If you'd told pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith 20 years ago that she'd one day cook on the "Today" show, she'd have said "Absolutely not!"
It's not like Goldsmith wouldn't have loved showing off her pastries to an audience of millions. But pastry chefs rarely stepped away from cream puffs and petit fours.
"The pastry chef was always in the corner," says Goldsmith, executive pastry chef at the award-winning Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami's Design District. "It was always the savory chef and the owner of the restaurant. The pastry chef was rarely spoken of. I think there was a turning point, where pastry chefs needed to elevate their game in order to make the connection with the savory kitchen."
Enter Goldsmith, who did appear on NBC's "Today" show. She showed Al Roker how to make Giant sesame fortune cookies and had samples of Popcorn & peanut bark and Basil panna cotta — recipes from her just released cookbook, "Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors" (Clarkson Potter, $27.50).
It's an accomplishment few pastry chefs can claim. But Goldsmith is not just a skillful technician, but has built her reputation by boldly transforming everyone's favorite childhood treats.
Ask Goldsmith where she began her pastry career and she'll likely hearken back to her Philadelphia childhood where she made Easy-Bake Oven brownies and became enamored with the Pop-Tarts, Twinkies and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups that she so cleverly riffs on today. She also sold more Girl Scout cookies than anyone else in Philadelphia.
It's a long road from Thin Mints to cookbook author.
She first went to college for fine art, but her first job after graduation was as a prep cook. Her kitchen manager gave her a copy of Maida Heatter's "Book of Great Desserts" so Goldsmith could one day help with pastries. The book, says Goldsmith, changed Goldsmith's life.
Goldsmith's mother died around this time and a heartbroken Goldsmith was accepted into the baking and pastry program at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Once finished, she worked at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City for 18 months before heeding the call to Miami, where she began her South Florida pastry career at Mark's Place, chef Mark Militello's groundbreaking North Miami restaurant.
It was at Mark's that she met cookbook author Heatter, who is now in her late 90s and still lives in Miami Beach.
"Hedy's desserts are the greatest, and making them from these wonderful recipes is a joy," wrote Heatter in a cover blurb for Goldsmith's book.
Heatter is the author of nine dessert cookbooks and a member of the James Beard Foundation Hall of Fame. Goldsmith calls her the Julia Child of the pastry world.
"I had to show her a copy of the introduction [of her book] because of her inspiration," says Goldsmith. "It was perhaps one of the most moving times of my life. She sent me the most glorious handwritten note which I have framed at home. She's a pretty special lady and we're all so thrilled that she's still with us and still very sharp."
Goldsmith says her own cookbook has been 25 years in the making and it's the end result of not just her classical training, but her maturity and growth as a pastry chef.
As anyone who dined at good restaurants in the 1980s can attest, dessert was once a complicated affair. There'd be "studies in chocolate" with chocolate prepared four ways, Goldsmith remembers.
"They were all about being big and overwhelming and over thought and over worked," she says. "That's what the consumer who was paying a lot of money to dine out wanted to experience."
Goldsmith credits Michael Schwartz, the chef and owner of Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, with aiding her move toward simple desserts that start with fresh flavors.
"I had been hiding behind all these supporting actors," she says. "With that simplification came things that I loved as a child — the junk food. That's when it started to evolve."
Goldsmith knew she was on to something when she worked with Schwartz at Nemo and diners flipped over her coffee cake with streusel at brunch.
Schwartz says he first asked Goldsmith to work as pastry chef because he knew they could play off each other creatively.
"She's a perfectionist," says Schwartz. "I think in addition to her skills, she's got this great infectious personality that makes you want to hang out with her. So for me, being a cook and spending most of my life in the kitchen, it was important to connect with people that you had things in common with."
He believes all good chefs evolve. "She's been doing this for a long time and she's seen a lot of food trends and styles and the emergence of the farm-to-table movement. That focus on ingredients has changed everyone's perspective. We look back at some of the things we did in the late and '80s and '90s and laugh. But the people that didn't change are the one that aren't that great."
Goldsmith also believes that getting out of the kitchen has also upped her game. Along with her pastry chef position at Schwartz's The Genuine Hospitality Group, she contributes to Cooking Channel's "Unique Sweets," now in its third season, and she creates seasonal recipes for CookingChannelTV.com. While there are 80 recipes in her "Baking Out Loud," she's got endless ideas for other cookbooks.
"I think getting me out of the kitchen was really the most challenging thing — to give up a little and to grow," she says. "Now that I understand that, I realize I'm not giving up everything."
firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SouthFlorida.com/sup and follow him on Twitter at @FloridaEats.
If you go:
Hedy Goldsmith has several local book signings planned to mark the publication of her first cookbook, "Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors" (Clarkson Potter, $27.50).
5 p.m., Sunday, Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, 305-442-4408. Treats from recipes in the book will be served
7 p.m., Nov. 8, Thousand Pound Egg, 908 NE 20th Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954-335-7060. The first 25 people who pre-order books receive a bonus goodie bag with treats from the book.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times