Mawa McQueen wears many hats. As the owner and chef of two popular restaurants in Tony Aspen, Colorado, Mawa’s Kitchen and The Crepe Shack, with another creperie location on the way, McQueen also owns a granola factory where she produces her own variation of granola.
With a culinary experience spanning three continents, McQueen is the definition of a globally inspired chef. Growing up in Ivory Coast in Africa, she learned the basics of cooking while caring for her ten younger siblings. Later, Mawa lived in Paris and cooked in and around the city as well as the French Alps, learning the cooking styles of her Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian neighbors. She has now made a name for herself in the Aspen culinary community as the chef/owner of Aspen’s only black-owned restaurants.
McQueen paved his way to culinary school in Paris. Soon after, she moved to London to learn English while working as an au pair, still with the goal of coming to America and becoming a successful entrepreneur. In 2002, that dream came true when she won a green card lottery. She arrived in Kennebunkport, Maine, working summer seasons at the White Barn Inn, also working winter seasons at Little Nell in Aspen. In 2004, she started a restaurant business in Aspen as a side business. When her restaurant business took off, she moved to Aspen full-time, where she became famous for her fresh, home-cooked, locally sourced cuisine. In 2006, she expanded her business and established Mawa’s Kitchen, a full-service restaurant and catering business.
In addition to his restaurants and his highly successful catering business, McQueen also owns Mawa’s GrainFreeNola, a delicious gluten-free, high-protein, vegan granola made with the highest quality organic nuts and seeds sweetened with dates. Medjool. Using fresh, locally sourced organic ingredients from farmers in the Roaring Fork Valley, she also incorporates signature ingredients from Africa and France.
McQueen recently opened up about her fascinating upbringing, culinary philosophy, signature dishes and plans for further growth.
What experiences growing up helped shape your goals to one day become a highly successful entrepreneur?
Take care of my brothers and sisters (the whole household). As the older brother of 10 children at the time, I oversaw cooking, cleaning, and making sure the house was in order and everyone had their needs met because my parents worked a lot. In my culture, it was my duty to make sure laundry, cleaning, and especially meals were done and ready. There are two things that helped me, one was that I had to take charge of myself and two if I didn’t know something it was up to me to find the answers since my parents didn’t have time to tell me. educate. I didn’t really want to bother my parents because they were constantly busy, in my culture if you didn’t know something it was up to you to find the answers.
Do you incorporate the flavors you knew growing up in Africa and also in Paris into your meals today?
I include in my dishes a varied list of ingredients from my native Ivory Coast and my time spent in Paris. I also incorporate Moroccan, Mediterranean, Caribbean and Middle Eastern ingredients because I grew up in a suburb of Paris where everyone dined together as neighbors because we couldn’t afford to eat out. Incorporating these cultural ingredients into my dishes has been the driving force behind my desire to start my own restaurant and catering business. I want to be able to share my native roots not only with the good people of Aspen, but also with people around the world. It is very important to me that my guest can try new foods, flavors and ingredients that are hard to find in other culinary establishments. For many years I struggled to answer the question “what kind of food do you cook” because my culinary range is so wide. It’s like asking a bi-racial child if he’s black or white.
What are your signature dishes?
I like to play around and be imaginative in my dishes, some of my signatures include my seasonal salad which contains Fonio (an African heritage cereal), truffled yuca fries, Niçoise salad, duck confit parmentier, oxtail and my jerk chicken.
Any future projects you would like to announce?
We are excited to announce that our second pancake shack location will be opening prior to the summer season in downtown Aspen with more locations to come in the future. selling our GrainFreeNola at Roaring Fork Valley retail stores. We are also working on a variation of our GrainFreeNola that will be nut-free called “Foniola” which will be my Fonio Infused Granola.