Growing up, Meg Galus didn’t own an Easy Bake oven. She didn’t want to be a baker, she wanted to act and be in theater.
After graduating from DeKalb High School in 1996, Galus attended Illinois Wesleyan University and earned a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts. Galus traveled to live and work in London for a year, and then moved to Chicago for her acting career.
When her mother died, Galus decided to make a list of things she was good at and enjoyed doing. She realized that she wanted to bake.
Galus enrolled in culinary school and graduated from the French Pastry School in Chicago in 2005. She is now the executive pastry chef at Boka and Swift & Sons, both restaurants in Chicago.
Among her many accolades, Galus received the StarChefs Rising Star award in 2011, being named one of Tasting Table’s Top 10 Best Pastry Chefs in 2012 and the winner of the Chicago Restaurant Pastry Competition in 2013.
Most recently, Galus was named Chicago Tribune’s 2016 Pastry Chef of the Year, the Jean Banchet Pastry Chef of the Year in 2017 and was a finalist in 2016 and semifinalist in 2017 for Outstanding Pastry Chef for the James Beard Awards.
She also has traveled to more than 25 countries, including cruising through Antarctica, and gave President Obama a box of chocolates and note to celebrate his wedding anniversary.
Galus returned to her hometown Friday to address the April meeting of the DeKalb Women’s Club.
Galus met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss her transition from actress to pastry chef, her love of baking and advice for future chefs.
Milton: Did you always love to bake?
Galus: Growing up, I always loved to bake, but I never had an Easy Bake Oven. I had a Barbie Ice Cream Shop, and I liked to make ice cream. My grandmother was a baker, and I remember her teaching me how to bake Christmas cookies and bread when I was young. I never thought of baking as a career until my mid-20s.
Milton: How did you decide on baking?
Galus: I wanted to do something every day I loved and to make people happy. When my mom died, I became very introspective. I made a list of what I loved and what I was good at. Then I started to do some research, and I realized what path I should take. My mom was a really kind and giving person, she taught kindergarten for years and years. She found a way to make people’s lives better. I wanted to do that, to change my life and not live for only myself.
Milton: What do you make as a pastry chef?
Galus: I make a little bit of everything: ice cream, cakes, cookies, custards, whipped cream. I love chocolate, so I love to make bonbons, truffles and chocolates. I also make macaroons, breakfast pastries, doughnuts and croissants.
Milton: Do you consider baking a job?
Galus: It’s definitely a job, but I love it. There’s a lot about my job that’s not fun, like creating schedules and costing recipes. I still love to bake, and I love what I do. Baking is a lifestyle, you can’t just bake at work and not want to bake at home. I’m really lucky to be doing what I love. I enjoy working with my hands, being creative and teaching my staff.
Milton: Tell me more about your staff.
Galus: At Boka, I have a sous chef and three full-time pastry chefs. At Swift & Sons, I have a sous chef and six to seven pastry chefs, depending on the season. The chefs range from new graduates of culinary school to experienced chefs.
Milton: What are your goals for the future?
Galus: I can see myself owning a chocolate shop, small bed and breakfast or a tea room. We’re opening a third restaurant in a couple of months, so I’ve already been thinking about menus and dessert ideas.
Milton: What is your reaction to being named Chicago Tribune’s 2016 Pastry Chef of the Year?
Galus: I’m thrilled and honored, but also humbled to be recognized. I wouldn’t have been named without my team, chefs and staff. It is a team effort, and I could not do what I do without them. Also, there are other pastry chefs who are just as deserving as me. The Chicago restaurant community is so supportive. We see each other as friends, not as rivals. We help each other when we can. I am so appreciative of everyone’s help.
Milton: Do you have advice for future chefs?
Galus: If you’re looking to get into the industry, choose the people you work with and work for very carefully. You should not only choose a restaurant with chefs that are achieving great things, but choose one where the staff is working professionally at their highest levels. You should not choose somewhere that you will be the best, but go where you have to fight to be the best. You need to push yourself to be better. Nobody is going to create your career other than you. You have to push yourself forward to accomplish that next step. It’s earned by working really, really hard.
Milton: Do you have baking advice for readers?
Galus: It’s easy to be intimidated by recipes, with so many steps and directions. You can do some of the work ahead and freeze dough and batter. Take breaks. The important thing is to have fun. If it tastes good before you use it in a recipe, it will make a good product. You can’t make something amazing with bad ingredients. Also, don’t forget to use salt.