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Conversations with Inga Kaplan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Inga Kaplan.

Hi Inga, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I come from a small Northeastern European Country called Latvia, where I have lived most of my life, at least until 12 years ago when I left for an adventure, which changed everything.

I was still a soviet child – born into the system which would exist for the first 9 years of my life. I grew up speaking both Latvian and Russian. As a child of course, I didn’t think much about it, in fact, I remember my childhood being as living in a “bubble” – we had a free lemonade stand just across our house, always freshly baked bread at the local grocery, and summers spent at the countryside chasing chickens, cows and dogs, and sleeping in haystacks. We had meals from what we grew in our garden, eggs from our hens, we made our own butter and got water from the well. There was no comfort as we know it today – we had an outhouse, there was no heating system during the winter months, just the firewood, and every fall the basement had to be stacked with winter stock – potatoes, all kinds of pickles, meat, jams. It was a simple life, however it has stuck with me so strongly and taught me the importance of quality food, simple ingredients and being close to nature.

Living this simple life in a soul-nurturing environment brought out an understanding or a feeling that has guided me the rest of my life – the importance of creativity and freedom in my life. From a very young age, I loved everything about music, and I remember perfectly that most of all I wanted to sing. While wandering the countryside and endless meadows, I found the “stage” on the top of a hill and just sang my heart out and then listen to the echo down the valley. That was the most magical feeling.

My family didn’t know anything about music, however, thanks to my parents, that early dream came true – I started singing in different children’s ensembles and choirs, and even graduated from a music school as a pianist. But I always sang everywhere and to everyone who would listen. My dream came true when I was 18 years old and was hired to sing at the Latvian National Opera as a soprano. I mean, back then I wanted to do this for the rest of my life! This was my ideal job, aqua vitae, the greatest passion and happiness where I could sing beautiful music every day, be on stage and get high from an incredible energy exchanged with all the people around. To me, this was the meaning of doing what you love, and I thought that I had found it straight off the bat!

I spent nine beautiful years of my life singing opera; I thought I would do it forever. However, I was still quite young and doubted myself and was my own biggest enemy of becoming excellent. But the art world doesn’t pay your bills if you’re average. At that time, I also became very sick, and all combined changed my life in many ways – I wasn’t able to work for extended periods of time, and I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do next. I didn’t particularly make a specific decision; however, I knew that I wanted a change. At that moment I wanted to get to know the world, learn new places, experience things I would have never dreamt of. Traveling was not something I would do as a child, in fact, we never went abroad with my family. So as soon as I could, I took a leap of faith and applied for a stewardess job at Emirates Airlines in Dubai. And I got the job! Learning English at school definitely paid off! A completely new chapter started in my life, and I didn’t know where it would lead me. But I was ready and happy to jump right into this beautiful adventure!

And I can surely say that the next 5 years with Emirates Airlines have been the most adventurous and exciting time I’ve had, which completely changed my life. I could just be myself without any expectations. I mean – I lived a dream: living in Dubai, traveling the world, and getting paid for it! Don’t get me wrong – it’s definitely not an easy job, but it was so rewarding and thrilling! I loved waking up on a different side of the world almost every morning – so much so that I often had to check Google Maps to recognize where I was. I loved to learn about different cultures, countries, history, language, nationalities, you name it. And even more so – to experience it and not stop traveling! I would hike Australia’s Blue Mountains, be in Germany for Christmas Markets, jump from the highest Bungy in Macau, go home for the Midsummer festival, and back to Dubai for dinner. It doesn’t get better than this, does it? And then I met my husband…

My mom passed away that year, so instead of going home, I planned to go on my three dream trips, first of which was Alaska. And there I met my husband, and he was my tour guide. Yes, I still giggle about it. After Alaska, we traveled together to my other two dream destinations – Nepal and New Zealand, and we also ventured to Canada. We had the craziest adventures together, and at that time neither of us really had a plan about what would happen. We took it as one adventure at a time.

The reality set in when we started to think about a possible future together and myself moving to America, as my husband is from Denver, Colorado. I mean, that is the adventure and story of itself, and even more so – as America never was on my list of places to live. However it is also as simple as it gets – I quit my second dream job, I got married and I moved to be together with my husband.

Needless to say that I had to build my life from zero – living and working in a different country and even more so – a continent. It was very very different, and it took a lot of adjustments. My husband and his family have been incredibly supportive, and I can’t imagine going through all that without them.

After a few years of living in Colorado and welcoming our first child, we moved to Oahu, Hawaii, where we currently live as a family of four. We have two beautiful girls which make our family complete. We are raising them surrounded by nature, ocean and warmth while at the same instilling various values, languages and foods from the different cultures they are a part of.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Starting a life in a different country and continent in your mid 30’s definitely is a challenge by itself. More or less your values are set, expectations and habits are formed. Even more so after you feel that you’ve had two of the best jobs on the planet! After traveling the world and living in such a culturally rich and international city as Dubai, I expected the transition not to be easy. And it sure wasn’t – it has been personally the most difficult thing I’ve done. I was an outsider and had to navigate not only through the immigration politics but also understanding how the job market works and where I belong. I felt firsthand how my education and everything I have done before didn’t really play a part. I had to start from zero. My first job was a hostess at local restaurant in Denver, then a server, then a manager. It wasn’t without struggles; it’s a tough industry to be in. And a very completely different job from what I’ve done before.

It was funny to learn about the tipping culture and how so many people depend on and live off tips. There is actually nothing funny about it; it is a bizarre system I still can’t get used to. I know so many people making a fortune out of it, but also people, who work even harder, that don’t make even close in the same line of work.

Working in the restaurant industry has taught me countless valuable lessons, and it was also a crash course into learning about this country, people, their behaviors, values and relationship with food. And food particularly was a new challenge for me as I never knew I would have. To say that the food here in America, or people’s relationship with food, is completely different from what I grew up with and learned from all my travels is a serious understatement. The amount of processed foods and lack of diversity really shocked me; many allergies and dietary restrictions people had was something I didn’t experience before, at least not to this level. It was more difficult to find fresh, clean and organic produce at the grocery store than to find something pre-made, canned or frozen. And everything I remember from my childhood was the opposite. I was stunned how the two parts of the world were so different in one aspect – food.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
My mom was one of the best pastry chefs in town – she worked at the biggest hotel in my birth town Riga, Latvia. I got to see the work she does, and I was her biggest fan! She took me as her little helper on her night shifts, where she was the only chef preparing pastries for breakfast, and it was a wonderland for me! Yes, I got to eat plenty of pastries, but more than that – I got to see my mom making magic and learn that every ingredient matters. It was the time when there were no artificial food dyes and barely any preservatives, so everything was colored by using colors from vegetables and fruits.

Fast forward when we moved to Hawaii, I didn’t have a set job, however I believed that with my experience in customer service, I could be of use. Soon enough I landed a job at Four Seasons Oahu, where I was trusted to manage a restaurant. It is such a beautiful property and every time I was there, I felt like I was on a vacation, even though I worked every day up to 12-14 hours. At that time my colleagues saw me more than my two years old daughter.

It was refreshing to experience the focus on locally grown ingredients, and in many ways, this island still reminds me of the small country I come from. I was handed a huge responsibility to build a restaurant from scratch and to make it profitable. Anything I would say about how challenging and time-consuming it was would be an understatement. We were a small team, but we did it! Everyone had their hearts in it. The energy was there, working together every night. And then the pandemic hit… I understood firsthand how small you are against such force majeure and that all the work you’ve done can be gone in a second. Poof, up in the air. Even after the pandemic and reopening, the restaurant was never there again.

That was the moment when I realized that I want to do something that mattered, something that can last, something of value. I wanted to bring the values and memories from my childhood, my creativity and experiences from travels, my years of working in a customer service industry to create something different and new. And it happened very subtly, one of those times when I was craving something sweet, something that would bringing me back to my childhood and remind me of my mom’s creations, but I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t find something that would be sweet and healthy at the same time, which wouldn’t have an enormous amount of sugar, which wouldn’t have all the rainbow colors of artificial colorants, which would be made fresh and without any unnecessary ingredients. And I knew that I must start making by myself. And that is how my business, hobby and my third “baby” was born – just 6 months after the pandemic down and also my second daughter being born, I started a raw vegan cake studio: “Rawberry Desserts”.

This is where I can say I never knew I could make cakes. In fact, I have never been good at making food. When I shadowed my mom, I said to myself that I would never be a pastry chef. But life has funny ways of turning your head around, and you never know how creativity will manifest itself. And it really felt in my heart, as with Rawberry Desserts, that I am paying tribute to my mom.

Rawberry Desserts embodies everything I have learned and stand for – sourcing high-quality plant-based ingredients, such as nuts and seeds, fresh berries and fruits, not using anything processed or artificial, and focusing on nutritional value over easy, empty and quick consumption. The artistry I had in my youth could now be fully expressed in my cake creations. They are the most unique cakes on the island and also visually appealing. I have made numerous healthy and delicious cakes for baby’s 1st birthdays, for children with multiple dietary restrictions, for people who follow specific diets and can’t eat traditional desserts, for birthdays and weddings. And I always had people coming back and expressing how much they enjoyed the cake and that it was the best cake they had ever tasted! And how can’t it be – every cake is made from the cleanest, healthiest, and freshest ingredients! And I am beyond happy to be able to share it with people and to change the narrative of traditional cakes.

Currently, I am the only one on Oahu who specializes in such cakes, and it is a slow progression to get more people to try healthier desserts. Of course, much of it is the cost of high-quality plant-based desserts versus traditional baked cakes. However, not less important is the awareness, the knowledge and the willingness to try something new and different. There is still so much work to be done.

What are your plans for the future?
As everyone who has kids will say the same – to give them the best possible future I can. They will always come first, and if I can do and achieve something along the way, it’s very satisfying and that would be my definition of a happy life.

I want to continue to educate the community and also the wider society about food choices, to spread the information about what we eat, and why it is important to make healthier and wiser food choices. That is especially important for our children, as they are the most exposed and vulnerable to unhealthy foods and snacks and can’t make their own rational decisions or choices. We are the ones setting them up with the fundamentals and how they will make these choices when the time comes. I am still looking for the best ways I can be useful, and perhaps that will be writing a recipe book dedicated to all children about healthy and easy snacks.

Also, my forever love is Europe, and I know I want my children to experience it and live there for some time to get to know the history, culture and theater. So there are still many unknowns. In my heart, I will always be a traveler, not afraid to go somewhere new and explore. And I want my children to also experience that magic, to grow up being open to different cultures and foods, and nurture their own creativity to see where it will lead them!

Contact Info:

Image Credits
April Amelia Photography, family photos Rawberry Desserts, cake photos

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