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5 Chicago pastry chefs you should know right this second

It’s a sweet time to be in Chicago: Meet the local pastry chefs who are baking a difference.

Photograph: Courtesy Virgin Hotels
By Ariel Cheung |
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This might be a meat-and-potatoes town, but Chicagoans know how to appreciate the sweet things in life, too. These days, the city's most talented pastry chefs aren't confined to the best bakeries in Chicago; they're creating wow-worthy desserts at the best restaurants in Chicago. These five local pastry chefs have caught our attention (and satisfied our sweet tooth) with stunning cakes and tarts, stacked pies and seriously addictive cookies. When you see one of these pastry chefs in the kitchen, make sure you save room for dessert.

5 Chicago pastry chefs you should know

Photographs: Alexa Bendek/Isabela Von Watcher
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Nicole Guini at Blackbird

West Loop

Shiitake mushrooms and squash may seem unlikely bedfellows for dessert, but Guini thinks they’re ideal matches for roasted hazelnuts and baking spices. Named Pastry Chef of the Year at the 2019 Jean Banchet Awards, Guini specializes in surprising end-of-the-night treats that raise eyebrows and delight taste buds. Her keen eye for seasonal ingredients means there’s always something peculiar happening in her corner of the kitchen, and Blackbird’s new Reserve menu changes every night on a whim and gives her even more room to play.

Try this: No matter the season, Guini almost always features a marshmallowy, meringue-based pavlova on Blackbird’s menu, and her most recent olive-oil iteration is topped with garden-herb–infused sorbet.

Photographs: Courtesy Virgin Hotels
Bars, Cocktail bars

Juan Gutierrez at The Commons Club

Loop

Gutierrez made a splash in the pastry scene a few years ago, when he overhauled Longman & Eagle’s sweets menu by introducing diners to peppermint ice cream bars and creamy cashew cheesecake. Earlier this year, he shimmied over to Virgin Hotels’ Commons Club, where his Colombian upbringing inspires whimsical desserts that use ingredients like plantains, corn-flavored ice cream and smoked vanilla. With a special focus on vegan and gluten-free goodies, Gutierrez is making sure there’s something for everyone on his menu.

Try this: A coil of chocolate crémeux is adorned with almond cake and streusel, then topped with amaretto ice cream for a rich mélange of flavors in Gutierrez’s chocolate dessert, which just so happens to be vegan.

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Photographs: Courtesy Fat Rice/Jack X. Li
Restaurants, Bakeries

Ashley Robinson at The Bakery & Cafe at Fat Rice

Logan Square

Snagging a last-minute reservation at Abe Conlon’s Fat Rice in Logan Square is no easy task, but dining at the restaurant’s next-door café is a breeze. Under the watchful eye of pastry chef Robinson, the bakery’s expanded offerings are more delicious and plentiful than ever before. In celebration of the Chinese-Portuguese-Malaysian melting pot that is Macanese cuisine, Robinson has rolled out a menu of fascinating additions, including a plate-sized maki roll and a bun stuffed with everything-bagel seasoning, smoked salmon and pickles.

Try this: The Portuguese egg tart is the heart and soul
of the bakery, but keep an eye out for a Kaya toast–inspired sticky bun drizzled with soy-sauce caramel.

Photographs: Michael Muser/Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants

Bobby Schaffer at Lost Larson

Andersonville

Bobby Schaffer didn’t set out to open a bakery so focused on Scandinavian desserts, but when he found a home for Lost Larson in Andersonville, fate intervened. Just over a year later, the former Grace pastry chef has not ceased to amaze both epicureans and neighborhood regulars with flawless cardamon-tinged chocolate croissant, lingonberry-almond cake and hearty breads made with grains milled in-house.

Try this: Schaffer’s elevated interpretation of Swedish princess cake is pure perfection, with delicate layers of vanilla sponge cake, raspberry jam and pastry cream covered in a blanket of mint-green marzipan.

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Photographs: Rachel Bires
Restaurants

Aya Fukai at Aya Pastry

River West/West Town

Armed with a fine-dining background and stints at RIA and Sixteen, Fukai took her talents wholesale in 2018, adding exclamation points to the menus at etta, Tempesta Market and All Together Now. Fans of Fukai’s pristine pastry work can now shop a selection of macarons, pies and cakes at her West Town storefront, which is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 8am to 1pm (keep an eye out for extended hours early next year).

Try this: Fashioned after Fukai’s favorite Girl Scout cookie, the Samoa cake is crafted with rich chocolate and brown sugar before it’s frosted with dulce de leche buttercream and dipped in toasted coconut for a decadent treat that proves irresistible—scout’s honor.

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