Featured Chef: Amber Croom

Chef’s Roll was thrilled to feature Amber Croom as a winner of our Center Stage program at the MAPP Impact Conference 2023 in Miami, FL, this past May 1st.

250+ amazing women in culinary applied to Center Stage, and Amber Croom was one of two chosen to receive an all-expense paid trip to the event and be introduced to prestigious female mentors like Dayanny Delacruz, Tanya Holland, and Ani Meinhold. Chef Amber was given the opportunity to let her skills shine at the event’s Food & Wine Festival on Monday night. 

Check out her amazing dish below and a few Q&As on Chef Amber’s culinary journey thus far!

Amber Croom is the Executive Pastry Chef & Owner of And 4 Desserts in Baltimore, MD. You can also find her infamous beignets at the Baltimore Farmer’s Market with her partner in crime, Chef Yassmeen Jackson.

What and where was your first BOH gig?

It came right after culinary school. So, before [culinary school], I hadn’t worked in any food service, back of the house, or anything like that. I actually went to school for engineering. In 2005 I was living in New Orleans and working as a Naval Architect & Marine Engineer. That was the year that Hurricane Katrina hit. The storm hit, and my roommate and I were some of the people that didn’t evacuate, so we were there during the storm. We were stranded for about five days without any means of communication. The stuff we witnessed changed me and the course of my life. It helped me realize that my chosen field was very money-driven, and it wasn’t for passion. I realized that life is too short to be doing something I wasn’t passionate enough. I have always loved baking and decided to go to culinary school.

My first BOH gig was at my externship in Vail, CO. I worked for Remedy Gelato & Chocolates. There we made artisanal gelato, custom handmade chocolates, bonbons, bark, etc., every day – that was my first experience. It was very cold, enriching, and an absolute shock to my system that culinary school did not prepare me for real-world experience in a kitchen, which is different.

This particular program in Vail only accepted about eight interns per season. Every season, they have an intern house that pulls interns from culinary schools like Johnson & Whales, CIA, Cordon Blue, French Culinary School in Chicago, etc. – it is a very competitive program. I am a very competitive person by nature, and I’ve always been fascinated by the snow, being from Alabama. I went for it, and I was 1 out of 3 students chosen from the culinary school I attended in Alabama.

You have had some highs and lows these last few years in your career. But, you have managed to rise to a bigger goal of opening your own Brick & Mortar. 

How has that transition been?

It’s been so weird! Funny story: I was working as an Executive Pastry Chef right before the pandemic (November 2019) and was fired. I had never been fired from anywhere in my entire life. After that happened, I was like, what do I do? Pastry positions in Baltimore are very sparse, especially for someone that has been in the industry and has held Executive positions.

My friend gave me the idea of making pies as the holidays were coming, and so I did that and got so many orders. My husband motivated me to go on my own. That was never my goal; my goal was to work my way up as a Corporate Pastry Chef, get ACF certified, etc., and none of my goals ever involved owning my own business.

Having to pivot and realizing that if the opportunity wasn’t there, I needed to create it for myself. So, in January, I formerly formed And 4 Desserts and made all these corporate and event contracts for the year. Yet, two months later, the whole world shut down, causing all the contracts to be canceled.

Again, I was in a position where I needed to pivot. Farmer’s Markets were deemed essential in Maryland, and I signed up. It was a hit; we always had a line, and more orders came from that. The chef community also did many collaborations, which was great for our city and all of us.

Tell us all about your experience with Center Stage and the MAPP conference.

It was a fantastic experience where I met and networked with some amazing chefs! Being able to interact with a room full of female chefs was such a great experience.

What have you learned from your Center Stage mentors?

Chefs Dayanny and Tanya are just amazing! If you need anything, you call Chef Dayanny, and she hits the ground, ready to help with anything. For me having her be involved in this experience was surreal, and the love and generosity is beyond from Chef Dayanny. I left feeling that I could call Chef Dayanny anytime I needed extra guidance, and she would be there with open hands, ready to help in any way she could with contacts, wisdom, and anything.

My conversations with Chef Tanya shifted my perspective that there is so much more you can do in this industry other than working in a restaurant. The vulnerability she had with me in sharing her journey was remarkable. She shared her ups and downs throughout her journey in this industry, from running a successful business and closing to writing books. She is not only an advocate; she is an ally. I was left very hopeful for the future in this industry. Her advice and the fact that I can call or text her for anything means a lot!

What does the future hold for you?

I have decided with my business partner to open a brick & mortar this coming year in Baltimore.

This experience pumped me up to go forward with this project, create opportunities for others to learn, and create a space for mentorship, guidance, and culture. The future for me is to stop waiting for opportunities and instead cultivate those opportunities for myself and others.

One of the main takeaways from the Center Stage and the MAPP Conference was creating more connections and nurturing them. Especially in this industry, you never know who you will meet that can also help in growing your business or being a better chef, etc.