Larissa Costella is one of Calgary’s sweet treat superstars having spent three years as a creator at Holy Cow Gelato and Donuts. However, after having to curate new flavour menus monthly, she is now onto something new.
After graduating from the Alberta University of the Arts with a painting degree in 2015, Costella knew something was missing. Originally she had applied to both baking and art college right out of high school. Although accepted into art school, she was denied the baking option due to a lack of experience. This did not stop her from following her dreams.
Costella’s artwork often portrays and mimics baking in some way as she was known for her sculptures and paintings of different pastries. Deep inside, she knew that nothing but a life in the kitchen would appeal to her and eventually reapplied to baking school after her mother’s coaxing. On her second attempt, Costella was accepted to SAIT’s Baking and Pastries program.
“It’s a sweet program. They’ve got some amazing instructors. And you do a little bit of everything. It was so fun,” she says.
After graduating from baking school, Costella’s first job was at River Cafe, working and learning under one of Calgary’s best pastry chefs, Kevin Yang. The local restaurant only uses ingredients that can be sourced and grown in Canada. This was a challenge that only furthered Costella’s baking abilities.
“It opens you up to new ingredients and new techniques… like making desserts with Lovage, which is a herb that tastes like celery, and making cookies with Sumac,” she says.
Although Costella’s skills were blooming, her mentor chef Yang says it was her attitude that initially drew him to her.
“She wasn’t afraid to be challenged. And I challenged her left and right consistently to, you know, kind of see where she is. And she was always very, very eager and positive going into any any topic,” says Yang.
After spending years working hard to cultivate her skills, Costella was finally able to bring her own inventive takes on flavour when she was offered a lead creative role with the Teatro Group’s Holy Cow Gelato and Donuts in 2020. Because Costella had started her own small batch ice cream business during the pandemic, opening Holy Cow Gelato and Donuts felt like a right step in the direction of her future.
She was brought on by Tracie Zahavich, former head pastry chef for Teatro Group, after they had met working together at River Cafe. While Holy Cow was in development, Zahavich was heading the pastry departments for multiple locations and needed someone reliable to head Holy Cow. Zahavich knew Costella would be the one for the job.
“She just has this type of contagious energy, where it’s like, she is a go-getter. She has creativity…she was kind of the person that made the most sense for the position because I couldn’t really be there fully,” explains Zahavich.
Since then, Costella’s famous donuts have reached the mouths of thousands of Calgarians and have been featured in magazines and numerous news stories. Her inventive savoury donuts have received high praise, especially the “everything bagel” donut, which has somewhat of a cult following.
After three years of creating and developing new flavour menus monthly for Holy Cow, Costella is ready for something new. She has joined a new project launched by local Calgary coffee group Monogram, where she will be developing and assisting in pastry programs.
While new things are on the horizon, Costella still places great emphasis on her desire for independence in her career. She currently runs an independent small market business named Sunshine Ice Cream Sandwiches and enjoys seeing people’s reactions to her creations, something she doesn’t get to do in her current career.
“I’ve always wanted to have my own thing, my own brand…I’ve always wanted to like write a cookbook or something and kind of combine my like art background and my passion for food,” she says.