Our first interview is with Heidi Park who is a pastry chef extraordinaire, business owner, mother, and an expat that has been living in Estonia for 10 years.
What originally brought you to Estonia and where are you from?
In 2008, I moved to Tallinn for my Estonian sweetheart. We both studied at the US Coast Guard Academy. I am from NY state.
What were the reasons that made you want to relocate to Estonia?
While my main reason to relocate was for my significant other, I also wanted something for my career. I am a chef who studied pastry and baking at the Culinary Institute of America. I moved to Estonia to realize my dreams of having my own business. At first, I started out of my home kitchen making sweets for cafes in Tallinn. When the cake orders started getting too big, I used my savings to renovate a run-down restaurant. In 2011 I opened my bakery specializing in American cakes in the neighborhood of Kristiine, where my business is still operating out of today. The store does not look like much on the outside because it is on top of a car wash, but on the inside it is nice and cozy. There are two tables where people can sit with friends over slices of cake.
Did you experience or how much of a culture shock was it for you to move here?
10 years ago, there were not a lot of options in retail shops. I remember that I had to go to many stores just to find vanilla beans, peanut butter, and pistachios. Now you can find them in every supermarket. Things have changed a lot and there are a larger variety of things available.
Some things I am still trying to get used to. When doing business with other company representatives, I find that people often do not answer emails or phone calls. It’s not often that they will respond with ‘I got your email. I am working on it. I will reply later’ . So you won’t know if they received your inquiry at all. It’s a bit frustrating.
What are some of your favourite spots in Tallinn?
When my friends visit from abroad in the summertime, I usually take my them to Nõmme turg and Pirosmani restaurant. I also like going for a walk in Lahemaa national park followed by a fish dinner at Ruhe.
How would you describe Estonia as a country, the people, how is it to live here and does it feel like home now?
Estonia is a small country, so small that there is not even an option to use Craigslist. The primary school education is very good throughout the country. It’s not unusual, for example, that a gas station attendant will be able to speak three languages. Paid maternity leave is 18 months, which is phenomenal. In general it feels like a safe place to live even in the capital city. The first winter here is difficult to get through because the lack of sun really affects your mood negatively. I remember that I had to buy a sun lamp to adjust my happiness level to normal. Now that lamp is somewhere in the back of my closet collecting dust because it does feel like home now.
What is your favourite Estonian word or words and why?
I like the word ‘noaotsatäis’. You will probably find it in all food recipes. It means a ‘blade tip full’ of something and translates to a ‘pinch of’ something. I also like ‘koletis’ which means monster. I love that this is one of the words I learned from my 3-y-o.