Raymond Kersh spends his mornings in the cramped kitchenette of a Redfern cafe making gluten-free cakes at the ripe age of 73. ‘‘I must be crazy,’’ he says.
Kersh isn’t, though given his dodgy knee and the 6.30am starts, you might think he is.
Surely the chef who ran a restaurant with his sister Jennice for 23 years would be ready for a less-demanding hobby? After all, Edna’s Table won a chef’s hat from The Good Food Guide two years in a row, the only restaurant using native ingredients to do so.
Kersh would be entitled to rest on his laurels, but resting isn’t his natural state. He caters for special events and functions when asked and will cook for friends at the drop of a hat. His generosity is part of the reason he’s now rolling out gluten-free pastry on a tiny benchtop at Tapeo cafe and bakery.
The Kershes started dropping into Tapeo when the cafe-restaurant opened 18 months ago. They quickly befriended its owners, Lior Manheim, 28, and Michel Alkobi, 39, two Israelis who have made Sydney their home.
For Manheim’s birthday last year, Kersh presented him with Edna’s Princess Torte, a cake Kersh created for his mother and which used to feature at Edna’s Table. Royal icing covers luxurious layers of sponge laced with Grand Marnier and apricot jam, creme patissiere and whipped cream with berries.
Manheim couldn’t forget Edna’s Princess Torte.
Two months ago, he and Alkobi bought the corner store next door to Tapeo, intending to keep both sites but making the new one a bakery-cafe with the same name. The space turned out to be too small for baking bread, so they started making their sourdough loaves off site. They could manage muffins but anything else was too much.
Manheim asked Kersh to bake gluten-free tarts and cakes for Tapeo but Kersh refused. When he found out more about Kersh’s cooking history, Manheim was even more determined. He kept nagging.
Finally, Kersh agreed to help. He experimented in his own kitchen with its very ordinary oven and presented samples to the cafe owners for their consideration.
They were knocked out by what they tasted. All 10 experiments have made it to the counter, behind which Kersh makes tarts based on gluten-free pastry, and gluten-free slices and small cakes.
‘‘It took a couple of weeks to get the pastry right,’’ Kersh says.
Pineapple crumble, apple and pear, lemon cheese, cherry and rosewater, ricotta and berry, pecan and almond, chocolate orange, lemon meringue, and chocolate and walnut are on wooden platters, to be eaten with good coffee or taken home.
Apple strudel, vanilla slices and caramel slice are the only ones that aren’t gluten-free.
At the weekend, Kersh ups the choice to about 20, again gluten-free. Manheim was keen to take that direction because he wanted a point of difference. ‘‘In this area, with design companies and young people, the clientele is looking for that,’’ he says.
He couldn’t be happier. ‘‘To make gluten-free desserts as good as this, you have to have magic in your pocket,’’ says Manheim, who sees Kersh as a father figure. ‘‘Raymond is professional, strict but nice. When I open at 6.30am and see him, I smile.’’
After 21 years at The Sydney Morning Herald and 13 years of Off the Shelf, this is my last column. It’s been a privilege to write about Sydney and its people. Thank you for reading.
80 Redfern Street (corner Chalmers Street), Redfern, 8084 7237.
Weekdays 7am-3pm,weekends 8am-3pm.
Fig and cardamom gluten-free cake $5.50.
Date almond mocha cream gluten-free cake $5.50.