In 2007 Melanie Moss ’08 found herself knocking on the door of Parisian chef Olivier Berté.
“He looked like the chef from Ratatouille,” she says, smiling as she recalls her study abroad year in Paris. Berté, who ran cooking classes for tourists, spoke not a word of English and needed help translating. Moss, an English literature and French double major at Northwestern, was thrilled to help him. But she wanted something in return: to learn how to bake.
Moss had spent much of her first two years at Northwestern “finding a way to bake — even if it was just using the microwave in [my dorm’s] common room,” she says, adding that her room in Bobb Hall looked like “a little Great British Bakeoff studio.” Learning from a chef — in Paris — was a chance to take her skills to the next level.
“I needed Berté, and he needed me,” she says. “We just clicked right away.”
Working alongside Berté inspired Moss to turn her love of baking into a career. After graduating, she attended culinary school and began testing original recipes in her New York City studio apartment. In 2014, after many nights “awake until 2 a.m., doing all the little things a small business needs at the beginning,” she launched Mini Melanie. The direct-to-consumer bakery in New York City delivers custom cakes, cake pops, brownies, truffles and more nationwide.
Though she shies away from the term “celebrity chef,” Moss has appeared on popular Food Network shows, beating out the competition on a chocolate-themed episode of Chopped and presenting stunning truffles and chocolate éclairs on Beat Bobby Flay.
“It was definitely surreal,” she says. “But as a business owner, as a chef, you’ve got to keep pushing yourself [because] it’s amazing exposure.”
During the pandemic, Moss and her business partner, her sister Diana, completely revamped their business approach, focusing on e-commerce solutions to ship their cakes and other treats across the country. In April, Mini Melanie also partnered with Home Bistro, which now offers Moss’ desserts through its online meal delivery service.
Even while running a small business, Moss still finds time to bake for her family and friends. This June, she baked a black and white wedding cake for Andrea Moverman ’08, whom she met on spring break during her senior year of high school.
“Melanie and I have the greatest meet-cute story!” says Moverman. “We met on the beach in the Bahamas. Everyone was talking about where they were going to college, and I exclaimed, ‘Is anyone here going to Northwestern?!’ and a friend pointed me over to Melanie.”
The two became fast friends and joined the Delta Gamma sorority at Northwestern. When Moss returned from her year abroad in Paris, “she would host these sophisticated dinner parties and cook up these incredible meals,” Moverman says. “I remember trying to learn all I could from her about cooking — and more importantly, how to entertain!”
“It was extremely gratifying to make this cake for Andrea. She’s a lifelong friend,” says Moss, who attended the wedding as a guest as well. “Having a desserts business, you get to be part of friends’ and customers’ special moments, and this was a great one.”
This fall, Moss is pushing herself once again. “We’re launching our first consumer packaged product: a [cake-inspired] cookie, or ‘cakie,’ that is packaged with nutrition facts and barcodes,” which is no small feat, she says. And, of course, it comes in mouthwatering flavors such as appledoodle, lemon poppy and chocolate ganache. Moss hopes to see her cakies in coffee shops and on store shelves.
Creating a consumer packaged product “was a risk — [with] a lot of research and development and cost,” she says. “But we’re confident it’s delicious enough.”
Diana Babineau is a writer and editor in the Office of Global Marketing and Communications.