February 28, 2020

The Baker: Episode Nineteen 

Ernie Feld Photo by David Becker

The “closed” sign in the window of Ernie’s International Pastries flips to “open.” 

Moments later, the 91-year-old proprietor shuffles gingerly through the kitchen, looking dapper in his suspenders and blue dress shirt.

The bakery in the woods on the northern shore of Lake Tahoe usually opens at 11 a.m. and here it is just after nine — two hours early. 

So what gives?

Ernie shrugs with anything-goes nonchalance, as if to say, “At my age, you can open anytime you please.”

Call it semi-retirement, but at his age, Ernie has earned the right to slow down a bit.

He survived two wars. He has outlived his German captors. He likes to point out that most of the SS officers who held him captive are all probably dead by now.

And here’s Ernie, alive and kicking, still laughing, still baking.

For half a century, Ernie has made his pastries here. He fell in love with the area and relocated, determined to make his mark.

He established a loyal bakery clientele, became active in the local Jewish temple. 

“I was on the board, the president, and the religious chairman, and the cook, and anything,” he recalled. 

He even sang and chanted at synagogue events.

For years, when he first arrived, he invited children from the synagogue to his bakery. He gave them cutters and taught them to knead and bake their own dough.

Once, a philharmonic orchestra came to perform at the temple. The organizers needed kosher food, but where could they get it way up here in the woods?

So Ernie went to work to create another miracle. 

Just like in the old days.

He rented a restaurant and made a kosher dinner for 60 people. All on the house. 

When the musicians came in to eat, Ernie was there behind the buffet line, serving up his guilty culinary pleasures. 

“And speaking Hebrew, too — and the food is all kosher — and they were amazed to find such an authentic meal “in all of the United States, in this little hole in Incline Village,” he said.

Ernie is justifiably proud of such moments. He’s proud of the way he found a bridge between his religion and his cooking. He craves the adulation he receives as a world-class pastry chef still on top of his game.

Around Lake Tahoe, Ernie is known for his challah, the special braided-bread eaten on Sabbath and on most Jewish holidays.

Robert Langsfeld, an officer of the North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation, said Ernie is respected for being one of the synagogue’s earliest members in the 1970s. 

In recent years, Ernie has also been invited to speak about his years in the German labor camps. 

“My impression of Ernie is that he grew up in a middle-class community in his hometown. He was old enough to feel the effect of the war and its persecution and young enough to be hurt by it.”

“In the end, he found his purpose, whether it was from anger or revenge or commitment, or all of the above.”

Bingo.

All of the above.

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