“You could sum up my whole career as, ‘Forrest Gump meets chocolate’!” exclaims Sherry Yard. The mythical Mr. Gump, of course, famously opined that life itself is like a box of chocolates, and you never know what you’ll get. And even though it’s been 14 years since Wolfgang Puck tapped Yard as pastry chef at his legendary Spago, she still finds herself in a state of wonder.
Yard discovered the power of pastry when, working as a secretary, she started making cookies for bureaucrats to get paperwork signed faster. But it was when she commandeered the buffet for her parents’ 25th wedding anniversary that her cooking skills first drew attention and she started catering on her own. She plunged into culinary studies at New York City Technical College, then wound up as pastry chef at Campton Place in San Francisco. After a year, Puck lured her to Spago. “I thought it was a joke, so I hung up on him,” she says. “Three times.”
Yard has a particular knack for preserving intensity of flavor while keeping desserts light and healthful, something that she finds more of a priority than ever. A few of her tricks include using “tons of egg whites,” adding natural fruit juices for sweetness and flavor, and cutting carbs by using cornstarch instead of flour as a binding agent.
Her practical, straight-talking approach yielded two well-received cookbooks, The Secrets of Baking, published by Houghton Mifflin in 2003, and its follow-up, Desserts by the Yard (2007). Her creations have a definite “heaven on earth” quality about them, never sacrificing satiation for sophistication.
By Martin Booe, a food writer in Los Angeles, Calif.