broussard sold her pies online and at markets around Chicago (Strawberry Basil Key Lime Pie and Bleu Cheese Praline Pear Pie are her personal favorites, by the way), but due to shipping challenges and closings, that has been put on pause. So as she saw the way the coronavirus was impacting Chicago, Broussard modified her business model substantially to meet her community's new needs.
"Once the COVID-19 pandemic caused stay-at-home orders to be put into effect, some people had little to no choice but to cook and eat at home. Many were asking me for recipes and asked if I offered classes after joining me during my Instagram Live 'Test Kitchen' sessions where I would experiment with new recipes," Broussard says. "I saw this as a perfect opportunity to create an online platform for people to come together and learn how to cook global dishes while also expanding their repertoire of home-cooked meals."
Through her new brand, Justice for All, Broussard offers memberships that include a weekly grocery and pantry list, accompanied by three recipe videos. They can watch at their own pace and contact Broussard and her team with any questions and for their secrets to nailing the cocktail, entree and dessert.
"As many of us find ourselves primarily sequestered at home more often until this virus is eradicated, Justice for All also allows us to stay connected to people who are just like us: love to eat well and satisfy sweet tooth cravings," Broussard says.
Related: How We Eat During a Pandemic
Since it's all done remotely and you do the shopping yourself, you can join the Justice for All community from anywhere—not just Chicago.
If her (pie) plate wasn't already full enough, Broussard has been using her culinary chops to help feed frontline hospital staff on the South Side and West Side of Chicago. Interested in contributing to their efforts? You can donate a meal (or a few) for $15 each on heycutiepies.com.
Before she went back to baking and plotting her next community-boosting move, we asked Broussard if she could dish one tip to take our homemade pies to the next level. Per her usual generous self, she gave us two.
"Freeze your butter before cutting it into the flour. That way, your pie crust will have marbling that lends to the flakiness of the crust," she says. "Also, I prefer to use savory crusts when baking sweet pies—the juxtaposition of sweet and savory elements pair so well together."