Maya-Camille Broussard may run a business called Justice of the Pies, but “the not-so-big secret is that I don’t eat pie,” she says. Her bakery, which has earned her a James Beard Award nomination for Outstanding Baker, honors not her own taste but her late father’s. Stephen J. Broussard, a larger-than-life Chicago defense attorney, loved making and eating anything with a crust so much that his family baked pies in his memory after his death in 2009.
That’s not the only way he shaped his daughter’s venture. When Maya-Camille decided in 2014 to establish Justice of the Pies—the name is a play on “justice of the peace,” a reference to Stephen’s law career—she decided not to just open a bakery, but to combine it with a social mission. In addition to selling pies, quiches, and tarts online and at markets and third-party locations throughout the city, she also runs workshops teaching children from lower-income neighborhoods about nutrition and kitchen skills.
“Everything that I do has a purpose. I simply cannot form a business just for the sake of making money,” she explains. “I felt that focusing on fighting food insecurity was a good place to be, especially since I witnessed the effects of food insecurity.”
Maya-Camille’s father grew up in public housing on the West Side of Chicago. “My grandfather was an alcoholic who often spent his money on buying drinks at the tavern rather than groceries,” says Maya-Camille. “So my dad often talked about growing up hungry and remembering not eating for days, and my grandmother struggling to put a meal together.”
That early food insecurity permanently affected not just Stephen, but his daughter, too. “My dad loved food and he coveted food whenever he was around it,” Maya-Camille says. His family was from Louisiana and was full of great cooks like his sisters, one of whom taught Maya-Camille to bake.
“There was this sort of nervous energy that he had around food: he would inhale it like he didn’t know if he was going to have a good enough meal the next day,” she says.
As a result, he would often eat Maya-Camille’s leftovers, which she wanted to save since his house frequently contained only what she calls “struggle food”: non-nutritious, but lasting items like Cheez-Its, instant ramen noodles, Jell-O, or mashed potatoes in a box. “I am now overprotective of my leftovers and my food,” Maya-Camille says.
“There was sort of this fear around my dad’s mentality around food, and that passed down to me because sometimes when I was living with him, I felt like I had to fight to eat something before he got to it, if there was something in the fridge.” Maya-Camille’s aunt at one point worried that she suffered from an eating disorder. (Maya-Camille notes that she always ate well at the house of her mother, a physician with a degree in public health who was divorced from Stephen.)
The lasting effects of food insecurity upon Maya-Camille and her father inspired her to give children the skills to eat healthily and happily. Having studied theater at Howard University and Northwestern University, she had taught in various arts-focused outreach programs in low-income schools. So when she decided to shift her focus to food with Justice of the Pies, she was already comfortable leading creative workshops.
A child can’t be successful if they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, Maya-Camille says. But if that basic need is met, “they are more likely to be able to focus on their studies, their hobbies, their dreams, their creativity,” she says. “Not only is eating a need; it’s also an outlet for creativity. I wanted kids to get excited about that and to also think outside of the box.” For instance, she will challenge kids to combine ingredients that she has pulled based on the colors of a sneaker. “When something does sound good, they feel so accomplished,” she says.
Even though the kids are typically cagey about their enjoyment during the workshop, Maya-Camille says she often hears from administrators that they immediately ask to return for another workshop as soon as they leave. “The most rewarding thing is kids trying something that they’ve never tried before and actually enjoying it,” she says.
In addition to the workshops, Justice of the Pies also donates food to the Love Fridge, a mutual aid group which offers free food to those who need it. She also provided meals to health care workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and has raised money for Cabrini Green Legal Aid, which helps low-income individuals affected by the criminal justice system.
That’s all part of Maya-Camille’s growing profile, in addition to her baking skills: she appeared on Netflix’s Bake Squad in 2021, has a cookbook coming out in October, and is up for a James Beard Award that amounts to being named one of the best bakers in the country.
All while not eating her namesake dessert, which she has offered in flavors ranging from strawberry basil key lime pie to fig and pig quiche to sweet potato pie with orange zest (inspired by a great aunt’s candied yam recipe). Instead of tucking into pie, she prefers something like a pound cake “that can stand on its own without any extra frills.” A good pound cake “is how you gain my respect,” she says.
Or you could try her lemon-lime soda pop cake, which hearkens back to childhood afternoons when her cousin would watch her and send her to buy a pop from the corner store on Fridays. “I was so excited because I knew she was going to make a 7-Up cake,” Maya-Camille recalls. “So I had to get that pop and run back and pray that my mother didn’t pick me up before the cake was done.”
Lemon-Lime Pop Cake
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
3 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon extract
Zest of one whole lime
Zest of one whole lemon
3 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup lemon-lime soda pop
1. Preheat oven to 325° F.
2. Using a standing mixer or a hand mixer, cream butter and sugar together. One at a time, add 5 large eggs, mixing in order to create an emulsion. Add the zest of a lemon and a lime, vanilla extract, and lemon extract and mix. Add cake flour in increments of a cup at a time, mixing the flour into the batter in-between each increment.
3. Once the cake flour is incorporated into the batter, add salt and sour cream and mix.
4. Slowly pour in the lemon-lime pop while mixing the batter.
5. Line a Bundt cake pan with shortening and all-purpose unbleached flour.
6. Pour the cake batter into the cake pan and bake for one hour in the center rack of the oven. Test the center of the cake with a knife; if it comes out clean and dry then the cake is ready. Remove the cake pan from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes before removing the cake from the pan.