Tenacious, spunky and naturally bossy—an admission owned only by successful businesswomen, by the way—Mawa McQueen knows what you want to order.
“People always say, ‘Don’t make me think; tell me what to eat,’” explains the Aspen-based chefentrepreneur one morning at The Crêpe Shack, the tiny to-go eatery she launched during the Snowmass Base Village grand opening in December 2018.
As proprietor of Mawa’s Kitchen, which offers a diverse menu of catering and mealplanning services as well as breakfast, lunch, brunch and private dinner (by request) in a light-filled dining room adjacent to her production kitchen in the burgeoning Aspen Business Center, McQueen is a pro in pleasing even the pickiest palates.
While spreading a dollop of buckwheat batter onto a hot, circular griddle, she explains The Crêpe Shack’s menu, “If you’re vegan, you get your own [crepe]. Gluten-free? You have it.” Fillings showcase McQueen’s culinary philosophy: organic, locally sourced vegetables and meat, plus luxe surprises such as imported lox and caviar. “The world is changing,” McQueen says, meaning Aspen.
Brother Zak Sidibe—one of 11 Ivory Coast siblings for whom McQueen cooked while growing up in Paris; many now travel from France to reinforce a company staff of 30, including their mother—remembers the beginning of what was then Mawa’s Home Dining, 13 years ago.
“Even getting someone to stop by for a sandwich was difficult,” Sidibe recalls. “Now the ABC is the place to be.” Clearly, McQueen is a champion of small open spaces: The Crêpe Shack is just 300 square feet; Mawa’s Kitchen, about 1,200. Three years ago, McQueen and partner Daniel (who proudly acquired her last name when they were married) introduced Market Street Kitchen in a cozy corner of the newly built Element Basalt hotel in Willits Town Center. No venue has more than 25 seats indoors—all the better to connect personally with diners.
“Vegetarian, dairy-free, nut-free, sugar-free. Only a few people were doing it,” McQueen says, of starting in-flight catering delivery in the early aughts (which makes up half of her total business today). “Private jet [clients] are very specific: tomato soup, [but] no dairy, no onion, no garlic, other dietary restrictions. This morning Daniel was heading to Rifle because [the customer] couldn’t fly from [Aspen-Pitkin County Airport].” He drove 67 miles to Rifle to deliver one sandwich.
Whether beef tenderloin and shrimp cocktail or kale salad and beet-hummus tartine on wholegrain toast, Mawa prepares nourishing meals with intention. The chef is compelled to create—and always scheming. (She only cackles conspiratorially when I ask about the location of next winter’s “very small” venture.) And she can’t help but revamp menus seasonally and host special summer outdoor events, such as a lobster bake (July 27) and “Taste of West Africa” (August 24).
“One complaint is, ‘I love this, why did you change the quinoa and arugula salad?’” McQueen says. “You liked it? Trust me then, and try something new.” 970.544.4862, mawaskitchen.com
Photography by Jamie Jay Fletcher