I’m back with another Cookier Close-up! Boy, how I love doing these interviews! They allow me to connect with cookiers all over the globe without ever having to leave the comfort of my own home – which, in these crazy COVID times, is truly a blessing. Today, we’re talking with our October 2020 site artist, Dora Lyubenova aka @Di Art Sweets, who harks all the way from Vidin, Bulgaria! (You can see her cheery October site art directly below.)
As you might recall from her October site artist intro in our forums, Dora is chemical engineer by training, and a mother of two children - a 24-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl. Dora started cookie decorating in 2017 when she had to make cookies for her own birthday (of all things! ) and joined Cookie Connection about two months later in November 2017. Soon after, she started to make cookies for her friends and relatives, and cookie decorating quickly became her new passion. In the beginning, she worked exclusively with fondant, but now royal icing is her preferred medium. Dora loves the whole process of cookie work - from the dough to the photos! Now, three years after making her first cookies, she is a successful amateur decorator and conducts her own cookie decorating courses in Bulgaria. Her work, which you can see in her Cookie Connection portfolio, is often marked by eye-catching colors, whimsical characters, and a modern, fresh feel.
In this interview, I look forward to learning more about Dora’s typical cookie week, cookie practices in Bulgaria, and her future cookie dreams.
So let’s get started, shall we?!
JMU: Hi, Dora! Thank you again for so generously contributing your wonderfully whimsical fall cookie photos that recently graced the banner and backdrop of our site, and also for your enthusiastic participation in the site over the last three years. I love having you involved in this happy online cookie community!
In your forum bio, you described yourself as an “amateur” cookie decorator, mostly serving your creations to family and friends. But, do you ever sell your cookies, and do you have any aspirations to sell more (or fewer) cookies in the future? Why or why not?
DL: I actually sell cookies, but because selling takes time and effort, I take fewer orders than maybe other cookie artists. This is all because I want everything to be perfect.
JMU: Ahh, we’ve got another perfectionist among our Cookie Connection ranks! Why does that not surprise me?! So, why do you consider yourself an “amateur” and not a “professional”? Your cookie designs and skills clearly stand up to those of the professionals I know! And you just said you work like a pro to make everything as polished and perfect as possible.
DL: First, thank you for your opinion! And I appreciate the opportunity that you give me through your platform, because it promotes my work as a cookie artist. But to answer your question, I say I’m an amateur maybe because my skills haven’t been tested in competitions in this field.
JMU: I’m not sure that competing makes one a professional, but competitions certainly do help to test and grow one’s skills. You should enter my competition in 2021; it may be online, so we’ll be encouraging entrants from everywhere!
How did you go about learning cookie decorating in 2017, and how were you able to advance your skills so fast? What tools or resources did you most rely on, and why?
DL: Well, it all started when I had to decorate cookies for my birthday with fondant. Then I started learning and working on cookie decorating very hard. About the tools and resources I rely on: I can say that, in Bulgaria, there are many stores for sweet tools.
JMU: What’s your typical cookie-week look like? How much time do you spend cookie decorating or doing cookie-related activities? How many cookies do you decorate in a typical week, and for what types of occasions?
DL: Apart from decorating cookies, I own a café and I spend my mornings there. After 1 pm, I spend my time at home doing cookie activities. I can decorate 20 to 30 cookies a day, and that is only in the afternoon. What I do depends on the occasion; every day is different.
JMU: All it takes is a quick review of your Cookie Connection portfolio to see that you are proficient in a wide range of cookie decorating techniques, including wet-on-wet, painting, drawing, stenciling, stamping (like on the cookies above!), and dimensional piping, among others. Which of these techniques is your favorite, and why?
DL: I don’t have favorite techniques . . . maybe I like decorating with stamps the most. I use each technique depending on my current interests and mood.
JMU: Do you have a cookie Achilles’ heel – meaning a technique that you just can’t seem to master? If so, what is it? And what, if any, strategies do you have for conquering that technique?
DL: I believe that with enough effort and time for learning, one can manage to develop his/her skills. Because of my practice and work, I do not have difficulty using any technique.
JMU: I wish I were so lucky! I still struggle with basic flooding on some days! 😂
You mentioned that you’re now teaching cookie classes in Bulgaria. How long have you been teaching? And approximately what percent of your overall cookie time is spent teaching versus making cookies for family, friends, or others? Why do you choose to divide your time this way?
DL: It has now been a year since I started to teach. I have 17 courses behind my back, and I am planning to develop this activity and to expand my teaching not only in Bulgaria. There is no place for comparing my teaching and cookie decorating activities. They go together. However, I spend more time decorating, just because I fill every free minute by doing that. I choose to do both teaching and decorating, because I love them both equally.
JMU: Can you tell us a bit more about how you structure your classes? How many students? What’s your typical content? class duration? pricing? Why have you chosen to structure your classes this way?
DL: Well, there are always up to ten participants in my courses. My classes are eight hours long and the price is about $80. This price includes all materials, lunch and treats, and a certificate of course completion for decorating with royal icing. I choose this way, because I think it is the most efficient one. I prefer smaller groups of people, because I really want to work and communicate closely with every person who attends my classes.
JMU: Yes, I think close interaction with students in classes is really important too. It’s critical in helping people to learn! What’s been your biggest challenge as a cookie instructor, and how are you planning to overcome it?
DL: I do not see my job as an instructor as a challenge, to be honest. I feel right where I want to be during my courses, and I love working with people.
JMU: So wonderful that you have found that bliss! What advice would you give to cookiers who have ambitions to teach – to help them be “right where they want to be” as well? What are your top three tips for wanna-be instructors?
DL: First, I would say that one has to have being an instructor inside of her/him. Mostly, one must love what s/he does. Second, one should be prepared to give 100 percent to teaching - to put a lot of effort into it.
JMU: I agree that teaching comes more naturally to some than others, but taking others’ classes can also teach good teaching skills! No matter what, though, I agree that one’s heart needs to be in it.
Now, let’s talk more about your personal cookie journey and experiences in Bulgaria. What moment, if any, has been your highest point (or greatest accomplishment) in your cookie decorating history, and why?
DL: My journey is still at the beginning, I’d say. As my greatest accomplishment, I would highlight the number of courses I managed to do in one year. Also, I am proud of being given the chance to be the October cookie artist on Cookie Connection.
JMU: Oh, I am so glad to hear what the Cookie Connection feature meant to you! And, I am also impressed with the number of classes you did in one year – 17 IS a lot! I get tired with just one a month! Now, for the converse of the previous question: What’s been your most trying or challenging moment in your cookie decorating history, and how did you get past it?
DL: I would say that one of the most challenging moments in my life was when I found I have a heart disease. And it was actually this cookie decorating job that helped me through these hard times. I haven’t had any difficult moments with the job itself. Decorating cookies is my cure and my therapy for well-being.
JMU: I am so glad cookies have become your happy place! Is cookie decorating as popular in Bulgaria as it is now in the US? Is interest in it growing or waning, and what market or other factors lead you to say this?
DL: Yes, it is popular in Bulgaria too, but not as much as in the US. However, a positive thing is that interest is growing fast.
JMU: Do you have any special cookie traditions, recipes, or ingredients in Bulgaria that you think members should know about? If so, please describe them.
DL: There are no specific traditions or recipes I follow. I work mostly with gingerbread cookies.
JMU: Well, I love how you translate traditional Bulgarian embroidery patterns onto cookies (as in the photos above)! Perhaps that is your special Bulgarian tradition?!
What’s your favorite part of belonging to the online cookie community, and why? And I’m not talking just about Cookie Connection; I’m talking about “community” in the broadest sense of how you experience it everywhere online. Conversely, what’s your least favorite part about it?
DL: I find it very exciting and useful, and I really enjoy being part of it. I think it increases the popularity of cookie decorating and makes cookie artists recognizable around the globe. I wouldn’t change anything about it.
JMU: Last, my usual parting question! Where would you like to see yourself in the cookie decorating world three years from now? Do you see yourself doing more or less of anything, or taking on any new cookie-related activities, such as teaching in other countries, creating or selling products, or something else? Why would you like to go in this direction?
DL: Three years from now, I see myself on the top of this job, literally. I want to gain knowledge and to improve my skills constantly. I also see myself teaching in other countries, and I am taking initial steps in this direction (like learning English, of course). I want to stay on this path, because cookie decorating is what I love - I can say it is my world. I really want to be a cookie master.
JMU: It looks like you are well on your way to achieving this goal! The most important thing, though, is that you are evidently having so much fun on the way! Thanks again for sharing your experiences with me in this interview. I really enjoyed getting to know you better!
Cookie and photo credits: Dora Lyubenova
Cookier Close-ups is the place on Cookie Connection where we celebrate the change-makers of the cookie decorating world. Whether forging new enterprises, inventing novel decorating techniques, or consistently charming us with their cookie decorating prowess, each of our featured thought leaders has redefined in his/her distinctive way how we interact, create, or otherwise do business here in cookie space!
If there are other cookiers you'd really like to get to know, please post requests in this forum. We'll do our best to round them up for an upcoming Cookier Close-up! Thanks!