Like the crust on one of her mouth-watering pies, Maya-Camille Broussard’s star is rising. The founder of Chicago’s Justice of the Pies bakery was named Esquire’s 2023 Pastry Chef of the Year for what have been described as her “elegantly creative flavor combinations that will leave you hooked.”
A 2022 finalist for Best Baker in the James Beard Foundation Awards—the culinary world’s Oscars—Broussard has also earned a glowing New York Times profile for the stylish bakery she opened on the city’s South Side last year. It was specially designed to be disability-friendly because of her experiences as someone with hearing loss.
Broussard opened the brick-and-mortar location after a decade building her reputation from a satellite bakery selling her goodies wholesale and at farmers markets and art fairs. She chose the South Side because that was where she grew up and where her grandparents developed the entrepreneurial flair she has inherited. Though neither graduated from high school, they were extremely successful, running a tavern and starting other businesses.
They prospered “because they had ownership,” which is the key to wealth, Broussard says (she owns the building her business is in)—though that doesn’t just mean money. It is also about getting to control “how I spend my time… If I decide to take six months off this year and not earn as much money, that’s wealth. I’m wealthy in flexibility.”
Justice of the Pies was named after Broussard’s late father, a criminal defense attorney. Her first baking lessons came from her aunt; every weekend, they would make things like crispy treats, brownies, or peach cobbler. The “healing and soothing and nurturing element” of those times remains a core memory.
Broussard’s passion for baking was further stimulated by what she calls “food trauma” passed down from her father. “And so, the way I approach food is very much a part of my history… I have food issues, and eating good food is a way of quelling [them].”
Though she always enjoyed baking, she didn’t pursue it as a career initially. She studied fine arts at Howard University and earned an arts, theatre master’s at Northwestern University before running an educational outreach program. The turning point came when she began to earn a little more and began to travel, “because a part of knowing how to cook is experiencing other food, and especially when you travel, you are opening yourself up to food and historical experiences that you might not otherwise have.”
With a doctor-mom and other relatives involved in the law, like her father, everyone expected Broussard to choose the consulting room, the classroom or the courtroom, not the kitchen. She tried an introductory law course at Georgetown University but “hated it… I couldn’t be creative in that element… I’m a bit more introverted, so I love more solitude.”
Being in the kitchen alone can be “a very meditative experience,” Broussard says, noting that baking is a mix of science and art. “If you do it 10,000 times, you’re bound to get it right, but creativity is something that cannot necessarily be taught, but nurtured… there’s the know-how, but then there’s also an element that is more innate and intuitive.”
Baking is also a particularly exacting thing: she quotes James Beard award-winning chef Erick Williams’ observation that basketball players don’t make all their shots and a soccer team may score only one goal in a game. “Chefs are the only athletes that are expected to hit 100%.”
As part of its community involvement, Justice of the Pies runs the I Knead Love workshop several times a year, introducing elementary-aged children from lower-income homes to good nutrition and basic cooking skills. The project is part of Broussard’s effort to help reduce food insecurities, for which she founded the nonprofit Broussard Jus- tice Foundation in 2020.
Activism also inspired her 2022 book, Justice of the Pies: Sweet and Savory Pies, Quiches and Tarts Plus Inspirational Stories from Exceptional People. In addition to featuring some of Broussard’s signature creations—like fig and pig quiche, and salted caramel peach pie—the book profiles people involved in jus- tice issues and shares recipes inspired by their lives and work. “I tried to connect the dots between the food that you’re making and the person who inspired it,” she says. “It’s something I am really proud of because I don’t feel that there’s anything like that out there in the cookbook world.”
Broussard has been a regular on Netflix’s popular Bake Squad show, winning three of the challenges she has participated in. She turned down invitations to be part of other series but accepted this one because this wasn’t a “cut-throat” competition.
Broussard’s accomplishments are all the more impressive because she has succeeded despite having lost much of her hearing when she was small—either as the result of a fall down a flight of stairs that knocked her out or an ear infection that may have been exacerbated by the pressure of a plane flight.
“I’ve lived with it, so it’s not something that bothers me as much,” she says, seeing any challenges that arise as “more so the other person’s problem instead of mine.” Occasionally, people will think she is being rude when she doesn’t respond to them. “Well, I didn’t hear you,” she says. “Once we get past that understanding, every- thing is copacetic.”
She’s glad to be able to use her platform to raise awareness of those living with “invisible disabilities.” A little more grace and empathy would go a long way, she says. Don’t be too quick to judge someone’s personality based on how they respond, which could be impacted by some sort of disability.
This isn’t just a matter of kindness, either: Broussard cites 70% of people of color who have died in encounters with police having some kind of impairment. “Whether it’s autism or schizophrenia, this is something that people get killed over, and I really want that to resonate with people.”
MAYA-CAMILLE BROUSSARD: MY WAYMAKERS
My mom was a helicopter mom and still is, even in my big-grown age. My dad was the one who really sought to make me as independent as possible. My teacher at the deaf and hard-of-hearing program in school, Ms. Yolanda Price, ended up becoming my speech therapist for several years… she would come to my house once a week, twice a week, to work with me on my speech [and] made an impact on me because they [helped] me to communicate in a way that is so crisp and prolific that people don’t even know that I’m a person living with a disability.
I also think of Claudia Gordon, my Delta Sigma Theta big sister, the first Black deaf attorney to graduate from American Law School. She is also an alum of the Obama administration and a disability advocate, and she taught me to be more vocal about what it’s like to be a member of the deaf and hard of hearing community and to not be ashamed of it.
From an interview with Louis Carr