LORRAINE GODSMARK LEFT HER sweet-toothed devotees devastated when she closed the doors of the much-loved Yellow Bistro & Food Store in September 2011.
How fortuitous then, that Merivale chief executive officer Justin Hemmes was one of her many committed customers, coming in like clockwork to the Potts Point eatery for coffee and a slice of mascarpone cake.
Hemmes has lured Godsmark to be part of the team at Palings Kitchen and Bar, the Ivy's new high-end food hall, which opens today. She will have a space called Lorraine's Patisserie - for her to sell pastries, cakes or a slice of something sweet - due to open in January.
Godsmark knew she'd miss Yellow, the buzzy bistro she operated alongside chef George Sinclair.
Despite doing casual stints in Sydney kitchens for the past year, Godsmark says she has never let go of her dream to re-establish her presence in this food-centric city. She says the fact she has been given free rein to use her imagination has reignited her passion for playing with food and flavours.
''Although I have tried, since leaving Yellow, to find my niche, I have only been asked to cook what other people want me to cook, and not what I want to cook,'' Godsmark says.
Although the original Palings Kitchen and Bar plan - designed by architect Kevin Ho - called for Godsmark to toil alongside head chef Christopher Whitehead and his team, the pastry pioneer negotiated a space she could call her own, an open-plan kitchen-cum-laboratory where customers can watch her at work.
''You need a lot of bench space when you are a pastry chef,'' Godsmark says.
''You have big trays to put dough on and having your own stove is very important.''
Godsmark didn't covet a culinary career. After leaving school she worked as a fashion buyer and a part-time waitress to fund her obsession with skiing. In the mid-'80s, when the food scene in Sydney was starting to explode, Godsmark's job as a waitress was her passport to a career as a pastry chef: she worked alongside chefs Greg Doyle at Rogues in Darlinghurst and Neil Perry at Perry's, in Oxford Street, who she says nudged her into the kitchen.
''I was waitering at Perry's [in 1985] when I discussed with Neil the possibility of working in the kitchen. He took me on board and noticed I had a talent for pastry. He saw that I was very organised, diligent and meticulous and I had really high standards.''
Twelve months later she was working in the kitchen at Rockpool. Although it was a fiery baptism, ''everything clicked'' and she has been perfecting the craft ever since, making a name for herself as the ''queen of Sydney pastry chefs''.
''One of the things that disappointed me at Yellow was that I didn't have enough time to create new dishes,'' she says. ''In the last five years or so, pastry-making has come a long way and food has moved on a lot.''
She says she gets more of a thrill these days from developing something that looks and tastes great than from ''filling a display cabinet and making it look beautiful''.
Godsmark, who shares her Whale Beach home with her Staffordshire-mastiff cross, Beau, says Lorraine's Patisserie will aim to replicate the atmosphere at Yellow, where the welcome was warm and the mood mellow.
Included on the menu will be tried-and-true desserts that have somewhat of a cult following - such as the iconic date tart created by Neil Perry and refined by Godsmark - as well as new and inventive creations such as a praline, caramel and cumin petit gateau, a lime and white chocolate mousse tart topped with fresh raspberries, and a caramel custard eclair garnished with a chocolate zebra print.
While Godsmark believes the pastries, cakes and desserts that will work best at Palings will be those that retain a trace of the earthy Yellow style, she is also keen to experiment with innovative twists.
''When I do a dish, it always has my own slant on it. A lot of my work is of the classic mould, but some of the more contemporary offerings are really beautiful and exciting, so my plan is to marry both,'' Godsmark says.
She says she is most looking forward to the familiar comfort of working the pastry, kneading it in the heel of her hand and transforming it into something wonderful. ''I'm happiest when I'm making pastry.''
Lorraine Godsmark's sweet secrets
1. Always read a dessert/baking recipe all the way through and stay true to it the first time you make it - these recipes (unlike some savoury recipes) need to be followed closely or they may not work. Adjustments can be made when you have confidence in the end product.
2. Be organised. Have everything weighed out before you start cooking. Set the oven to the recommended temperature. Have cake tins sprayed and lined with paper if required etc. Have a timer on hand, don't guess. Now you can relax and enjoy yourself!
3. I think baking is about developing a gentle touch. Fold your batters carefully, try not to overwork them. Treat your pastry with love. You are not making bread, be sensitive, it will reward you.
4. Don't get too despondent if your cake doesn't work. There are a lot of bad recipes out there. Only bake from reputable books.
5. Try to have the same environment each time you make a dish. You may find a recipe you make in summer turns out differently in winter. For example, chocolate will seize up, mousses will set faster or pastry will be too soft in summer. Try to get around these problems so you get the same result each time.