Through wonderful friends, Ali and I were introduced to Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery and the woman behind it, Umber. Both the baked goods and Umber are such inspirations that I think about them all the time. Not only is her food incredibly delicious, scrumptious, and heavenly, but Umber is also such an elegant, eloquent, composed, intelligent, and beautiful person. Umber ‘s success, happiness, and talent shine through, immediately wanting us to become friends with her. Both Ali and I fell head over heels for Mah-Ze-Dahr AND Umber!
Mah-Ze-Dahr is a bakery created by Umber and is a Tom Colicchio Discovery brand. Umber, taught at a young age that food is a language on its own, studied genetics and business. She spent much of her career in finance on Wall Street, and then moved to help luxury brands, chefs, and restaurateurs expand their concepts globally. She also started the bakery (the perfect combination of her talents — business, science, and culture!) with Colicchio, the chef/owner of Craft restaurants (as well as a Top Chef judge).
In Urdu, the word mazedar describes the taste essence of food, its flavor and magic that make it delicious. As Umber describes, it is the “Je-ne-sais-quoi” that describes something wonderful. It is something that one cannot describe but wants to experience over and over again. And the items from Mah-Ze-Dahr are exactly that.
Currently, Mah-Ze-Dahr is an online bakery, selling and shipping nation wide. All of the items are shippable, except for the cheesecake which is delivered only in New York (lucky us New Yorkers — to DIE FOR!). Rumor has it that they will soon open a shop up in downtown Manhattan. Mah-Ze-Dahr is also now sold at Intelligentsia at the High Line Hotel. So, expect to hear much more from Umber and Mah-Ze-Dahr! An online business with more to come!
I, along with Ali, had the opportunity to sit down with Umber to discuss Mah-Ze-Dahr and first hand try all her sweets. The treats could have done all the talking, as they really are like no other, but with Umber’s added sweet sophistication, it was the Fleur-de-Sel on top. I am truly excited to become a fan and have Umber’s products become my new go-to-present. And you should, too! To buy the products, go here. Here is an interview with Umber — her answers are beautiful — Enjoy!
What is your most popular item?
Because we get so much press about them, the Mah-Ze-Dahr Bars are the most popular item people order from us. In NYC, we get a lot of orders for our cheesecakes and Devil In Ganache cakes, which let’s be honest, are amazing. 🙂
What is your personal favorite item?
That’s an unfair question. It’s like asking me to pick a favorite star in the sky. When I’m working on a recipe, I make sure it’s something that I would be thrilled to receive as a gift and to crave it as a snack at any time. I’m partial to the tension between sweet and salty, so I tend to gravitate toward those items.
What is the dream for your bakery?
For me, food tells a story and should inspire people to change the world. I know it’s a lofty dream for a cookie, but that’s where dreams begin. My intention is to expand the ecommerce platform to reach a tremendous audience, build bakeries in a highly curated group of cities around the world, and create products that people can use in their home kitchens. Ultimately, this global food brand will become a part of a larger luxury group. This is because food and the time we spend together consuming it are the ultimate luxuries in our lives.
What aspect of baking do you love most (mixing, developing, tasting, selling, etc..) and why?
I have two favorite moments. The first is when the timer sounds and I open the oven door. It’s the first waft of the freshly baked food followed by the overwhelming aroma of what has just happened. The second is watching people take their first bite of one of my creations. To watch the face change from an expression of anticipation to one of uncertainty to that of unexpected flavors and culminating in pure joy. Perfect moments. Every time.
Bakers always claim that love makes the products taste so delicious. Do you agree?
I believe wholeheartedly in one’s intention going into the food that is prepared. Making food for someone is, I believe, the most intimate thing you can do for another person. What you prepare with your hands goes into another’s body, and that energy fuels the person to go into the world. It’s a big responsibility, to be certain, but one that requires the best of intentions every step of the way. I do my best to be calm and positive in the kitchen. Because I am only human, there are times when I’m full of crazy, manic energy. Those are the times I try not to be in the kitchen. If I must, I actually sing to myself. That changes everything.
Who and what is your inspiration?
The people who eat and love my food are my inspiration. Food is about changing the world through moving the energies of those who consume it. Knowing that is possible with something that I create, that inspires me. I also draw energy and inspiration from my travels around the world. Learning how people use spices and mix flavors inspires me to try things in my baking.
Where do you ship your items?
We ship our food throughout the United States. In addition to a select group of retailers that offer our products in NYC, we deliver in Manhattan. We hope to be able to ship internationally soon.
Is it possible to have a successful business selling just online?
Absolutely. Because we live in a world that is connected electronically, things that were previously only available locally can now be shared wherever packages can be delivered. Most of our patrons are outside of our local area. I love that, because that continues to reinforce my belief in food being the ultimate connector. I also believe in the importance of having physical outlets where one can experience total immersion into our world. Hence the inclusion of physical stores in our plan.
You work a lot with luxury brands and bringing new restaurants internationally. Do you believe baked goods are a luxury item? If so, how?
Luxury is defined as something that is inessential but conducive to pleasure and comfort, an indulgence in something that provides satisfaction or ease, a condition of abundance. That is what we do. So yes, we are a luxury item, but one that is approachable. Attainable luxury.
What are your favorite luxury brands?
I gravitate toward brands that create a world of which I want to be a part. Brunello Cucinelli, Maserati, Bottega Veneta, Le Labo, Tom Ford, J. Mendel, Jennifer Fisher.
A lot of celebrities have tweeted and become fans of your food. How did you make those comnections?
My dear friend and hair guy, Harry Josh, has been beyond generous with his love and support. Many of the more celebrated of my clients are also clients and friends of his. I’ve become his go-to gift and also send him to shoots and sets with my treats. I’ve been so lucky that my flavors have resonated tremendously well with everyone!
Because I am a celebrity fan geek, can you tell us who any of your celeb fans are?
I have the utmost respect for my patrons and really want them to tell the world about what they love, eat, crave, experience. Because of that, I must leave it to them to tell you.
When you open your physical space for the bakery, what job do you plan on doing?
My main focus with the bakery, now and going forward, is to maintain the integrity of the brand and build it into a global brand. I believe strongly in creating a team for the brand that believes in and will grow it accordingly. I will spend time building, and also continue to be in the kitchen as much as I can. That is, after all, where the magic takes place.
When the store opens up, will you continue to ship and sell online?
I am completely loyal to our patrons that cannot visit us in person, so shipping directly to them will continue to be an integral and critical component of our business. Nobody should be denied treats just because they cannot visit one of our stores.
How important is it to you for the food to look a certain way (vs taste)?
Every one of your senses engages in the experiencing of food. Before you taste something, you see it. The visual, therefore, is as important to the experience as the taste. That being said, I never make something look more than it is. By that I mean embellishing a confection to appear interesting but not actually making it taste any better. The natural beauty of my confections reflects the true tastes inside, which make them look exactly as they should—intoxicating and inviting.
Favorite NYC restaurants?
I have more favorite meals than favorite restaurants. We threw my best friend’s birthday at riverpark. We sat in the middle of their urban garden and ate like kings. Mike Anthony at Gramercy Tavern makes this smoked trout dish with cipollini puree which is on my last meal request list. The gianduja gelato at Amorino. The guacamole at Rosa Mexicano. The hen of the woods mushrooms at craft. The kouign amann at Dominique Ansel. The lamb at my mother’s table.
Favorite coffee to go with your treats?
My favorite coffee is Intelligentsia Coffee. They are a specialty finder and roaster of the most beautiful coffees in the world. Beyond sustainable and fair trade, they care about what they do. The result is the most intense and authentic coffee. We have partnered with them in their first NYC coffee bar (located in The High Line Hotel) and will also have their full coffee service in our bakeries. We’ve spent time with them, pairing our treats with their coffees. Think of it much like you would pair wines with your dinner. What you imbibe with your food changes the experience in both fundamental and subtle ways. Coffee does that for our confections. Try it, trust me on this.
You do it all. Is there anything you CAN’T DO?
So many things. I can’t do a cart wheel. I can only tie my shoes using the bunny ear method. I can’t read the “push” or “pull” sign on a door until I try it for myself first (and almost always guess the wrong way first). I can’t eat just one cookie. But there’s only one thing I wish I could do. If I could keep my beautiful and blessed family out of harm’s way forever, I would trade all my other gifts in the world for that. That’s what I would do.
In love? I am! Support Mah-Ze-Dahr for your weekend fun of desserts. Have a great weekend.
Love, Anika Yael Natori, a.k.a., The Josie Girl and Contributing Editor Ali Berlin