Tunde Dugantsi: “A decorated cookie is always a labor of love”
30 December, 2018
Tunde Dugantsi, born in Budapest, is a popular craftswoman, the author of seven books about decorating cookies. She has been living in Kentucky with her family for many years. Before moving to the USA she studied economics and marketing, worked as a marketing manager in Hyatt Regency Budapest, and later as a CEO of a small printing company.
One day Tunde decided to change her life and start decorating cookies. She likes combining old traditions with new methods of decorating, create innovative designs and what is more important – share her best practices with everyone interested in her art classes. She gives classes in her Tunde’s Sugar Art Studio.
We speak with the designer about beautiful and tasty things, combination of old and new as well as how to develop “cookie brain”…
Tunde, tell me please about yourself. What do you do and how did it happen that you became gingerbread artist?
I am a mother of 3 and after decorating cookies for Christmas 2012 with my kids, I just fell in love. I didn’t stop decorating after the holidays. I did some research about the Hungarian gingerbread I grew up with, but never made myself before. I kept making cookies for Valentine’s Day, then for Easter, then just because making cookie is fun. I published my first two cookie decorating books in 2013 and I also got the first requests to teach the first year.
Which gingerbread or cookie do you find perfect?
I never play favorites. I have no favorite colors nor an absolute favorite recipe or favorite decorating techniques. I love my “yummy gingerbread” recipe, which is light and fluffy and stays fresh for months. But this recipe spreads, so when I want a shape to be precise, I will bake my favorite chocolate cookies that taste just like rich dark chocolate.
I am a big fan of “perfect imperfection”. A cookie is a sweet treat. Stressing over perfection would kill the fun. I love the first cookie of a beginner decorator just as much as the masterpieces of a cookie artist. A decorated cookie is always a labor of love.
What do you feel while painting?
I hardly ever paint on cookies. I am not very good at drawing or painting in general. My designs are usually built up from basic elements. The combination is what makes them look intricate.
This is one of the few cookies where I painted on the cookie:
Do you work with a big team?
I work by myself.
Which features or knowledge should the craftsman have in order to get successful?
It’s hard to define success in the craft world. Some of us just want to create gorgeous pieces and it’s a success by itself. Others want the world to recognize them and will work hard on this. Some people are looking for financial success. The most important knowledge is probably to know what you want. Once we have a goal, there are still usually many different ways to reach it. It’s a journey. I think it’s very important to be flexible. First, I tried to sell my cookies at local events, but there is no market for them in this area. But I got request to teach decorating classes and I enjoy them even more than making cookies for sale. It’s important to be open to new opportunities.
When do you feel yourself the happiest one?
At the end of a cookie decorating class, when I see all the smiley faces! Most people come to a class full of doubts. They don’t believe in themselves. They don’t think they are able to make those gorgeous cookies. But my designs are built up from basic elements, so they can do it. Helping someone to succeed is such a great feeling!
Sometimes I get a message from people who live far away and who bought one of my books. They send me pictures of the most amazing cookies and cakes and tell me that they made those using my designs, techniques or ideas from the book. Again, inspiring somebody to create a masterpiece (sometimes way better than what I could ever make) is the best thing ever.
Please, share your recipe of searching for new ideas.
I never search for new ideas. Inspiration is everywhere! I use some traditional folk art motifs, but I developed a “cookie brain”: whenever I see something I love I start thinking about how I could use it on a cookie. I might see a nice motif on a fabric and use it later for my cookies, or I see an interesting color combination and it will end up on a cookie set. Sometimes I find a tool I like and it inspires me to make a cookie. Like this cute stamp set I found:
Or, I got a 3D egg shaped cookie mold and I needed a little gift for my kids, so this set was born:
Based on your observations, which forms, colors, paintings of cookies or gingerbreads are the most accepted by the client?
I don’t sell a lot of cookies. I would say that my most popular cookies are the ones with Hungarian folk art flowers, followed by the traditional lace and needlepoint designs and the winter landscape design.
Do you make customized paintings? Let`s say, somebody asks you to move off your style and make, for instance, the portrait of a man on gingerbread.
As I said, I don’t paint on cookies, because I am not a good painter. So I would never paint someone’s portrait on a cookie. It would simply be a disaster.
I love to experiment with new things, but I know my limits. If I get a request for something I am not good at, I will refer the person to someone who can make the job right. I also like to limit the time I spent with one cookie. Keep in mind, it’s still “just” a cookie. While honey gingerbread can be kept forever as decoration, I still prefer to make cookies that people can eat without being sad about it. I wouldn’t want to eat a cookie that took days to decorate, so I don’t spend days to decorate one single cookie.
What is the most difficult in your work, to your opinion?
I am very lucky. I do what I love. I create new designs, I show people that they totally can decorate beautiful cookies and my cookies make people happy. For me, the most difficult is to “sell” and advertise my work and to be honest, I don’t invest enough time and energy in those things. It’s also hard to find the right balance between work and family, but this is true for everyone and every profession.
Interviewed by Inna Levenets
Photos and videos from personal archive of Tunde Dugantsi