“DESSERT BECOMES HER!” (Editor’s Note: Sorry, I couldn’t resist).
As a fashionista, I candidly belong to a world in which carbohydrates are usually viewed as the spawns of devils and fat/sugars are a manifestation Satan himself. Therefore at first glance, it may have seemed out-of-the-ordinary for me to collaborate with a restaurant known for zealous aficionados that wait patiently and resiliently in lines that snake around several city blocks be it rain, snow, sleet or shine to grab a taste of Shake Shack’s famous burgers, fries, desserts and (of course) shakes! However those who know me well are aware that this was the one of the most authentic connections I could make. In a world where models, influencers and celebrities are constantly selling the latest bogus diet pill, waist trainer or skinny tea to anyone who will fall for it, I had never been larger than a size zero in my entire life despite memorizing the entire McDonald’s value meal menu in numerical order (shout-out to the #14 Fish Filet Meal). I have never dieted or counted calories, and I detest gyms, so to pretend my life consists of yoga pants and Equinox memberships would be a flat-out lie (I will digress, I do own yoga pants but not for any functional reason other than that they are soft and stretchy, a step up from my old standby favorite outfit- pajamas). I subscribe to the mantra of “eat what you want and walk/dance/laugh/talk it off”, as my fellow New Yorkers are so apt to do. I have been lengthy and lean since I was born at 7 lbs. and almost two feet long. Genetics are also on my side, as weight gain never seems to occur with me thanks to inheriting my parents’ tiny bone structure. I am destined for many things in life, yet so far watching my weight is not one of them. Although I know there is more to bodily health than “looking good” and I mostly choose high quality food, I still mainly eat whatever I want to my heart’s content. I can order the finest beluga caviar at Petrossian, but I will also run at top speed to grab a chocolate-vanilla-rainbow sprinkle swirl cone from the nearest Mr. Softee truck. To be frank, I tend to eat impulsively like a child, and this makes my experiences with food very real. Although it may be unwise to some, the truth is I eat not to attain a body goal or to reach a status quo, but for the pure taste, experience, and enjoyment. Yet despite my diverse craving palate, no foodie fantasy delights me more than the decadence of frozen desserts.
Despite my sweet-toothed secret, it is not often that I get asked to discuss calorie-laden frozen confections. Even less often do I get the chance to collaborate with one of the most popular and sensational restaurant chains on the planet with one of the most talented celebrity chefs in existence. Yet, the rarest part of all was the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop an item on the famed Shake Shack menu! The odds were slim, yet somehow I found myself outside of the ever-popular Shake Shack’s 40th street and 3rd avenue Midtown location on a snowy March afternoon, to meet none other than storied celebrity chef and Shake Shack Global Culinary Director Mark Rosati.
As I walked through the door armed with my custom Justina Penrod created Swarovski crystal Shake Shack cup, I was met with beaming smiles by Mark Rosati and Brandy Cerne, PR and Marketing Director at Shake Shack. Between the two of them, was all of the delicious goodness and warm atmosphere that signifies the Shake Shack brand. Mark dreams up and designs all of the menu items that make mouths water around the world, and Brandy helps bring these taste sensations to the millions of international Shack Fans! I was so honored to meet the brains and taste behind Shake Shack, and to collaborate in the creation my very own dessert menu item! Let’s just say the Shakes weren’t the only things shaking at Shake Shack that evening… so were my hands.
Yet, I could not have been in a more friendly and positive atmosphere, conducive to creating culinary magic. Mark immediately turned to me eyes ablaze and said, “Quickly! When you’re writing or studying… before a big event or fashion show… if you could have ANY SNACK what would it be? What flavor would you want to experience?” I thought back to studying for chemistry midterms and coming up with the most crazy food combinations while memorizing molecular structures. I’m certain that most of those combinations were completely arbitrary and took no thought other than to fill my stomach with something tasty- I recalled one morning where I awoke in bed after memorizing all the amino acid structures to find an empty container of raw cookie dough and my mouth smeared with chocolate. That was a start. Another time I put Goya Adobo seasoning all over my instant popcorn until it turned orange and probably overloaded my body with massive amounts of sodium. I realized we were backtracking. FINALLY, I remembered this one wonderful morning at home in New York City where I sat in the window of my residence and stared down at Wall Street, languishing in the morning sunlight perched high in the clouds above the endless madness below, and casually dipping fresh strawberries into a cup of perfectly melted caramel. I reminisced about the refreshingly tart-yet-fruity sweetness of the lumpy strawberry mixed with the smooth luxurious decadence of the melted caramel that lingered on my tongue long after the strawberry was gone… this epic duo of texture and flavor were what remained memorable in my taste receptors and limbal nervous system. As I described that afternoon to Mark and Brandy I saw them look towards each other with knowing smiles. We had a winner.
By the time Mark invited me back for Round 2 of “beta testing” we were throwing ideas around like mad. The Concrete is a Shake Shack signature frozen custard based dessert with varying flavors and mix-ins. Previous brand partners such as New York’s legendary Museum Of Natural History have created confections like the “Natural History Crunch-Stellation Concrete” in honor of their famed Hayden Planetarium and special edition flavors such as the “Hanukoncrete” were created in celebration of the Hannukah holidays. However my flavor was to embody me, as it was made with and for me! Thus it was born: “The Farah Zu-SHAKE-ha Concrete,” a celebrity chef Mark Rosati created sumptuous combination of vanilla frozen custard blended with fresh strawberry pureé, dulce de leche and good old New York-style cheesecake. It was an irresistible dessert created for an NYC girl in the town where Shake Shack started. Part of Shake Shack’s wild success story is the fact that it began as the brainchild of NYC foodie legend Danny Meyer via a small food cart in the middle of Madison Square Park which grew to a massive international food empire. Shake Shack is now a New York Stock Exchange listed publicly traded shareholder retaining company, headed by talented CEO Randy Garutti. However, they always kept that hometown, humble beginning as part of their brand. It is something which gives them an element of humanity in an almost mechanical and robot-like metropolis and it is that brazen unabashed New York authenticity which helps set Shake Shack apart from all the other casual dining establishments. Plus, that very boldness is a trait that is part of my own personality. In fact it was indicative even more of why it made so much sense for me to partner with Shake Shack… I could have chosen to exploit my natural thin body type and genetically inherited fast metabolism to shill nonsense to an audience who trusts and supports me, or I could keep it real like the New Yorker in me and create something that was truly ME and reflected my actual life choices! I am a tried and true Shack Fan, and I couldn’t pretend to be anything but. It had to be honest, it had to be delicious, and it therefore had to be Mark Rosati and Shake Shack.
I will never forget my awesome experience at Shake Shack! The lines continued out of the doors and it was a huge success as people really loved our unique flavor! It was so inspiring to learn from and partner with one of the greatest culinary forces in the world today as a leading brand in the food service industry, Shake Shack remains a bastion of the American Dream and an example that anything is possible. Their dedication to taste, quality, freshness, community and creativity are some of the reasons why Shake Shack is beloved by so many. It was a privilege and honor to create a menu item with an international culinary juggernaut. Part of the charm and appeal of Shake Shack is the way it affects people- there has to be something special and cathartic about fast food that people are willing to stand in all sorts of weather conditions during the entire duration of their lunch break just to get a fleeting taste of. It was an amazing feeling to be part of that process, to bring joy to so many bellies and hearts. To see my name and a menu item that I helped create on the Shake Shack menu was another dream realized.
BELOW CHECK OUT EXCLUSIVE BEHIND-THE-SCENES VIDEOS OF FARAH ZULAIKHA AT SHAKE SHACK PLUS TASTE TESTING WITH CELEBRITY CHEF MARK ROSATI! A SNEAK PEEK INTO THE PROCESS BEHIND BRINGING A MENU ITEM TO LIFE AT ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR DINING ESTABLISHMENTS IN THE WORLD AND MY WORLD PREMIERE LAUNCH OF THE “FARAH ZU-SHAKE-HA” CONCRETE AT SCENIC SHAKE SHACK BATTERY PARK CITY NYC! SPECIAL THANKS TO MARK ROSATI, BRANDY CERNE, ALL THE EMPLOYEES AT SHAKE SHACK BATTERY PARK CITY AND ALL THE FABULOUS SHACK FANS!