Best Self-Taught French Pastry Chef

Judy Contino at Bittersweet Bakery

Critics' Picks

The whole premise of Julia Child's cookbooks and TV shows was that anyone with a basic knowledge of the kitchen could master French cooking. But have you ever looked at Julia's croissant recipe? All that buttering and folding and rolling is enough to drive a sane person to culinary school. Judy Contino, however, was not intimidated by the art of French pastry—or by the insanity of a restaurant kitchen. She learned croissants (and cake and ganache) on the job at Ambria and Printer's Row and as the corporate pastry chef for Lettuce Entertain You before opening her own bakery, Bittersweet, in Lakeview. Her cakes have been known to inspire tears of joy—at a wedding, it’s true, of two people who are very much in love, but still—and her croissants, brioches, and breads are as fine as any in Paris. She has no fear of butter or sugar, or of anything else that makes a great pastry.