Smart new tart cart helps Keyser play his part

CAITIE MCMEKIN Multimedia Editor
Herb Keyser walks through Bestor Plaza with his new lemon tart cart after selling his desserts outside the Amphitheater last Monday. All procedes from his sales go towards the Chautauqua Fund.

Karen McCadden and Joan Bailey have been Chautauquans and family friends for years, and last Monday they shared their first lemon tart for only $6.

“My mom makes a killer lemon pie so I thought, ‘All right, let’s see what it’s like,’ ” McCadden said. “And it lived up to expectations. It was very good.”

Last Monday — like every Monday during the season — after the morning lecture around noon near the Amphitheater, Herb Keyser, equipped with nothing but a smile and a new lightweight cart from Costco filled with treats, was selling his famous handmade lemon tarts.

Keyser said he does this labor of love for Chautauqua; 100 percent of the proceeds of all goods sold go to the Chautauqua Fund — including tips. For more than 30 years, Keyser and his wife have been coming to Chautauqua.

“It’s a way to pay back the Institution for making our lives so wonderful,” Keyser said. “We look forward to it so much every summer.”

The origin of Keyser’s lemon tarts goes back more than a decade when Keyser decided to do what his wife thought was crazy. He wrote to 100 of the most famous pastry chefs in Paris and asked them to take a “rank amateur” under their wing to teach him to bake.

Only 14 of the 100 chefs agreed to Keyser’s request, but that was all it took to help the couple go to Paris. Soon, Keyser learned how to make a lemon tart. While in Paris, they wined and dined in different parts of the city, spending time with masterful chefs — Keyser’s instructors.

As soon as he got home from the trip, Keyser went straight to work. He said the first batch tasted awful, but he knew if he kept testing, he could find and correct the mistakes he made.

“You know, if you’re just doing one thing, you can learn how to do it very, very well.” Keyser said.

As a retired physician, Keyser said he creates the tarts with precision and makes them the same way every time as the chefs did. After finally perfecting his tarts — with the help of his friends trying every batch — he decided to write a book about his search for the ultimate lemon tart: A Chautauquan Searches Paris for the Best Tarte au Citron. The book’s  profits also go to the Chautauqua Fund.

Keyser said this season is very special to him because he has dedicated his sales this season to Ken Fradin, a Chautauquan and close friend.

“I miss him an awful lot,” Keyser said. “Everybody knew him here, I think. He had been coming here for more than 50 years and he was a wonderful man.”

In addition to the tarts, sold in either individual servings or whole, Keyser sells chocolate surprises — rich chocolate cookies — and summer pudding, a rare, specially ordered treat.