Beyond The Piping Bag // It’s never just been about a passion for pastry for Andrea (Attie) Milhem. From her youth as a child living in fear of kidnappers in Bogotá, Colombia…until her rise as one of Panama’s best known pastry chefs, she has placed more importance on her chief role: that of a Jewish girl, wife and mother.

Aerial view of the modern skyline of Panama City , Panama with modern Highrise buildings.

The story I’m about to share with you will take us across many settings and continents…from the crime-ridden streets of Bogotá, where children ride to school in buses with bulletproof glass…to the ritzy promenade of Panama City’s Costa del Este, Latin America’s designer fashion hub. We’ll stop in Miami, spend some time in New York, and then head back south to a beach oasis on Panama’s shores.

But despite the beauty and diversity of this story, the episode I want to tell first is one that took place closer to home, right nearby in Manhattan. And it didn’t take place in the beginning or the end, but somewhere in the middle.

But I’m beginning with this because I gasped when I first heard it: because it exposes a truth, the emet that we know.
Andrea Milhem, whom you’ll soon meet, was attending culinary school at the French Culinary Institute (which has since merged with ICE).

She was taking an intensive course on cake techniques and design—this course was designed to turn one into a pastry artist in just one semester, a few short months. There was one head chef instructor, but there were also famous guest instructors, like Ron Ben Israel and Jacques Torres.

“I remember it was such a big challenge to be in culinary school and not be able to taste anything. I had to make a lot of friends because I’d always ask for favors, ‘Could you try my cake?’ ‘Could you try my frosting?’ People got tired of tasting things for me, so I’d need more and more friends.”

Finally, Andrea decided she couldn’t go on like this. She had to tell the head chef she’s Jewish and keeps kosher instead of trying to get through this course without the instructor realizing that she had never tasted any of the assignments she turned in.


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