When life delivers a lemon, some make lemonade. Buffalo Grove resident Michelle Fujioka makes lemon macarons. And chocolate, coffee, mango, strawberry and vanilla ones, too.
Fujioka is the owner of Mon Ami Macaron, a French cookie business she launched this year. She found herself with the time to pursue this passion after her husband’s business closed. It was, she said, a blessing in disguise.
Fujioka is a longtime fan of the delicate treats, which she discovered during a trip to Paris about 12 years ago.
“You bite into them and they are just so delicious,” she said.
Back in the U.S., “I looked, but I couldn’t find many places around here” that sold macarons, she said.
But she encountered a variation of them on a cruise ship, and also went out of her way to visit “a famous macaron store” during a recent family vacation in Australia. When she arrived, however, the shop was about to close and most of the flavors were sold out.
So this year, still craving those sweets, she took matters into her own hands. “I started researching and studying how to make this cookie,” she said.
She made a batch at home and shared the cookies with a friend. “She just bit into it and she had that perfect reaction that everyone should have when they try these cookies,” Fujioka said. “She was the one who first said, ‘You have to sell these.’”
The timing was right, she said, for a new business venture. In early 2011, her husband, Jimmy Fujioka, closed the family business, which had manufactured porcelain figures, including Precious Moments, for 50 years. A stay-at-home mom of two, Fujioka said having her husband around to share more parenting duties has given her the time to pursue a business venture.
Since February, she has secured a food safety and sanitation license following a class at the College of Lake County, purchased food-safe packaging and custom ribbon, and fine-tuned her recipes.
“I just started trying new flavors, ordered the packaging and there was no turning back,” she said.
She named her business Mon Ami — French for “my friend” — because “without the support of my friends, I don’t think I could have done it,” she said.
Up until now, Fujioka has tested out her cookies on friends and provided the treats for local gatherings, such as parties and book club meetings. Beginning Oct. 1, she will begin preparing orders from the greater community in rented suburban kitchens.
For the uninitiated, French macarons have nothing in common with the more widely known coconut macaroons that come to the minds of many when Fujioka first mentions the treats.
These cookie shells are made from almond flour, egg whites and sugar, and are colored to match the fillings, which include jam, chocolate ganache, butter cream, homemade lemon curd or a blend with fresh strawberries, among others. Fujioka hand-pipes each filling.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a hard cookie, but it’s very labor intensive,” she said.
There’s no limit to the possible flavors, said Fujioka, who is currently tweaking a chocolate mint recipe. She already finds it hard to choose her own favorite, which she has narrowed down to coffee, chocolate or strawberry.
She packages the macarons in clear boxes to showcase the colorful treats inside. “Things can taste good, but if they don’t look good, no one will want it. We eat with our eyes first,” Fujioka said.
While she hopes her business will take off, Fujioka said she’s also committed to supporting local charities. She will sell macarons at the Nov. 3 Bari’s Bazaar, which will raise money for a local family with medical bills.
When she’s not baking, Fujioka can be found spending time with her daughters, 9-year-old Emily and 6-year-old Lilly.
“If this lets me co-parent with my husband and be there for our kids, this is the best thing that could have happened,” she said.
Mon Ami Macarons are $10 for a box of six. Orders, which Fujioka requests at least five days in advance, can be placed for small quantities or for larger events.