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Riyas Irmadona: Turning passion into business

Susanna Tjokro
Susanna Tjokro

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Mon, August 20, 2018 | 01:30 pm
Riyas Irmadona: Turning passion into business

Making the birthday cake for her first child awakened Dona’s passion for baking. (Photo courtesy of Riyas Irmadona/File)

In less than two years, five books filled with Riyas Irmadona’s mouth-watering recipes have been published by publisher Gramedia. The fifth book, Chocolate ala Dona’s Delight, recently hit bookstores.

Dona has been living in Luzern since 2000 with her husband, American chef Andrew Clayton, and their children — Mutiara Putri Clayton and Iman Putra Clayton.

She loves making little treats for her family and occasionally for her friends. However, Dona says she does not sell her cakes.

The “love story” between Dona and baking started when she wanted to celebrate Mutiara’s first birthday in Luzern. Unlike today, when there are more options in terms of decorations on birthday cakes, back in 2001, choices were limited.

“I wanted to buy an elaborate birthday cake to celebrate my daughter’s first birthday. However, back in 2001, in terms of decorations, Swiss cakes were too simple for my liking,” she says.

“I think the reason is because making a decorative cake from scratch is a very labor intensive process, and labor cost has always been very high in Switzerland, thus they offered simple birthday cakes only. So, I decided to make my own decorative birthday cake.”

Making the birthday cake for her first child awakened Dona’s passion for baking. From that moment on, she decided to start making cakes that suit her taste. “Even though nowadays I like European cakes, I disliked them at first,” says Dona.

European cakes, which generally use lots of whipped cream and are classed as sponge cakes, are an acquired taste for Dona.

When she and her husband arrived in Switzerland in 2000, her palate was used to the rich American cakes and Indonesian bolu (butter cakes), which are heavier than the typical light, fluffy European cakes.

Dona had never dreamt of publishing a recipe book. Initially, she shared her recipes on her personal Facebook account, Riyas Irmadona.

Her blog of recipes, donasdelight.blogspot.com, which she started at her mother-in-law’s suggestion, was launched in 2014. Later, donasdelight.com and Dona’s Delight public group on Facebook were created in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Read also: World's top chef doesn't want to go back into the kitchen

Dona has always loved sharing her recipes, but taking time to write a recipe book was not yet on her mind.

However, as luck would have it, she was contacted by Gramedia senior editor Intarina Hardiman, who was referred to her by Neni Wiwin, one of 46,687 followers of Dona’s Delight. And as the saying goes, the rest is history.

In March 2017, Gramedia published Dona’s Delight: Kue Indonesia Populer (Dona’s Delight: Indonesian Popular Cakes); Dona’s Delight: Cake Favorit (Dona’s Delight: Favorite Cakes); and Dona’s Delight: Roti & Pastry (Dona’s Delight: Bread & Pastry) at once.

Dona’s fourth book titled Dona’s Delight: Resep Cookies (Dona’s Delight: Cookies Recipes) and fifth book Chocolate ala Dona’s Delight were released in November 2017 and July 2018 respectively.

Each book had 2,000 copies printed. Two of her books Cake Favorit and Roti & Pastry have been reprinted once, while Resep Cookies is going to be reprinted soon.

“It was such a pleasant surprise, actually people do not have to buy my books, as recipes and videos are accessible for free on donasdelight.com,” she says.

When asked about the recipe of success for her books, Dona says many people told her that her recipes were fool-proof. However, she begs to differ.

“In my opinion, there is no fool-proof recipe. When it comes to baking, there is always the potential for something to go wrong and no matter how good a recipe is, sometimes you will find your cake does not live up to your expectations,” says Dona.

Dona is a mainly self-taught baker. She learnt how to bake at Trisakti Tourism Academy in Jakarta but then fell out of practice.

Before getting married, she was the florist manager at Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Jakarta, where she met her husband who worked there as a chef.

When her husband ran a catering company and restaurant in Luzern, he entrusted Dona to use her own recipes and make delicacies for his private dining clientele. These days her husband works in a restaurant that has its own pastry chefs.

Tweaking recipes is Dona’s forte. Her recipes and baked goods have won the hearts of many, including Bruno Heini, one of the two proprietors of Heini Conditorei in Switzerland, which is famous for its delicious cakes.

“I am really impressed by the quality of Dona’s products. She is enormously talented and has a huge passion for baking. Several times I experienced how Dona bought a good product somewhere. When she made it herself, her variation was even better than the original. She is not interested in baking something good; she is always looking for the even better one,” says Bruno Heini.

Dona does not mind that people use her recipes for commercial gain. Many people excitedly told Dona they had used her recipes, especially Donat Kampung Celup Cokelat, for commercial use.

Baking and writing recipes are Dona’s passion; earning money from her recipe books is icing on the cake.

Riyas Irmadona is not a professional baker, but she sure knows how to make delicious cakes, cookies and bread for her family in Luzern, Switzerland and has penned five books that established her reputation as an author.

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