Mohammad Islam and Malika Ameen have one of those relationships that other couples either envy or dread: They share a home and a business, in this case the Chicago restaurant Aigre Doux. Islam is the executive chef, Ameen is the executive pastry chef.
The pair met when while working together at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago. Their paths crossed several more times, and they ended up marrying in 2001, then taking on posts at the famed Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. With the demands of a growing family—at last count it included three boys under the age of six—they relocated to Chicago, where they launched their own restaurant. Chicago magazine named Aigre Doux (French for sour and sweet) one of 2007’s best new restaurants and singled out Islam as best new chief. “Aigre Doux is a smart introduction to Chicago’s newest culinary ‘it’ couple,” the magazine decreed. Ameen gave us a brief glimpse into the lives of these two busy parents and restaurant owners.
With two parents in the restaurant business, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that your toddler is curious about the refrigerator contents. But isn’t this a little extreme?
It’s okay, he’s obsessed with food. Actually we all love to eat. I’m always cooking ethnic food at home because I crave it so badly. And I’m always trying to cook my mom’s food, which is Pakistani.
So I’ll guess you stock a few staples in there that we might not see in a typical American fridge?
Two things we always have are mango chutney and harisa paste. We get the chutney from Mohammad’s family in Bangladesh; they have their own orchards. It’s a great condiment with rice and fish. And I just love harisa because I add it to different things. Sometimes for something quick I mix it with ketchup and lime juice and spread it on fish.
Sounds...yummy, in an acquired taste kind of way. So how did you two kids end up here?
I’m from here, and my mom and dad and sisters are all here. That makes all the difference. In Los Angeles, when our second son was born, I left Chateau Marmont becuase I was running around like crazy and I wasn’t productive at home or work. When I was at one place I was worried about the other.
Do you miss the LA scene at all?
It was fun, and we were meeting a lot of different people. But it could be chaotic cooking for the guests because we always had a lot of special requests.
And how is working and living with the same person? Do you get tired of each other?
It’s good and it’s bad. We might disagree and argue, but in the end, our goal is the same: to run a successful restaurant. Mohammad works upstairs and I work downstairs--the office and pastry kitchen are downstairs. We visit each other during the day. But we don’t keep the same hours now. On most weekdays I go home at dinner time to be with the kids.
When you’re not at work or with the kids, how do you like to relax?
Mohammad likes to play tennis, sail, hike and do other outdoor sports. You may laugh, but I like to shop for shoes that I never get to wear. Sometimes I get stressed out and buy things, but when I look in my closet, it makes me feel good.
Hey, when you’re dealing with a house full of males, we see nothing wrong with a little retail therapy!