“Dunia realigns the stars with her desserts,” said Dotty Griffith, the late, legendary food critic who put La Duni on the map with her effusive review back in 2001. Indeed, Duni’s cuatro leches cake is the stuff of lore, gracing weddings, birthdays, and many Cinco de Mayos since it was introduced years ago. But there is so much more to Dunia’s talent, so many more pastries she’s proud of and passionate about.
Dunia Terselich Borga is an accidental pastry chef. A native of Columbia who moved to Los Angeles when she was nine years old, Dunia had no intention of being in the restaurant business. She focused on school and sunbathing, the closest thing to a restaurant job was manning a Chipwich cart at Santa Monica Beach during high school summer breaks. But she met a young man who worked in the restaurant business and her life changed; eventually.
With her future husband, Espartaco “Taco” Borga, Dunia moved to Dallas and started working in retail While Taco built ZuZu Handmade Mexican Food which debuted in Snider Plaza in 1989, Dunia built her retail career, managing the Gap Kids in Highland Park Village, then accepting a move to Manhattan with the company. Though she loved New York, she admits that she was a little lonely, wistful for her childhood.
Dunia’s parents are Columbian on her mother’s side, and her father is from Ljubljana, Slovenian, (like Luka Dončić!). Her Slovenian grandmother was a talented baker and Dunia spent many days with her, watching her roll out dough, twisting it, cutting it, filling it — manipulating it in countless ways.
“I remember the scent of vanilla coming from the oven,” Dunia says of those days with her grandmother, “and that felt like home.” She wanted her New York apartment to feel like home, so she started baking. “I would bake and give cookies and pastries to my neighbors,” Dunia laughed and sheepishly covered her face when she talked about this. “I don’t think they were very good.”
After her stint in New York, Dunia returned to Dallas, married Taco and completed her Associate’s degree in pastry at Dallas College (then called El Centro). It was her dream to open a small café, a European style shop with cases of pastries, cookies, cakes, and coffees. Simple. But in 2001, simple was complicated with 9/11 and a stock market plunge so the little café’s economic model didn’t work. The café would need to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and sell higher margin items including alcohol. That tiny café became La Duni.
With her newborn son, Brandon, strapped to her chest, Dunia baked and served La Duni’s guests including regular Stanley Marcus who was sweet on the pecan sticky buns. As her son got older, Dunia would have him in a stroller in the kitchen. At this point in the interview, she rose to demonstrate her impressive talent of using one leg to rock Brandon’s stroller back and forth while she added ingredients to the giant mixers in her kitchen. Mamas gotta do what they gotta do. All that work paid off.
Thanks, in part, to Dotty’s review, La Duni was a success. The Euro Latin restaurant was going gangbusters and Dunia and her exquisite baking had enchanted fans and critics alike. By 2004, Dunia was asked to be the sole pastry chef to participate in the prestigious James Beard Awards dinner and by 2008, the accidental baker was nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Pastry Chef, Southwest.
At one point, La Duni had grown to a handful of locations, including one at NorthPark Center. Today, all but the original La Duni location on McKinney Avenue at Travis are closed, but Dunia is busier than ever.
She credits the pandemic with a significant uptick in pastry sales. “At La Duni, the baked goods such as bread and pastries were always about the restaurant, “she said, “The focus was on what was between the bread or what else was on the plate. Once there was no restaurant [due to the shutdown], people got used to buying online and picking up to go.”
She got busy.
Her small baking staff cranks out a thousand sweet treats a month, including cakes, pastries, South American specialties and now ice cream sandwiches, inspired by her summers in Santa Monica. She delivers her baked goods to La Duni daily and drops off occasional catering orders for weddings and other celebrations. She also heads to the AT&T Discovery District to refill the smart fridge vending machine that sells her jar cakes and ice cream.
It’s my fervent wish that there is a La Duni smart fridge on every corner. This genius piece of machinery dispenses La Duni deliciousness with the swipe of a card. As of now, there are only two, AT&T Discovery District and at the restaurant.
In May, sales of the cuatro leches cake (which is her version of her husband’s grandmother’s cake), spike with Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, graduations, and May weddings. She has also created and sold beautiful heart-shaped cookies glazed with colors of the Ukrainian flag and even dog biscuits which are, according to Finley and Henrietta, my lucky dogs, barkalicious. These products and more are available here or at the restaurant.
Dunia Terselich, the accidental pastry chef, claims she isn’t a businesswoman. She is, though, albeit an accidental one. She has a lot of ideas and is working on expanding sales of her products to third-party vendors, her efforts, no doubt, helped by her retail experience.