If you’re a fan of authentic European food, you’re likely to have sampled the fabulous pastries at Cafesserie, a brasserie-style Italian-French restaurant and bakery whose open-air dining area is reminiscent of a French street café. Cafesserie is run by Head Chef and Founder Isaac Shpak.
In his hometown of Tel Aviv, Chef Isaac trained to be a pastry chef and later an expert coffee roaster and blender, under the guidance of a head of speciality coffee in Europe. “I learned all about Italian food at Joya (a play of words on the Italian word “Joy”), one of the best Italian restaurants in Israel.”
Isaac then honed his skills at Tel Aviv’s Arcaffe, a company that now has 80 branches across Israel. At the café’s coffee school, he would give lectures about coffee to chefs and baristas. His next stop was London, where he ran a coffee shop for nine years before he was approached to sell it to Nero Coffee, UK’s largest chain of coffee shops
From London, Chef Isaac was invited to open a cafe in Nairobi. It was here that the ArtCaffe phenomenon started. Chef Isaac sold his shares in ArtCaffe in 2010 and launched the first Cafesserie Valentine’s day 2015.
In our Skype interview with Chef Isaac, he walked us through the process through which he sources the ingredients for the Cafesserie menu. “We import French butter to make our pastries and whipping cream from Denmark. Our coffee is sourced from across East Africa, and we import oranges from South Africa and Egypt.”
This approach reflects his philosophy that the best end products can only be produced using the best ingredients, a commitment that stretches all the way to the water used to make pastries, which Chef Isaac tells us, goes through “a very expensive water filtration system”.
In his two years running Cafesserie in Kampala, Chef Isaac has found pastries to be very popular with Kampalans and has even made a few surprising discoveries. “When I brought European-style baking to Kampala, I didn’t know if Ugandans would like sourdough, but they love it!” Chef Isaac goes on to explain that the old fashioned recipe used to leaven Sourdough is considered to be the best. Despite its dark grain and slightly bitter flavour, Chef Isaac is proud to inform us that “Ugandans even like rye bread”.
According to Chef Isaac, the clientele at Cafesserie is on an ordinary day made up of about 60% Ugandans with the remaining 40% a mix of expats and tourists. Popular pastry choices include the plain croissant, followed by the chocolate croissant. “We recently introduced a new pastry,” he tells us: “a Nutella one, which is moving nicely. We also make savoury pastries, like chicken and mincemeat, which are very popular and a cheese pastry.”
For Cafesserie, Chef Isaac hires at least one new person every month. The process is straightforward: people interested in working there only have to leave their CV in the office at the cafe. Prior experience is not necessary, as Chef Isaac trains his hires from scratch in his kitchen.
To aspiring pastry chefs, Chef Isaac’s advice is: “It is a good life but it is a demanding job and you must love it. If you don’t love it, it shows! My advice is that you work in the best places that you can, regardless of their location or the salary. Work for the best bakeries to learn the best skills.”