She defines herself as a creative person, immensely interested in art. Following her time at the University of Architecture and Design and having worked as an architect-designer and 3D visualizer for several years, the Ukrainian chef Dinara Kasko finds in the pastry the ideal terrain to express her creative restlessness, with architecture and geometry as tools, and with the ultimate purpose of finding beauty. She uses a 3D printer to construct a silicone mold for shaping cakes. Her works of confectionery art employ the mathematical principles of the Voronoi Diagram and biomimicry. Her main Kyiv bakery was bombed in 2022 and she fled to the UK shortly thereafter. Her bakery and silicone mold business now operate from the UK and Poland.
Was there a person, situation or event which helped you get onto the path you are on today?
I was born in a small city. We didn’t have enough money when I was young so my mother always told me I had to work and study well because no one could help me escape that city. When I was 17 I moved to Kharkiv, where I achieved good results at school and got accepted into the university. I earned a red diploma which is the equivalent of a distinction, which was important to me. I always competed with my best friend at university, who now has a team of over 200 working for him. My husband believed in me, that I could do something special. I was an architect and worked as a designer, but once I started baking, I spent all my money and free time learning about pastry. He noticed my passion, supported me and we always shared ideas. He helped with photos and videos and we also traveled together. The cloud mold, which is one of the most popular molds at Silikomart, was his idea and we worked on the 3d model together. He continues to help me today.
What was the hardest part to get to the point where things came together successfully?
In 2016, I suddenly, and unexpectedly, became popular after the publication in So Good Magazine. It featured five of my cakes, three of which used a 3D printer. Many magazines, newspapers and TV channels wanted to interview me and I received 300,000 followers within two months. Everyone wanted to collaborate with me but I wasn’t ready for it. Today it is common to become popular through social networks but back then I couldn’t understand why me, because I didn’t have enough pastry knowledge or experience. Today I understand that I cannot be the best pastry chef in the world, but I can be a very good pastry designer, so I decided to grow and work in that direction. In 2016, I learned many techniques by attending classes. Chefs usually start working at 16, at different hotels and restaurants, then enter competitions and become executive and pastry chefs, but it happened to me suddenly. I was a housewife designer making cakes at home in a tiny kitchen. The most difficult part was the travel, as I didn’t see my family and my small daughter wasn’t ready yet. Being an architect who suddenly became a popular pastry chef was mentally difficult for me. Today I no longer attend seven interviews per day, so I can work quietly and do as I please.
How was it being thrust into the spotlight?
I received a lot of support at the time but some people didn’t respect me. They thought I was copying something and that I wasn’t a pastry chef. I felt that and I thought I did not deserve the attention. That was a problem so I had to speak with a specialist about it. I worked hard to achieve my position by using social media. I learned how to make perfect cakes so nobody can say I am fake.
Did you suffer from Impostor Syndrome?
That is exactly what happened to me. I had to understand that it would not last. Today I was famous but tomorrow people will forget who I was. If you have a chance today, don’t hesitate, thank the universe, keep it and push as much as possible. We all have different backgrounds and tastes. Some want to win the Coupe Du Monde, but others are happy making a great croissant. Today one can become popular by making something simple and delicious at home, but if you want to be executive pastry chef in a five star hotel, social media is not enough. To overcome Imposter Syndrome you need to feel comfortable, so I tried to work as much as I could and learn, so that I could feel normal around other chefs. Even if you do something special, everyone only cares about themselves, so you should do what you want to do for yourself, because this is your life. I wasn’t ready in 2016 when this happened to me. I remember trying to answer every social media comment, which kept me up until 3AM. I was happy and sad at the same time. I would be very happy if it happened to me today, and wouldn’t think about Imposter Syndrome. Last year I received an invitation to work in a big hotel, but I told them I couldn’t because I felt I was not ready. It is simply a matter of experience. If you believe you do not deserve, that may be, but sometimes we don’t choose and it simply happens.
If you have a chance today, don’t hesitate, thank the universe, keep it and push as much as possible.
What were you doing before the war in Ukraine, I remember you had your own studio?
In 2018, I opened the studio in Kharkiv, and also rented a second space in the summer of 2021. We opened an online shop with ingredients and tools for confectioners. My team and I were working on many projects in the studio as nobody believed war was possible.
The war unfolded quickly. I remember seeing your posts of being in a shelter with your kids, can you take us through what the initial few weeks were like and what happened to you?
Like all Ukrainians I heard explosions at 5AM on February 24th. I had attended a big event that evening and came home after midnight. My husband told me war was coming but I told him to go to bed as I didn’t believe him. He saw many many military vehicles at the gas station at 1:30 AM, and I remember going to bed very stressed at 3:30 AM. Then we heard explosions and our windows were shaking. People started sending messages asking if we were okay and what to do. It was very strange and I couldn’t eat or breathe normally for two weeks. By midday we had heard five sets of explosions so we packed two suitcases and decided to leave our city. We didn’t plan to be away for years, so we moved from one city to another, sometimes sleeping in the car due to traffic jams. We stayed in Western Ukraine and moved between shelters because there were several daily air alarms. At the time they were shelling from Belarus and nobody could predict where the rockets would go. Shelters were very cold and dirty because people do not live in basements and underground parking. The kids had health issues as a result of the cold. Once we had a chance we went to Moldova, then Romania. We moved through many European countries over two weeks, not sure where to go. We stayed with relatives in Spain, then my friends suggested applying for UK visas, which we had to do in Portugal, so we stayed there for two months. We moved to the UK not planning to stay long, but we have been here for almost a year already. We waited initially, thinking the war would end and we would be able to return home. It is still dangerous to be there. Four days ago my assistant went home from Chernivtsi to Kharkiv, and that evening 80 rockets were fired, 15 in my city. The first week after the war broke out was the most dramatic moment in my life. My adrenaline levels were very high, I couldn’t eat or think, my eyes and hands were constantly shaking and I was vomiting. I wasn’t ready for it but I helped with evacuations and buying medicine. Many of my followers sent us money which I used to help the people in my city. Today my studio is closed because the members of my team all went to different cities and countries. We kept the equipment at the studio until September, and only moved it to our garage in October when I thought it was possible to go home. I have since realized it is impossible, so my equipment is waiting for me.
We didn’t have enough money when I was young so my mother always told me I had to work and study well because no one could help me escape that city.
Hearing you talk about that and knowing the entire time you had kids makes me emotional. It’s amazing how you made it through; you have serious resilience inside you.
We are also here because my kids are very young and I have to keep them safe. If I was alone I could have stayed in Ukraine but I can’t live in a place that will be dangerous for my kids. They didn’t feel the war or hear the shelling. I remember being in the shelter on the fifth day of the war. We went to the shelter every two hours and had to take all our clothes downstairs from the 6th floor, which was difficult, especially at night. My daughter said to me, “I don’t like this hotel, can we move to another one, I don’t like this game any more.” We told them we were going for a picnic. Each time we went we took some food and toys, put blankets on the floor and tried to play or watch movies. We were talking about war and shelling so they understood the situation. My daughter feels very good here, she likes the place and is very happy but she misses her grandparents.
What were some of the first things you started doing as you got back to work?
We had a warehouse in Poland so we didn’t stop all our business. The war started but we had several big orders in February and March from our wholesale customers, and we had recently received a container of molds in Poland. My Amazon shop continued working and we held a charity sale in which almost everything we had was sold. In June, we started doing handmade production again. I went to my first event as a participant only, so I showed my cakes and received an award there. I began traveling again and offered my first class in Poland in December. I am working as much as I can, but without an assistant or a studio there are still timing issues. I could open a studio here, find investors, bring all my equipment and start the same business again, but we haven’t decided where to live yet. My English allows me to travel and give classes and presentations. We lost 40% of our possibilities but my knowledge and hands are still with me so I can make it again. We bought a new apartment a year before the war started so we invested everything there. I still have a strange feeling inside me that if I start something again, somebody will take it from me. I cannot do that then lose it again, which is why I need time.
I received 300,000 followers within two months. Everyone wanted to collaborate with me but I wasn’t ready for it.
Did you establish a relationship with Silikomart before this period? Further, what’s happening regarding the molds you conceptualize and sell ?
We collaborated with Silikomart in 2016. I had many ideas and asked them to make my mold. When I posted the So Good Magazine article about me on my Instagram, hundreds of people wrote to me daily asking where they could buy my mold. We started to hand make and sell the molds. Two years later I found a Chinese company to make them for me. I make the 3D model, we send it to that factory, they do the molds for us, then we ship them from China to the Ukraine, Poland and the US. In 2021, we placed a huge order before the war started. We were expecting it at the beginning of 2022, so we already had a lot of molds to sell. I couldn’t stop working because we still had to pay for expenses. I still want to work and don’t want someone to ruin my dream, so I continue making new designs. I have to create three new models next month for some events and exhibitions. I have 3D printers here so we print different things daily. I send them to Ukraine by car, then our master makes the molds and we sell them. The process is much more complicated now.
What is the rhythm with new molds and where is the best place to find upcoming molds?
Last year we had no new molds but this year we will launch 10 new designs. We have 50 to 60 designs, 35 of which are made in a factory. I have many ideas but they remain ideas only because it takes a lot of time and money to make it work for a real cake. We sell through Amazon in the US market, then we have an online shop with worldwide shipping from Ukraine. We also have a Polish warehouse and fulfillment center for wholesale orders. Our post office and DHL started to work at the end of May. DHL sends our parcels to Kiev by car, then to Warsaw on a special train, then by plane internationally. It was four days faster, but businesses have to become smart to survive.
I received a lot of support at the time but some people didn’t respect me. They thought I was copying something and that I wasn’t a pastry chef.
What advice would you give those who are seeking a high level of success in the pastry world?
Work hard. Better quality cakes result in more invitations. If you do nothing, you will have nothing. It is possible to become popular by using social media, as happened with me. If you want to travel, teach and become famous, you have to produce photos and videos and post them on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. If you make beautiful cakes and don’t show them to the world, no one will know. Social media helps all businesses grow. You should make something good, strange or unique.
Do you have any tips or considerations for pastry and baking professionals reading this?
Learn as much as you can. Attend many courses and change jobs often because experience is vital. It’s important to feel comfortable about what you do – if you don’t like it, don’t do it. You may have to change your career, but do something you are passionate about and have fun. Today, I made 3D models, tomorrow I will make cakes, and the next day I will travel. I cannot do the same thing daily. You need to be open and understand that making mistakes builds your experience. You have to live each day to the fullest because nobody knows what they will have tomorrow.
If you make beautiful cakes and don’t show them to the world, no one will know.
What advice do you have for those trying to leverage social media to get themselves out there?
I currently have difficulties on social media with everything I post, because the war often causes my account to be blocked. You have to abide by the rules. TikTok is easier to grow than Instagram. You have to make video reels if you want a community of followers. Instagram did everything for people, they simply uploaded reels, because pictures alone don’t work. Your videos should be trendy but it’s better to find your own special style so that people will recognize you. Collaborate and do not stop posting. Have a system because if you only post twice a year, you won’t succeed. Many people think bloggers don’t understand how to work but social media marketing is a huge job. Coming up with posts, producing videos and writing descriptions take time. The older chefs who can make cakes but cannot make videos, think that the younger generation who play with video on social media are not chefs. Someone who has many followers means they have knowledge and did a good job. I know people who like to do the same thing. They are comfortable working in mass production because they have no issues with views or promotions and they receive a salary. Having your own business requires constant promotion which is always unpredictable. You must work daily and cannot have lengthy holidays or ever forget about your business.
(This article appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)