By Bianca Kasawdish
“There’s something about chocolate that fixes everything. When I’m sad, I eat it. When I’m happy, I eat it. Chocolate is love. If I can spread love through that, then I’m happy I’m contributing to making the world a better place through my creations.”
What started as a sweet indulgence has turned into a lifestyle for Sandra Hakim of Baseema Chocolate in New York. Born in Baghdad and immigrating to the U.S. and living in Detroit, California and New York, Hakim shares she has always had a sweet tooth. “My family is all obsessed with deserts and chocolate. When I was young, my parents would travel to the U.S. and bring back American or European chocolate, so I grew up eating that.” That sense of familiarity and comfort was what led her to Baseema Chocolate.
Working as a makeup artist for the fashion industry for more than a decade, Hakim decided to make a career change and follow her passion of food into something a little sweeter. She attended the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York and figured out that pastry, dessert and chocolate were her specialty because of her deep love of chocolate.
She took a leap of faith and went on to study European pastry and chocolate at DCT University in Switzerland, as well as at Ecole du Grand Chocolat Valrhona, working with master chocolatier Luc Eyriey. During her time in Switzerland, she graduated with the highest honors and was the first to graduate with a 4.0 GPA and won two showpiece awards. This was when she knew she was on the right path. She then interned with noteworthy brands in the industry like leading French luxury bakery, Ladurée.
Driven by her success and with years of experience under her belt, Hakim started to make chocolate out of her apartment, giving it out to her local coffee shop and friends. People enjoyed it so much, they started asking where they could buy it, and she began to take more and more orders from home. Hakim went on to share a kitchen in Brooklyn, and five years later, Baseema Chocolate is booming, and often gets asked to cater events and pop ups for major designers like Ted Baker and Scotch & Soda. Most of her customers find her through word of mouth – the chocolate speaks for itself.
As for the name, she wanted to pay homage to our culture by incorporating the Aramaic word for “delicious.”
Her favorite part? “I love all of it. The part where I’m cooking a new recipe, the creative side. I am an artist, that’s part of who I am and how I grow,” she says. When it comes to events, she creates a story with a menu that incorporates the theme into her menu, flavors, and aesthetics, all with innovation and style. “I recently catered an event for the launch of a lingerie line in NYC. They asked what I can do, so I created pink champagne truffles and strawberry marshmallow truffles and they loved it.”
When it comes to her craft, what sets Hakim apart is her technique. “I’m all about slow food movement, everything needs time, technique is very important. My method is European but my chocolate is Americanized.”
Hakim makes it a point to source the best quality ingredients she can find. She imports chocolate from Switzerland, matcha from Japan, and natural vanilla from Madagascar or Tahiti. Handpicking each ingredient, she makes sure they are sustainable and bought at fair trade and pure, kosher and GMO free.
Hakim finds inspiration for new unique recipes and flavors from her travels. She shares that her curiosity for trying new foods leads her to creativity with chocolate. “I’m all about looking and searching and staying different. I don’t want to be just like everybody else.”
She won an award for her charcoal and matcha truffle and loves trying new things. One of her favorites is a chai and cardamom (heil) truffle she makes for her family. With deep devotion, she shares that after eight years, it feels like she has just started doing this for the very first time.
With a small team of three, everything at Baseema Chocolate is handmade and handcrafted. “It’s not easy but I love it and I chose to do it. I came from a line of entrepreneurs and followed in their footsteps,” she says. Dedicated to giving back, she also runs a nonprofit organization to rebuild Christian villages in Iraq.
“Chocolate has a sweet place in my heart. It’s my real passion,” she says.