– By Yasmin Darsot Cassim
Once again I am blessed to have had the opportunity to meet an inspiring and empowered woman. I hope that you enjoy my latest article featuring Asfeyah Mia, a wonderful and very talented Pastry Chef from Mayfair West, Johannesburg. I was eager to engage in this interview as I heard so many great things about her exclusive and unique creations. Asfeyah is originally from Pretoria, but married in Johannesburg. She shares her story with us…
Q: To start off, do you have a name for your business?
A: I don’t have an official name for my business. I work from home and people know me solely by word of mouth. Thanks to the Almighty I have not had the need to advertise anywhere. My customers are loyal and supportive. I have always had a firm belief that money and blessings come from Allah and in that sense I am very lucky for what I have.
Q: When did your journey in creating sweet delicacies begin?
A: I initially started catering on a part-time basis and as a hobby, but due to unforeseen circumstances (my husband’s business closed down), I began focusing on it as a full time trade. It has been 8 years running since and I still have a passion for baking.
Q: What do you specialize in and what makes you different from other pastry chefs?
A: I specialize in pastries, ice creams, desserts and many other sweet delicacies such as, nougat and Turkish delight. My most popular dessert- and something that is a personal favourite to make- is cheese cake. I am constantly trying to improve on this classic. I have recently started making a baklava cheesecake which has become quite a hit. I was also the first person in my local community who learnt the art of sugar work.
I think what makes me unique is that I pride myself on customer service. I do not want my clients to “settle” just because they have to. They must be 101 percent satisfied with the end product. Hence, I do everything myself with the help of my daughters and husband.
Overall I am a perfectionist. I believe that anything you make must be made with dedication and passion and that your end result will be the proof of that creation. I don’t use premixes and I only use the best quality ingredients .For instance, I use chocolate instead in fondant. Fondant may be much easier to work with, but chocolate is tastier and rich in flavour. Also, my creations are unique, so it’s not something that you will find elsewhere.
Q: Have you catered for any standout events thus far in your career?
A: Thanks to the Almighty I have had exposure to some major events, but a close one to my heart is the cake I baked for Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday. It was really a great accomplishment for me. It was very well received too.
Q: What inspires you to be creative?
A: I love to experiment, but I generally follow the trends overseas. The shows abroad really inspire me, there are always new things that are coming out and I have to constantly develop my skills to keep up. My love for what I do is inspiration enough too.
Q: Do you travel a lot and in your opinion, is South Africa on par with the rest of the world when it comes to sweet creations?
A: I travel at least once a year if I am lucky enough. I have been to Europe, Asia and America. I go there to try and learn from the culinary shows that take place and to purchase a lot of my equipment. South Africa is developing, but we still have a lot of catching up to do. We are quite behind in some aspects, but there is a market for it and more people are taking an interest in the field so soon we may be on par with the countries abroad.
Q: Have you encountered any challenges whilst running a home-based business such as yours? What business strategy or model have you pursued?
A: I have not had any major problems, but I do feel that todays’ business owners run their businesses for the money only. I believe that making money does play an important role however, as a Muslim business owner you must remember Allah in all that you do. Therefore, I run my business with honesty and use the best work ethic I know. Honesty is extremely important to me.
I am not contracted to anyone because I feel it limits my exposure. I also prefer to work alone. I also believe in the concept of positive criticism. I take note of my client’s feedback and take criticism in my stride as it encourages me to develop and work harder. I can only learn from mistakes.
Q: What advice do you have for women who want to make a career out of catering as a pastry chef?
A: My first bit of advice is to start off on a part-time basis or as a hobby. Catering as a pastry chef should not be the only source of income. I was lucky enough to build myself up over the years before I got into it fulltime because like any business, there are slow months. One must just be prepared financially to take the knock.
Also, being a pastry chef can be deceptive. It may look easy and sound ” fabulous” but it entails a lot of hard work. You have to have patience, passion and dedication to persevere. You also need to have faith in Allah, we cannot forget our creator; He is with us in all that we do.
There are many schools offering courses, but one must do the proper research first and then only commit to a school. In South Africa, Cape Town is the most developed in this field. I went to the Lindt chocolate school to develop some of my skills and I highly recommend them.
There are early mornings and late nights that come with this job as these delicacies cannot be prepared in advance. Time management is very important, so I do not take on more tasks than what I can handle. This job is most rewarding when your customers are happy. You must want to do this because you have a passionate for it. That is what will make you a success.
Q: Have you considered sharing the knowledge that you acquired over the years by starting up classes of some sort?
A: I would really like to consider it. I think it will be an ideal way to share my knowledge. InshaAllah (God willing) in the near future it will be something to look into. As for sharing my knowledge on a day-to-day basis, I already do. If someone asks me how to make something or ever needs advice I always try to help them.
Q: In terms of social media, has your work featured anywhere?
A: Yes, there are well-known bloggers such as Naqiyah Mayet, who has featured my work. Many years back I also shot a video with X-films productions on cake decorating which I recently heard is still airing on TV and I did an article for the magazine Wedding Inspirations. I am also looking at having a website created.
Q: Do you have any last comments for our readers?
A: The only thing that gets me through is my faith in Allah and that is the only thing I would like to leave your readers with. If there is anything you want to achieve, have faith in Allah and you will succeed.