The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Raiza Costa is a Brazilian visual artist and pastry chef based in Brooklyn. She’s the force behind the popular YouTube channel and blog Dulce Delight, and she also hosts a series on the Food Network and two shows on a Brazilian network. We talked with Raiza about her love for desserts and what inspired her bold and colorful style, all while she whipped up a custard–crème brûlée hybrid in Sweetie Pie.
I was 9 when I realized my mother hated cooking — and especially baking. She is part of the healthy generation — no sugar and a lot of vegetable juices before it was popular. I’m glad I inherited a lot of that, but as a kid I wanted indulgence. When I realized my mother wasn’t going to give me that, I learned to bake it for myself (and my dad, who has a sweet tooth). I started with baking very simple cakes and sugar cookies back then, and it’s evolved since.
When I realized my mother wasn’t going to give me that, I learned to bake it for myself.
I went to school for visual arts and photography, and that was the world I thought I would pursue professionally. When I moved to New York in 2009, I had the idea of bringing together my love of food with my visual-arts background. That was when I started shooting videos. Back then YouTube was not the place for great quality content or channels, but it was somewhere for me to house my work, and that was when Dulce Delight was born. I’ve always worked in the arts industry somehow — managing art galleries and shows — and food was something on the side. I was doing it because it was bringing me joy, and all of a sudden it became my focus.
I can see that certain characteristics in my visual style go all the way back to when I was a kid. My room was always covered in cartoons, and I had this need to express myself. I’ve always been a curious and weird kid who enjoyed the aesthetic of things. The aesthetic of architecture, dessert, and art — that has always made me happy. There is an aspect of dessert that’s perfect for a visual artist. It’s like a sculpture; it has a shape, it has whimsy, and I’m drawn to it.
I’ve always been a curious and weird kid that enjoyed the aesthetic of things.
People are attracted to the creativity I put into my work — either it’s the approach to the recipe or the vibrancy of my aesthetic. I am always playing with fresh ideas, shapes, and colors. I’m lucky to have an aesthetic that somehow became what everyone is looking for now. But in the beginning people didn’t get it and thought I was too much. Even five years ago, when we photographed my book, people thought it was weird and didn’t get the aesthetic or photographic style. Now people love it. It’s almost like our world of Instagram and social media has evolved to love color again.
There is an aspect of dessert that’s perfect for a visual artist.
Oddly enough, my inspiration is never in the culinary world. People inspire me the most. When I love something very much it cannot become a part of my inspiration because, if it does, I want to copy it. I think it’s inherent to want to replicate something we love. So I try to stay away from that. In New York City, I am inspired by talking to people and seeing people on the streets — the rhythm of the city makes me rethink things all the time, and that is my main inspiration. Architecture is always on my mind, and I love philosophy, so I draw inspiration from many places outside of the culinary world. People often say that my style is Wes Anderson meets Willy Wonka, and I respect both of those aesthetics, but it’s not something I am looking to replicate.
The rhythm of the city makes me rethink things all the time, and that is my main inspiration.
I don’t eat dessert every day. Dessert is a celebration — something special that is even better when we can share it with people we love. Dessert is laborious and takes time to make well, so why not save it as something special for enjoying with others? I always say, if you bake, you share.
I’m not an expert on Brazilian food. Brazilian food culture is so rich. There are still fruits and techniques I don’t know! That being said, it’s my heritage and background, so it’s inevitably part of me. I am often cooking with passion fruit or baking things in a bain-marie (a water bath) because that’s a technique that’s very common in Brazil. I love creamy desserts like custards and crème brûlées. I like it when the egg is the main character in a dessert. I enjoy slow-baked egg-based desserts, and that’s a very Brazilian thing. A lot of our pastry background is inherited from the Portuguese, which heavily uses eggs.
Dessert is a celebration — something special that is even better when we can share it with people we love.
Today I tried to combine two of my favorite things that I love the most: a caramel custard and crème brûlée. It’s a creamy, slow-cooked, vanilla-based custard baked in a bain-marie, with liquid caramel underneath. When that was done and chilled, I brûléed the top of it with some sugar to make the crackling, crunchy top. Then you have the creamy caramel underneath the custard and the crunchy caramel on top — chef’s kiss! I say that I am a crunchy freak. I need my crunch no matter what meal or dessert I’m having. Even if it’s just cashews on top of ice cream, if it has a little crunch, it’s better!
Photos by Noah Fecks.