By Sara Perez Webber
As a judge on Cake Wars: Christmas, Sherry Yard draws on her illustrious career, which is growing in new directions as she plans restaurant openings across the country.
This holiday season, Sherry Yard has a pretty sweet gig—she’s one of the judges of Cake Wars: Christmas, a six-week special airing on the Food Network that premiered on Nov. 9. On the show, seven teams of food artists compete for a grand prize of $50,000 by creating edible masterpieces with such themes as “world-famous Christmas songs” and “the ultimate gingerbread house.”
As the pastry chef who created such over-the-top desserts as the 3D Oscar for the 2012 Academy Awards Governors Ball (an edible 3D Oscar image silk-screened onto white chocolate, atop a red carpet stairway made of Black Forest pudding cake), Yard possesses the perfect judging chops for the competition. After starting her career in New York at the Rainbow Room, Yard—a Brooklyn native—eventually moved to the West Coast, becoming a prominent pastry chef at the Campton Place Restaurant in San Francisco. She then caught the attention of Wolfgang Puck, who hired her to be the pastry chef at the renowned Spago in Los Angeles, and then the executive pastry chef/partner for his worldwide operations. For 20 years, Yard’s lavish desserts delighted guests at such glitzy events as the Governors Ball, as well as the Grammy Awards and the Emmy Awards. She’s also penned two cookbooks—Secrets of Baking and Desserts by the Yard—and has been honored with three James Beard awards—“Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America,” “Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year” and “Best Baking Book.”
Today, in addition to being a Food Network star, Yard is developing restaurant concepts and menus for the luxury iPic movie theater chain, and getting ready to re-open the historic Helms Bakery in Los Angeles. Catering Magazine recently caught up with Yard, who shared such sweet tales as the holiday dessert she likes best.
CM: When you are judging the cakes on Cake Wars: Christmas, what are you looking for that sets the winner apart from the others?
YARD: Although we taste with our eyes first, flavor is my deciding factor; it must be delicious.
CM: Was it fun to be involved in a holiday-themed competition?
YARD: As a child, the holiday season was always my favorite time of year. Lucky me, I got to start celebrating early with this show!
CM: What’s your favorite holiday dessert, and what do you like to make at home for the holidays?
YARD: Cookies are so wonderful because you can have cookie exchange parties and be incredibly creative.
CM: What trends are you seeing in wedding cakes and desserts?
YARD: Creative and over-the-top. Why not start the evening with a savory wedding “cake”? I’ve made a toasted brioche with smoked salmon and dill crème fraiche layered “cake.”
CM: What’s the most elaborate wedding cake you’ve ever created?
YARD: A three-tiered English rose-inspired cake, with curved sugar glass red rose-embossed banding.
CM: What do you do in your role as corporate vice president of culinary direction at iPic Entertainment, the growing chain of luxury movie theaters?
YARD: Innovation—I’m responsible for developing restaurant concepts and creating new menus. Initiatives—I work on new initiatives such as iPic Now [lifestyle programming produced by iPic and shown in theaters] and charitable giving projects. Collaboration—I get to collaborate with an amazing group of chefs, managers, contractors, architects and marketing teams.
CM: When are your Tuck Room gastro-lounges at iPic theaters opening, and what can customers expect to find there?
YARD: Our epic iPic Theaters open in Houston on Nov. 6, quickly followed by North Miami on Nov. 20. The Tuck Room is an exciting place to come as a destination, or to gather with friends before or after the movie. The décor is chic and fun. My menu offers social, shareable modern cuisine with skillfully crafted bespoke cocktails, and, of course, a thoughtfully curated wine list.
CM: Can you share some of your plans for the Helms Bakery in Los Angeles? What’s the projected opening date for that?
YARD: I am excited to report that we are opening the historic Helms Bakery in the spring of 2016. It will be a 10,000-square-foot Los Angeles eatery, featuring a full-service dinette serving breakfast and lunch, just-baked artisan breads and pastries, roasted coffee and pressed juices, a deli, a wood-burning oven and a rotisserie, providing sandwiches, salads, meats, cheeses and flatbreads. Products will be made with seasonal, local ingredients and lots of love.
CM: When you attend catered events, what do you like to see in the desserts and pastries served, and do you have any advice for caterers who want to make sure they’re impressing clients and guests with the desserts they’re serving at their events?
YARD: I love action stations where the pastry chefs are creating dishes à la minute.
CM: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your career as a pastry chef?