Brother and sister team Jennice and Raymond Kersh are pioneers of modern Australian cooking. With chef Raymond's innovative dishes and Jennice's warm and practical approach, they have had successful careers in Australian hospitality for over 30 years. These days they cater and event organise under the name Edna's at Your Table - here's how they got there. PDF here
Raymond and Jennice's journey began forty years ago, when they left their home in Pyrmont to live among the Gogadja people of Balgo in WA. There they began to learn about, and love, native Australian foods. Returning to Sydney in 1981, they opened a restaurant in an historic warehouse located just behind Sydney’s Town Hall. They called it Edna’s Table “We named it after our mother in whose tiny kitchen in Pyrmont everything important and special happened and where our love of food began,” explains Jennice.
The timing for Edna’s Table was fortuitous. Sydney was ready for new and, specifically, Australian foods. Edna’s quickly became a landmark restaurant. Incorporating what may now seem like everyday ingredients but had never been before used in modern Australian foods – macadamia and tamarillo or kangaroo and yabbies – Raymond’s refreshing use of diverse ingredients struck a chord with many. Edna’s attracted foodies but also film, media, and political and creative people from everywhere. An evening at Edna’s meant a lovely mixture of warm conversation and innovative food and wine.
While the original Edna’s Table used some Native Australian ingredients there was still not much available commercially. But Edna’s went through two more incarnations each time taking advantage of the changing rules and regulations around native foods.
II Edna’s Table opened in 1993 at the MLC Centre. Harry Seidler designed the open style restaurant to compliment Raymond’s menus.
Raymond recalls: "When we reopened it had become legal to sell Kangaroo and, generally, there were more ingredients available. But it was still very difficult because nothing was farmed and everything was still wild, but no matter we were determined."
The third Edna's Table took up three levels in a 19th Century Building owned by the Australian architect Phillip Cox, who co-designed.
"I introduced the first 'Native Australian Degustation Menu' and it was an outstanding success," recalls Raymond with a smile. Edna's continued to enjoy a huge cross section of society, people like Laurence Fishbourn, Joan Rivers, Annie Prue, Steve Waugh, Margaret Fulton, Simone Young, Paul Keating, John Howard, Tony Abbott, Michael Carlton, Alan Jones , Peter Fitzsimmons, Peter Hatcher, Adam Spencer, Ita Buttrose, Wendy Harmer, Leah Purcell, Lyndey Milan, Bob Hawke, Graham Richardson, Adam Goodes, John Alexander, GG Quentin Bryce, Gov. Marie Basher and more - they all came to Edna's.
Edna's, unlike other fine dining restaurants, had a great sense of theatre and it was through this really that Jennice and Raymond's event management began to develop professionally. With the three levels available they organised events that often included Indigenous performances. The restaurant held extremely a legendary and fun filled a month of Christmas celebrations, parties for St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day and the Melbourne Cup were the focus of events that were arranged and were decorated every year by Raymond.
During the Sydney 2000 Olympics Raymond and Jennice ran the 300 seat Wanga Press Table – the fine dining restaurant at the Sydney Olympic press centre. "I remember Michael Johnson calling me over,” says Jennice. “And I was really worried because I thought he didn’t like the kangaroo, but he loved it. It just turned out that it was the beetroot – he just found it very amusing and slightly odd how much us Australians love our beetroot.”
In 2007 Jennice and Raymond decided to go and work with disadvantaged indigenous people, with the aim of educating in the areas of food nutrition and cooking. “Teaching about healthy, easy and affordable foods,” says Jennice. Listening to what people wanted and needed their charity work came to include services to Indigenous Health and Education, Aids Australia, Cooking for Street People, the Blood Bank of Australia, the Paralympics and many other charity and community organizations. This continues; over the past decade, they have devoted most of their spare time to training Aboriginal people for careers in the hospitality industry.
Their hard work has been officially recognised: Jennice and Raymond were twice winners of the NSW Restaurant and Catering award for 'Modern Australian Restaurant of the Year' in 1994 and 1995 and 'Native Restaurant of the Year 1999'. In 2010 they were awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to Indigenous Cuisine.
“Food is not just intellectual. Eating together and understanding a culture’s food helps you relate to people. Food is about your community,” says Jennice.
And so it was from this experience and expertise and mixture of events, of love of food, people, conversation, and communication and of Australia its culture and heritage that the catering tour de force that is Edna’s at Your Table evolved.
Elsewhere you may read details of some events that Edna’s has catered, (click to our functions page here)
But for those who just don’t feel inclined to extra clicking today, in short Jennice’s communication and organisational abilites combined with Raymond’s culinary skills have aided and abetted the enjoyment of many life events for people from everywhere, commerating and celebrating anything.
From a cocktail party for 100 people to a surprise birthday celebration, from a Darling Point wedding to a Norwegian/Russian christening, to an impromptu wake, from a traditional Lithuanian/Australian Christmas family diner to the completely native Australian range of dishes for 25 eminent Japanese lacquer artists teaching at the Art Gallery of NSW, (the event included a large presentation table displaying a variety of native foods that the artists also ate!) from canapés and Moet overlooking Tamarama beach to a hunting gathering foodies week with Raymond sourcing and preparing local food for up to 45 people on tour in Tasmania. The events are diverse with one thing in common – the Edna’s touch.
As Jennice puts is: “The thing we really enjoy – always have – is finding out what someone wants and working together to get it right. To fulfill people’s wishes.” Raymond adds: “When I started to cook I had only been to a couple of dozen restaurants because if you were working class you really had to save up to do it. When I did go I was always a bit disappointed that people didn't’t make an effort. That you often walked out not feeling special. It’s ironic that I have ended up doing what I do, but I never forgot my initial feelings. Looking after customers is as important as the food. And so with us now, it’s obvious that someone booking catering is always going to be holding an exceptional event. We invest our time to make it right, to make a special, memorable event the very best it be.”