The hardest part of interviewing Hedy Goldsmith, the executive pastry chef at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, is getting her to break away from the kitchen for a few minutes. She's a perpetual motion machine. Then again, she has to be, because Goldsmith is at the restaurant long before the chefs are there, breaking dawn to begin baking for the lunchtime crowd that descends on the popular eatery.
Known for her sophisticated takes on childhood favorites such as Pop-Tarts, Cracker Jack, and ice cream, Goldsmith has appeared on numerous Food Network shows and recently finished a new cookbook. We managed to sit her down long enough to chat about art school, the new book, and her secret love of salty food.
New Times: So you're coming out with a cookbook. Can you tell us about it?
Hedy Goldsmith: I just finished photographing the cookbook, and it comes out October 2012. It hasn't even gone to edit yet. The copy was submitted ahead of schedule, but my editor has a few projects before mine. So after all the editing process, I go to New York to work on the design.
October 2012 seems so far away.
When Michael came out with his book, we almost forgot about his cookbook it took so long for it to be published.
Baking must be such an exact science. Is that a challenge when making a cookbook?
It is more of an exact science, but I want my book to be more fun, more spirited -- not so technical. It's not a technical book at all; it's not a restaurant book. The whole notion of it is to be more playful, more of a riff on the childhood thing we do at brunch. I don't take myself as seriously as I did 20 years ago. I like to have more fun. And, yes, baking does have to be more exact, but it doesn't have to be so down your throat that it's an exact science.
What about the math aspect?
You know, measuring and calculating ratios.
I did the math for you already.
I think baking can be scary to some people, and I don't want that stigma. Baking is not as immediate as cooking. You go into your kitchen, look in the fridge, and sauté whatever you have. Baking is not that casual. But it can be pretty casual. If I did my job properly, at least.
You also do a lot of nonpastry desserts at Michael's. Will your cookbook also have nonbaking desserts?
It's all-encompassing. I'm actually a better cook than I am a pastry chef. I do have a very savory side. That being said, there are going to be a few surprises.
You've done some pretty innovative things with sweets, like using smoking techniques. What makes a good dessert?
I like to push the envelope. And I'm not that much of a sweets fan. People get a kick out of that. Don't get me wrong -- I taste all day. I eat my share of sweets, but at the end of a meal, I'm not driven to eat something sweet. I prefer to have cheese or a tart sorbet or maybe biscotti. That's it.
Are you like the doctor who never goes to the doctor?
That's funny. When I travel, for sure, I taste different desserts because I want to see what people are doing. But I'm not so driven by sweets. I'm driven by salt. I love potato chips, I love pretzels, I love pizza and bread. I'm passionate about that.
So how did you get into baking?
I absolutely love baking. It's really a part of me. I went to art school, and to me, baking very much feels like an extension of that. It's kind
of liberating in a way. You develop a sense of design and a sense of
taste, and it plays out in dessert. And it's the final course. Who
doesn't love dessert? The meal could be mediocre at best, the service
could be OK, but I think a good dessert could save the day in a lot of
ways. I think if I do my job properly and execute my craft properly -- not saying that you wouldn't get a good meal here [at Michael's]. It's
just a great job to have. It's a great career to make sweets for a living.
How did you get from art achool to where you are today?
I cooked all through art school to pay the bills. I had a very good
friend who had a vegetarian restaurant, and I started cooking. I'm from a
family of noncooks. My mom never cooked. She really did make
reservations for dinner.
Having said that, through college I found myself not eating properly. I
was tired all the time, so I started to cook healthy foods. In
Philadelphia we had a really great market, Reading Terminal Market, and I
used to go there and I used to collect really interesting vegetables
and I used to cook with my wok. We couldn't afford meat, so I learned to
cook beans and seitan.
I loved, loved, loved cooking. I loved how relaxed and how comfortable
and how immediate it was. You could taste it and say, "That's great
I never baked. Maybe in my little Easy-Bake Oven, but that's about it. But cooking was really wonderful.
So I started taking classes at CIA. I was flying up for three weeks at a time taking continuing educating classes.
Then they started a pastry course for the first time in this country.
They did it in France, but not here. So I put my life on hold, moved up
to New York, and started the baking program.
You know, it's funny -- I say that all of us chefs sit on the fence of OCD
and ADD for sure, and baking was perfect. It filled every one of those
voids. Baking is so exact and pristine -- it was perfect. So it was the
perfect match for my crazy sense of personality.
When I went to school, I was still being trained by Austrian, German, and
French chefs. We made the classics. It gave you the building blocks.
What did you do after you graduated?
I went to the Waldorf for a year and a half, and I was the assistant
pastry chef. Interesting gig, but I came home and cried every day. In
school I made one or two beautiful cakes, easy to control, perfect. I
went to the Waldorf and my first job was a whole speed rack filled with
carrot cakes that I had to split, fill, and decorate.
I put my head down and I realized that if I didn't do this, I wouldn't
"get it." I needed to "get it" -- I needed to pay my dues. I just said
to myself that it was really going to pay off, and it did. I learned how
to organize myself. I learned how to hit the ground running. It was a
Does a place like that stifle your creativity?
I wasn't ready yet to work in a small creative restaurant. I had the
opportunity to work at a small restaurant, and a very dear friend of
mine, who was a mentor to me at school, said, "You're a great student, but
you're not ready. Hone your craft. Have somebody pay for your
continuing education." I was a little bit cocky, but I was sure he was
giving me the right advice.
A year and a half later, I was offered a great position Monday through Friday
working for a large contract firm that did all of the executive dining
rooms on Wall Street. It was really high end, but I was bored, so I
wound up moving to Miami.
Monday we'll follow Hedy to Miami, where she'll talk to us about the '90s food renaissance, booze in the baking, and what she has in store for Harry's Pizzeria.
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