Mia Engelmann is a Whitney Young sophomore with an affinity for math. She has managed to maintain a perfect grade point average of 4.0 while playing on the award-winning high school’s basketball and soccer teams.
On Friday, she added a new title: Chicago’s latest celebrity chef.
The only child of two college professors, Engelmann won the first-ever Mayor’s Cup Pastry Competition. The title comes with a $23,700 scholarship to the award-winning French Pastry School that will delay Engelmann’s college education for at least six months, if not permanently.
When Mayor Rahm Emanuel called her name, Engelmann was “kind of in shock.”
She broke out into a big smile, accepted the glass trophy in the shape of a cupcake, then struggled to explain how a 16-year-old who started baking just three years ago had managed to win the high-stakes competition over a dozen finalists, all fellow CPS students.
All of the finalists get to go to a six-week “boot camp” at the French Pastry School.
“I’m not really interested in becoming a celebrity. I enjoy physically cooking….I really enjoy the tactile experience of baking. It’s different from anything else that I do in my life—sports or school,” Engelmann said.
“What I like most about it is being able to share the food that I make with my friends and my family and the people around me to kind of spread joy with it…Making food that tastes good and being able to make people happy and brighten peoples’ day by giving it to them.”
Asked whether she plans to make a career of cooking, Engelmann said “Well, I wasn’t sure up until now, but yes. …After I graduate in 2019, I guess I’ll take the scholarship for sure and, who knows what’ll happen from there? I heard that they have seven job offers-per-graduate.”
Engelmann’s award-winning cupcake included devil’s food cake made with cocoa powder from Chicago-based Blommer’s Chocolate. The frosting was a milk chocolate ganache. It was decorated with a replica of the Chicago skyline crafted with help from her mentor.
Engelmann said her affinity for math pays dividend in the kitchen.
“Practicing for this competition, I was experimenting with different ratios for chocolate ganache. The 2-to-1 ratio was too hard. The 1-to-1 ratio was too runny. I ended up with a 3-to-2. I had to do a lot of math. I do a lot of math every time I’m in the kitchen if I’m dividing or multiplying a recipe,” she said.
Emanuel, who is usually disciplined with his diet, joked that he would have to do a power walk and ellipticals to work off the three bites that he took of the cupcakes baked by the finalists.
The mayor mentioned that his daughter – like the young culinary experts – enjoys whipping up treats in the kitchen.
Ina Pinkney, the former owner of Ina’s Restaurant who served as master of ceremonies for Friday’s competition, said the contest was an invaluable lesson for the student participants.
“It teaches them focus. It teaches them commitment to what they’re doing. There’s a lot of critical thinking involved. There’s care. There’s hand-eye coordination. These are really important things that children need to learn period. That these kids get to do it in a world-class facility? Unbelievable,” Pinkney said.