By Alexander Dworkowitz
For four days last week, Andy Tsang, a pastry chef at Payard in Manhattan and a Jamaica Hills resident, finished his 12-hour days at the restaurant only to head into the kitchen of the Margaret Tietz Center for Nursing Care on Chapin Parkway.
Defying his lack of sleep, Tsang volunteered his time to craft a gourmet strawberry cake to feed to 70 seniors at the nursing home.
On Sunday afternoon, Tsang presented the cake to the residents.
“This is going to make it a very special Mother's Day,” said Linda Spiegel, director of public affairs for Tietz, before the cake was unveiled to the seniors.
Tietz bought the ingredients for Tsang, but Tsang offered his talent for free. Typically, he would charge about $800 for such a cake, he said.
Tsang, who lives a short walk from Tietz, said he thought of offering his services as he passed it by.
“It's just my pleasure,” Tsang said.
Tietz, which has beds for 200 residents, was originally established as a center for Holocaust survivors. But in recent years, the home has welcomed other seniors as well.
The average age of those living at the home is 85, Spiegel said. Many of the residents are more than 100 years old.
“We have a lot of moms here,” Spiegel said. “Grandmoms, great grandmas and great great grandmas. A lot of generations.”
Before presenting the cake to the seniors, Tsang put on the final touches. The chef carefully shaped flowers out of cream, placing them one by one around a heart with lettering reading, “We love you, Mom.”
“It's like a painting,” said Wennie Chen, a staffer at Tietz, as she watched Tsang work.
Tsang said the dessert was made of relatively simple elements: pastry mousseline, sponge cake and strawberries.
Tsang altered the recipe for the seniors, using less sugar.
“They're older. You really can't give them something too sweet,” he said.
Tsang, a native of China, said he originally became a chef to make a living. But over the last six years, he has come to love the profession.
“In the beginning, you do it because you have to,” he said. “But little by little, you get more into it, you get more passion.”
As the cake was brought out, staffers led the residents in applause. They ate the cake as they were entertained by performers from the Tzu Chi Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to promoting good health with a regional office in Flushing.
Ellen Wasserman, who was visiting her grandmother, Leah Berman, was delighted with the gift of the cake.
“I think it's wonderful,” she said. “Every little thing that makes the elderly happy is great.”
Once the cake was served, Tsang's day of cooking was not quite finished. He went home to make dinner for his mother.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.