From Ukraine to Corner Brook, with sweets: Baker brings Ukrainian desserts to N.L. kitchen

Olena Horobets decorates a freshly baked cake with nuts at the Glynmill Inn in Corner Brook. (Troy Turner/CBC - image credit)
Olena Horobets decorates a freshly baked cake with nuts at the Glynmill Inn in Corner Brook. (Troy Turner/CBC - image credit)
Troy Turner/CBC
Troy Turner/CBC

Olena Horobets only knew one thing about Newfoundland and Labrador before moving from her home in Ukraine.

"The ocean is here," she said.

Horobets said she didn't know much more about the rest of Canada.

"Maple syrup and Nickleback. And I knew that everyone is polite here, so this is true," she said.

A trained cook and baker, Horobets has spent 12 years working in fine dining. Much of that time was spent in her hometown of Dnipro, a city close to the Russian front line in Ukraine.

Now, Horobets is bringing her skill — and her Ukrainian desserts and confections — to the kitchen of the Glynmill Inn in Corner Brook.

She said she was considering moving to Canada, but said she was left with little choice when the war in Ukraine began.

"I like this place… I like the sky here because it is so wide and so bright and so beautiful.… Maybe due to the lack of the light pollution. And regular pollution," she said.

"People are very, very open and supportive."

Troy Turner/CBC
Troy Turner/CBC

Horobets fled Ukraine to Poland, where she was able to apply for the position at the Glynmill Inn. But as the war drags on, she can't help but think of her family and friends back home in Dnipro.

"It is hard because every day is something. Every day we hear some devastating news about what happened," she said.

"In my hometown… I'm worried about every person I know. Constantly."

Dnipro was first attacked with missile strikes in March, shortly after the beginning of the invasion on February 24. Those strikes have continued, as recently as last month.

Horobets said she tried to encourage her family to come with her, but they are staying behind. She doesn't know if or when she will ever again get back home.

"Yesterday, I found out my friend was killed defending Ukraine. I couldn't stop crying," she said.

"I think, to pay respects for all Ukraine defenders, we have to try to move forward. To survive in the first place, and try to enjoy the life they are defending."

Troy Turner/CBC
Troy Turner/CBC

In her baking at the Glynmill Inn, Horobets starts with classic recipes learned from years of study, and layers on her own style to the things she bakes.

"[I] like to have this base, and then I [add] a little bit of myself," she said. "You have to feel it."

"My favourite dessert is honey cake. I made it [for the] first time for my birthday, this huge cake. I brought it here and everyone loved it and we decided to keep it on the menu."

But as a baker and artisan, Horobets is also using her skill to learn more about her new home, and master new recipes as well.

"I like to keep doing local stuff because people are familiar with it," she said

"Lately we made this chocolate Screech cake. It is definitely a local dessert, and yeah, it is great."

Troy Turner/CBC
Troy Turner/CBC

In Corner Brook, the Glynmill Inn welcomed Horobets in a social media post, saying they were happy she had arrived safe and sound, and looking forward to her baking.

The hotel helped with the journey and helped set up accommodations for Horobets.

"We want her to stick around. She's phenomenal and she's doing great work for us," said Connie Rose, the Glynmill Inn's general manager.

Rose said Horobets has already shown her skill for presentation and attention to detail, and can make more than deserts.

"She's interested, she has the desire and the motivation to try, not just the baking, she has done cooking in Poland as well, and she's very meticulous with her presentation."

Horobets hopes that someday there will be an opportunity to have her mother and father visit her new home in Corner Brook.

"It is [a] very long, long trip," she said. "It took me five days to get here."

"Maybe one day… I will feel comfortable enough to invite them. I would love them to see this place."

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