by jen jones donatelli | November 17, 2014 | People
LA’s reigning pastry queens, Sherry Yard and Aren Hatfield, stir up their shared history in the kitchen and wax diabetic on new their projects and the future of LA’s dessert scene.
Confection perfection! Yard and Hatfield toast to their new restaurant ventures.
It’s a reunion of sorts—Sherry Yard greets Karen Hatfield with a warm hug as they settle in for an afternoon of reconnecting over bubbly and a sumptuous dessert sampling at Bouchon. (When Thomas Keller’s team of pastry pros—led by executive pastry chef Sébastien Rouxel—offers you profiteroles, a plate of massive macarons, and more, you say “oui,” naturally.) The two go way back to the late ’90s, when Yard first gave Hatfield her start by training her in Spago’s kitchen—where Hatfield also met her now-husband, Quinn, with whom she co-owns Hatfield’s and The Sycamore Kitchen.
“You and Quinn were one of my first pastry couples!” exclaims Yard, referring to the many relationships the Spago kitchen has spawned. “From Nancy [Silverton] and Mark [Peel] to Jason and Miho Travi, the lineage goes on and on. Now we have pastry baby showers.”
Since those early matchmaking moments, there’s been plenty for the pair to catch up on: Yard left her post as Wolfgang Puck’s right hand at Spago last year to mount the ambitious 13,000-square-foot Helms Bakery project with Father’s Office restaurateur Sang Yoon, and she’s also now the vice president of culinary direction for iPic Theaters. As for Hatfield, she and her husband are preparing to debut a third restaurant, Odys & Penelope, on La Brea in December.
Eavesdrop on their conversation as they dish sweetly on all things delish over Bouchon’s French delights.
Bouchon’s signature cork-shaped chocolate brownie à la mode.
You’ve both come a long way since those early days at Spago! What do each of you consider your signature dessert?
SHERRY YARD: For me, Kaiserschmarrn. Traditionally, it’s like a pancake—I took that tradition and added crème fraîche and booze. When I first came to Spago, Wolfgang had desserts on the menu that were more true to American [sensibilities]; I was shocked he didn’t have at least a few nods to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I convinced him to let me add that category, and the Kaiserschmarrn kicked off. It’s like that song you have to play over and over again, but it’s okay because you love it so much.
KAREN HATFIELD: It takes a really special dessert to not get sick of it over time. At Sycamore Kitchen, we’re known for the salted caramel pecan babka roll, and another of my favorites is the lemon custard meringue tart at Hatfield’s.
What are some of the most luxurious ingredients you’ve used to make an extra-decadent dish?
KH: Persian mulberries have a crazy-short season and can be very expensive. Even figs now fall into that category—there’s a big difference between a mediocre and an amazing fig, and the good ones are obscenely expensive these days.
SY: I once did a semifreddo with roasted royal apricots—the waiter would pour Chateau d’Yquem in a hole in the center. I’m not normally a sweet-wine lover, but there are times where you just have to dress up [your desserts].
Dessert deities Karen Hatfield and Sherry Yard met over the pastry oven at Spago in the ’90s
Sherry, you turned 50 this year—what type of dessert did you eat to usher in this milestone?
SY: Sang [Yoon] and I went with a bunch of friends to Dumpling House in Gardena, where they have the most amazing dumplings with hot sauce. They surprised me with a cookies-and-cream ice cream cake with chocolate chips around the outside. I warned everyone, “There are a couple of things I don’t share: my husband, my wontons, and my ice cream cake!”
From cronuts to cupcakes, Los Angeles seems to follow one dessert trend after another. What’s next in your opinion?
SY: We’re about to be inundated with ice cream—it’s taking over the city! Big Gay Ice Cream is coming Downtown, Three Twins Ice Cream from San Francisco is now on Main Street in Santa Monica, and Salt & Straw from Oregon has just opened on Larchmont. Until recently, there weren’t that many places for great ice cream in Los Angeles; now there’s going to be arm wrestling at the farmers market.
Macarons, courtesy of Bouchon.
Speaking of trendsetting, which pastry chefs in town do you consider the forward-thinking tastemakers?
SY: From both a sweet and savory perspective, you have to give a big fat nod to Nancy Silverton—she has a gold finger with everything she tackles. There are really too many to name; I’d say LA could go pound for pound with any city in the US. To name a few, chefs like Kriss Harvey at The Bazaar, Roxana Jullapat at Cooks County, and Della Gossett at Spago are true to their own voices. They make food they like, and they share it. You can taste the love.
KH: I appreciate innovation. When I’m looking to be inspired for Hatfield’s, I might go to Red Medicine, Spago, or Providence. For the bakery aspect, I turn to Huckleberry, Bouchon, and Amandine Cafe. I’m always out trying new places.
Profiteroles topped with chocolate sauce.
What’s the “scoop” on your next project?
KH: My husband and I are getting ready to open our third restaurant, Odys & Penelope—inspired by the Greek myth. Part of our inspiration also came from the fact that there are these old, ornate Greek columns, which were surprising to find in an industrial space. It’s right down the street from Sycamore Kitchen, and it’s slated to open next month. So far, it’s been a lot of fun.
SY: Sang Yoon and I are opening the new Helms Bakery next summer—it’s going to have everything from a giant movie screen to a deli to a mixing mezzanine. I promised Benji, the baker, there will be a disco ball in the center. I’m also now the VP of culinary direction for iPic Theaters. I’m designing all of the kitchens, and the menu has everything from homemade hummus to lobster rolls to bao buns. I joke that people should, “Come for the food, stay for the movie.”
photography by melissa valladares