Barossa-raised pastry chef Cheryse Zagler has worked in fine diners and French patisseries in Adelaide and Melbourne, yet her recent return to the Barossa is shaping up to be the icing on the cake.
Zagler, who apprenticed at Tanunda’s Carême Pastry, went on to work at Magill Estate and fine dining restaurants in Melbourne, and in 2017 refreshed Leabrook Bakehouse and Patisserie, has recently returned to the Barossa to set up a patisserie and boutique cake-making service within Greenock eatery El Estanco.
A Colombian restaurant might seem an odd place for a French patisserie, yet for Zagler it makes perfect sense. She struck a partnership with El Estanco founder Julian Velasquez and his partner Abby Osborne, who is also a trained pastry chef.
It was in September last year that El Estanco moved from its original premises, setting up across the road at a larger location within an old building that Velasquez and Osborne had spent months refurbishing.
Cheryse Zagler Cake and Pastry Design is now based within the restaurant.
For the past two months, Zagler has been rubbing shoulders with the El Estanco team in the kitchen to produce her French pastries, tarts, cakes, gateaux and croissant, which restaurant customers can order for dessert or as a coffee accompaniment. Her sourdough is served in the restaurant and loaves are available to take away.
“I don’t know how a French patisserie goes with a Colombian restaurant, but somehow everyone’s loving it and it all just works,” she says.
“I met with Abby and Julian and everything just felt right, it was like being home again. They’re beautiful people. We’re like-minded and have similar goals.”
Her vibrant and quirky croissants are garnering a small cult following with decadent gooey fillings, such as mousse, custard and raspberry.
Christmas fruit mince pies were also popular, filled with fruit soaked in gin and Spanish hazelnut liqueur, granny smith apples and flaked almonds, finished with a cherry and pink peppercorn sugared crust.
Yet it’s her newfound specialty for colourful cakes decorated in dried botanicals that have seen her inundated with orders and inquiries for weddings, engagement parties and birthdays.
Experimenting with dried floral elements began when her brother Jon Zagler and his partner Jay Marinis asked Cheryse to create an engagement cake for them.
“Jon’s not a traditionalist, so black or white was not allowed,” Zagler says.
“I came up with a concept, contacted a florist, and I worked with her in trying different botanicals that I knew they would love, and created a terracotta buttercream cake with coffee and blackberry. I layered that with liqueurs and it was everything that they wanted.
“I worked on the dried botanicals for a couple of months trying different things and that’s how I fell in love with it.
“It’s something I never thought I was going to enjoy so much. I had no idea to begin with, firstly understanding what types of flowers you could dry; it was trial and error. I’m now working with different florists in the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa Valley.”
In designing cakes, Cheryse works like an artist — drawing from her clients’ anecdotes, memories, interests and preferences to create a unique masterpiece, with no two cakes the same.
“The amount of enquiries that I’ve gotten from Adelaide has been quite overwhelming in the past couple of weeks.
“Cake can be so boring sometimes — mud cake, white chocolate and raspberry cake, fondant, horrible American buttercream that’s way too sweet. Coles mud cake – what is that? We can do this properly.”
“It’s a delicate art form, you’ve got to be creative and understand colour, textures and softness. It all comes into play when you’re decorating cakes or making a dessert,” she says.
For special occasions and weddings, the cakes provide additional sentimental value as the dried flowers are able to be removed from the cake, pressed and framed.
“I think to press and frame them is a really beautiful idea for brides — or anybody, really,” says Zagler.
The pastry chef is also launching a range of gin eclairs in collaboration with Seppeltsfield Road Distillers. The eclairs, which “pack a punch and are not kid-friendly” will be displayed in a new refrigerated glass cabinet, with a constantly changing array of flavours.
Yet so quickly has the patisserie grown, that Zagler is taking over additional space in the kitchen.
“I’m already creeping onto the chef’s side, so there’s already back and forth banter about that,” she says.
“We’re going to need to build a dedicated pastry kitchen very soon. By the end of this year, we’re going to be in a pastry kitchen, and hopefully I’ll have a big team and it will be great.”
Zagler has brought on a school-based apprentice and has found it to be a rewarding experience. “I see so much of myself in her, and she’s getting so excited about what she’s learning.”
She says the year 2020 brought family and friends closer together in some ways, and forced people to celebrate birthdays and special occasions in more intimate ways.
“Food became that thing that helped everyone get through. We couldn’t dine out anymore. We couldn’t enjoy a date night, taking the family out, or going out with our friends and celebrating,” she says.
“Obviously a lot of people in the industry suffered, but we had to find a way that we could still enjoy food as a whole and still feel close and connected.”
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