“What I hope to convey in what I do is that it doesn’t have to be fattening. I can trim down a lot of the caloric without losing any of the Southern.”
When beloved pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith left Miami and moved to Los Angeles in 2015, the two-time James Beard Award finalist needed a break from the restaurant grind. She had been making sweets at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami’s Design District since 2006 and had previously held down numerous other pastry gigs.
“When I left Miami, I really needed to chill,” Goldsmith says. “I needed to learn how to surf. I needed to just do other things.”
But the desire to make pastries was still in her veins, so she continued to bake at home every single day. Goldsmith has been a fixture at food-world charity events like L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade, and she’s been selling treats like her famous Junk in da Trunk cookies on her Sweet Hedy site.
And now, after a hiatus from restaurants, she’s back in a big way. Goldsmith is the executive pastry chef at the new 6,000-square-foot Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in L.A.’s Beverly Center.
Yardbird, which was born in Miami and has since expanded to Las Vegas and Singapore, is a natural fit for Goldsmith. Yardbird founder John Kunkel and Goldsmith were friendly in Miami and had previously discussed doing something together. Yardbird, which serves fried chicken made with a recipe from Kunkel’s grandmother, is about nostalgia-inducing Southern comfort food. Goldsmith, who became a sensation in Miami by riffing on childhood favorites like Pop Tarts, Nutter Butters, Cracker Jack, and Oreos while also making phenomenal bacon sticky buns, lemon ricotta pancakes, and granola, also knows a few things about taking guests back in time.
At Michael’s Genuine, chef Michael Schwartz and Goldsmith turned Sunday brunch into the most important meal of the week, and guests swarmed for a taste of dishes like Schwartz’s kimchi benedict and sweets like Goldsmith’s pie in a jar. Goldsmith started making pie in a jar out of necessity, because she needed to share refrigerator space with the savory side of the kitchen. Now at Yardbird, she’s got a larger kitchen and a lot more tools at her disposal, but she’s still making pie in a jar. Given that she’s in L.A., she knows she can change pie flavors all the time because the produce available to her is so great.
Goldsmith’s keeping Yardbird crowd-pleasers like the biscuits that are baked every 20 minutes and the large-format peach cobbler. But Kunkel understands that he has a tremendous talent in the kitchen, so he’s letting Goldsmith (who was a regular on Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets) do whatever she wants.
“I absolutely feel comfortable with anything she puts out,” Kunkel says. “We don’t do tastings. I don’t have her send anything to me.”
When L.A.’s Yardbird opened on April 6, Kunkel saw 20 orders of Goldsmith’s Tennessee hummingbird cakes being devoured in his dining room. Clearly, he had made the right move. That hummingbird cake, which Goldsmith is serving for both dessert and weekend brunch, is a moist pineapple-banana cake with bourbon cream cheese and mint-basil pesto.
“The South has a lot of influences, including Caribbean influences,” Goldsmith says. “This cake has a lot of flavors that play with each other and really contrast each other.”
Goldsmith has always liked putting savory notes into her sweets, so she’s excited about playing around with the arugula and sorrel she’s seen on her Wednesday trips to the Santa Monica Farmers Market. She’s been in L.A. for three years but says she’s still in awe of the ingredients in L.A., like the rhubarb she’s noticed recently.
“I can’t wait for the seasons to change,” Goldsmith says. “Stone fruit, I used to get one variety of peach when I lived in Miami and they would gas it. Here, there’s eight to ten varieties of peaches.”
Goldsmith doesn’t think she’ll do her version of Pop Tarts at Yardbird, but she’s thinking about hand pies.
“You’ll see things you’ve seen before flavor-wise, but not necessarily structurally,” she says when asked how her L.A. pastries will differ from her Miami pastries.
Plus, being in L.A. means that Goldsmith can do things like mill her own grains and serve berries that don’t require any additional sugar. It means she can learn how to use kitchen toys like the centrifuge Yardbird has.
“For the first time, there’s really a lightness to what I’m doing, even though it’s an incredibly busy restaurant,” Goldsmith says. “There’s really a lightness because John wants me to just have fun. I’ve never worked for anyone like that before, someone who’s given me entire rein because he knows I’m just going to have fun, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Goldsmith is talking about the lightness she feels internally, but there’s also lightness to the ingredients she’s using.
“The fact that we’re in L.A. means I can do gluten-free and do vegan and really be accepted,” she says.
There’s a juice bar at Yardbird, and Goldsmith is baking gluten-free scones that are a take on hot steel-cut oatmeal with golden raisins. She’s making jams, like one with black mission fig, lemon, and balsamic vinegar, to go with the scones.
Other brunch options include a Greek yogurt panna cotta with fresh berries. There’s also a granola parfait with dried blueberries and cherries. Yardbird’s fancy kitchen means Goldsmith has the resources to dehydrate fruit on-site.
“What I hope to convey in what I do is that it doesn’t have to be fattening,” Goldsmith says. “I can trim down a lot of the caloric without losing any of the Southern.”
There’s an entire section of the brunch menu dedicated to Goldsmith’s creations, which she’ll continually be changing. She likes working in a big restaurant where she can use citrus zest, juice, and herbs from the bar. She enjoys being in a city where vegan desserts aren’t considered “hippie food.”
But make no mistake, this is still Hedy Goldsmith, who’s here to give you childlike glee. This is still Yardbird, where Kunkel has added crudo, a raw bar, new salads, and black-eyed pea hummus in L.A., but also where crowd-pleasers include chicken and waffles as well as biscuits and gravy.
“Every location we want to be a little different,” Kunkel says. “The days of rolling out a chain with a static menu are long gone and doesn’t interest me. We’re excited to do Yardbird 4.0. We wanted a great balance of healthy and indulgent, so there’s something for everyone. Hedy’s style fits our brand so well. For brunch, she’s done a gluten-free scone but still has the indulgent salted caramel brownie sundae.”
After all, life, as Goldsmith understands well, is about finding balance. She’s had a healthier lifestyle since she’s moved to L.A. but admits she hasn’t had time to go the gym recently because she’s been so busy at Yardbird. That’s OK, though. She’s been lifting trays of biscuits all day long.
Yardbird, 8500 Beverly Blvd., 323-250-8034