A Conversation with Chef Yvonne Maffei

Although, My Halal Kitchen blog is based in Chicago, it has made a warm place in the heart of many kitchens around the world from different religious and cultural backgrounds. Yvonne Maffei is the chef, writer, editor, and publisher behind My Halal Kitchen blog where she helps and instructs us on different aspects of running a halal kitchen from cooking, to sourcing foods that are halal, humanely raised, poisonous and chemical free to green cleaning our kitchens. Yvonne Maffei was born and raised in the U.S. with Puerto Rican and Sicilian heritage. She is also a graduate from Ohio University with a Bachelor's degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies and a Master's degree in International Studies, where she specialized in international education, journalism and health. In addition to traveling throughout the U.S., she has lived abroad throughout Latin America, Europe, the southern Mediterranean and North Africa. Yvonne Maffei is the author of Summer Ramadan Cooking and Clean Your Kitchen Green. She also gives cooking classes and has been the favorite of the press from Forbes, NPR, Chicago Tribune, The Huffington Post, Azizah Magaznine, and Cooking Light Magazine among some.

Can you recall the moment when your interest in cooking begin?

YM: My interest in cooking evolved from a need to feel and live healthy when I was in junior high school. It was an awkward period where I was going through all the growing pains that are normal for that age, but I began to really notice that when I ate processed foods my body responded so negatively (i.e. feeling sluggish, weight gain, etc.). My parents allowed me to experiment in the kitchen with things like homemade sandwiches and working with semi-homemade ingredients on the stovetop. From there, I was in love with not just cooking, but feeling good as a result of eating well. It’s a connection that has stuck with me ever since.

Describe the emotion you felt when one of your recipes was published in Cooking Light Magazine.

YM: I felt as though it was a good sign to pursue a dream whose time I thought had passed. It’s proof that when you put something out there in the world, things can happen!

Turmeric Ginger Chicken Sauté, Cooking Light Magazine, May 2008 (recipe)

Was it scary to make that change from school teacher to Chef? 

YM: Honestly, I didn’t think about the fear of the change; it was something I simply needed to do and told myself there was no looking back.

What does Yvonne do when she is not cooking?

YM: Write. Edit photos. Work on what’s next for My Halal Kitchen. Meet up with family and friends.

Baked Salmon with Dill & Thyme Recipe (recipe)

Tell us a bit about what your faith has to do with you cooking. 

YM: If I didn’t believe that eating halal was a Divine command from the Almighty, then I guess there wouldn’t be a “My Halal Kitchen”. Islam is a way of life and with it comes all of the guidelines surrounding the ways we implement Allah’s commands. Eating halal, cooking halal- they are integral to that.

 What inspires you to design new dishes and does it take you a couple of tries or do you get it right on the spot the first time? 

YM: I really use what I have on hand. The recipes I post are usually things I dig out of the cabinets and from the fridge from a recent shopping trip. I bring home what inspires me- what looks fresh and tastes great (i.e. mostly seasonal) then build from there. I don’t typically do recipes over and over again unless it’s for a specific project and I have plenty of people around to take the leftovers. I abhor wasting food so most of the time I push to get it right the first time. If not, I‘ll wait to post it until I’ve had a chance to perfect it with all the right elements.

What makes a dish halal?

YM: Halal ingredients and the absence of those ingredients that aren’t halal.

I must ask; who gets the first taste when you design a new dish? 

YM: Usually it’s me because I taste along the way to make sure the dish is getting what it needs; then of course it’s the person I’m dining with- usually my husband.

 Chef Yvonne's recipes are available by App here.

You are fusion of cultures(Sicilian, Puerto Rican). What's your favorite cuisine? 

YM: Oh, I’m a comfort food type of gal. Anything with bread and cheese (i.e. pizza) seems to be the only food that can’t go wrong in my book…

How did the name My Halal Kitchen come about?

 YM: I was going to use the name “Halal Kitchen” but the domain name was taken. I didn’t want people to feel that if it said “My” in the title that they didn’t belong to it or couldn’t relate the information to their own kitchens, that is not what I intended the site to convey. Well, “MyHalalKitchen.com” was available so I used it. Subhnallah, it seems as though the name hasn’t been a problem.

"Load up on garlic and have it available often by placing it in a glass jar in the fridge. The oil will taste wonderful, too!"  -  Yvonne Maffei

Did you expect My Halal Kitchen to have this amount of recognition from the public and media?

YM: I had hoped, of course, but my expectations were quite modest. All I wanted was for the word “halal” to become more recognizable in the U.S. and around the world, to convey that any cuisine could be made halal and that so many halal ingredients, products, and services were readily available if people just knew where to find them.

How can a person have a Halal Kitchen?

YM: Stock the kitchen pantry with halal ingredients from which you can cook great halal meals to make any type of cuisine in the world. There is such an abundance of halal products, but also foods that are already halal (i.e. herbs, spices, vegetables, etc.) that there isn’t any reason to feel confined by this dietary lifestyle.  Check out a list of some of my favorite halal pantry ingredients here.

Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe: A Winter Necessity (recipe)

Let's talk style. Describe your cooking style in three words.

YM: Quick, Fresh and Uncomplicated.

You have a line of aprons and napkins. Did you design them? 

YM: I worked with some very talented designers to help bring my ideas to life.

Bismillah Aprons
Available here.

Do you follow cooking trends, if so, which one are you following now? 

YM:I really don’t follow the trends in my cooking, but I am aware of what they are. I just like to cook real food that’s unpretentious and will satisfy the person eating.

 What's your favorite kitchen accessory?

 YM: Scissors (Kitchen shears)- you can do so many things with them.


Caribbean Shrimp Salad (recipe)

Where do you shop for your groceries? 

 YM: Wherever there is good quality food, and of course those stores that decide to sell products from halal businesses. I love ethnic food stores for all their interesting produce and dried spices, as well.

What other Chef would you like to do a collaboration with? 

YM: I would love to cook with Swedish chef Tina Nordstrom of New Scandinavian Cooking. She seems like a lover of the outdoors who knows so much about cooking fish as well as interesting wild game- basically all natural, rustic cooking which I absolutely love and want to learn more about.

 Fish Tacos recipe in Summer Ramadan Cooking book. Available for purchase here.

What do you think about adding to your publications a book specialized for the newly married woman and maybe something in the lines of Halafy Your Kitchen. 

YM: If that’s what my readers really want, then that’s what I’ll work on. I’d love to hear some feedback about that from everyone J

What new things are ahead for Yvonne Maffei and My Halal Kitchen?

YM: Insha’allah, the My Halal Kitchen website will have a facelift soon, which is something I’m super excited about since I hope it will make searching for halal recipes, resources and information on cooking halal so much easier for everyone.  I’m also doing a bit of traveling this year, joining Sameer’s Eats on their Halal Food Tour to 5 different U.S. cities where I’ll be doing some cooking demos and judging culinary competitions. Also, my Summer Ramadan Cooking cookbook (launched last year) is also keeping me busy right up to the month of Ramadan where I’ll be visiting quite a few spots around Chicago to cook recipes from the book and talk about how to make Ramadan cooking so much easier, insha’allah.

Chef Yvonne Maffei

Chef Yvonne is currently taking part in The Halal Food Tour that will take place in California, New York, Chicago, DC and Houston. See details here.

Get updates, recipes and tips from Chef Yvonne Maffei:

The My Halal Kitchen blog

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  1. Finally,good to put a face to the name. Excellent interview

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  3. First of all, I miss commenting on your blog.
    Second, THANK YOU for introducing me to My Halal Kitchen and Yvonne! Never heard of it before but now I'm hooked!
    Excuse me while I go stalk her website now :D

  4. Mashallah great interview! I'm looking forward to seeing the updated blog. The Halal Food Tour sounds really nice. I hope to convince my husband to make the drive :)