Carefully selecting the right knife to delicately slice the ripe strawberries she picked up at the supermarket earlier that day, Segufta Amin brings the blade to the chopping board with a gentle and knowing touch. Preparing a simple smoothie, she quickly drops the slices into a blender, adds a handful of fresh blueberries and spoonfuls of sugar she doesn’t quite measure in order to concoct the sweet beverage. While my cousin may not look like the pros on the Food Network, she definitely knows what she’s doing. And it’s exactly what she has set out to do with her life: cook.
Growing up helping her mom prepare Bengali meals for the Muslim holidays, Amin discovered a passion for cooking early in her childhood and decided to make it her life’s career.
“When it came time in high school, when they ask you that question, ‘what do you want to do with your life?’ I couldn’t find any answer that made me happy except cooking,” Amin said.
To that end, the 19 year old is currently completing her Associates degree in Baking and Pastry at Monroe College’s School of Hospitality Management & the Culinary Arts, for a $25,000 education. Under scholarship and financial aid, the aspiring chef feels fortunate to scrape by.
However, feeling that she was embarking on an expensive career with an uncertain future, Amin’s parents were not immediately supportive of her ambitions. But they’re increasingly warming up to it.
“I want that she does whatever makes her happy and I wish her success,” her mom, Gulshan Amin, said.
Nevertheless, Amin understands her parents’ concerns. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pastry chef’s annual income is only about $21,000.
“Parents want you to have a stable future. They want you to have a career where they know you can always support yourself, that you can do fine on your own, when I guess, they’re thinking about the times that they’re not gonna be there,” she explains.
To both alleviate their worries and realize her dream to one day run her own restaurant, Amin is aiming for a Bachelors Degree in Hospitality Management after graduation this month. Business knowledge from this degree is a key ingredient to realizing her dreams of opening an eclectic “bar slash restaurant, just a very relaxed place with really good music and really good food.” But experience in the real world of the food industry is another.
A recent stint as a baking intern at Tribeca Treats, where she prepared cakes and frostings and sometimes decorated the goods, provided that experience. Amin says the internship allowed her to apply her education outside the classroom and see the business side of the kitchen.
“I learned a lot more about supply and demand because they would do things differently for special holidays. They would make things in advance, and they had a good gist of everything they needed.”
She exhibits that notion in her own recipes now. Her culinary arts professor Margaret Wong describes Amin to have ”that dreamy like quality about her [though] she is more comfortable and requires less supervision when executing a recipe,” than when she first started.
Taking a bite out of a freshly baked almond pear tart she later prepares for me, I experience the labor of that execution. Made out of almond frangipane, topped with poached pears and almonds and brushed with apricot jam, it took her an hour to poach the pears alone, and another to prepare the tart dough and frangipane.
The crunchy pie crust crumbled on my lips, meeting with a contrast from the both creamy and nutty frangipane, while the soft pears melted in my mouth. The tart delivered a sweet burst of flavors from varying textures, especially with the tart glaze on top. The desert’s only flaw was that the dough could’ve been a baked through a bit more; it was a tad soft. Though the tart was scrumptious, I can tell that the young culinary student is still learning how to perfect the recipe to her career.
Chef Wong seconds that, for “the culinary/pastry field is very competitive and can be very rough. Segufta will need to constantly push herself in the field of pastry,” she says.
“I think I have a lot more to learn,” Amin agrees, “I really enjoy that learning, it’s gonna take hard work to get to where I want but I’m willing to do it.”