Food & Wine Best New Chefs 2022: Emily Riddell

At Machine Shop in Philadelphia, this pastry savant is making her mark with shatteringly perfect croissants, dramatic baked goods, and a commitment to work-life balance.


There are few perfect croissants in the world, yet I found one in Philadelphia at Machine Shop, the boulangerie and bakery run by pastry chef Emily Riddell. As I sliced through the golden pastry at its most bulbous point, flaky shards flew in every direction, a hurricane of crisped dough shattering across the table. The cross section revealed dramatically spacious air pockets, with enough lift between the tender layers that one could almost mistake each bubble for a cozy studio apartment.

Riddell is a lamination savant, who can predict exactly how butter is going to react with flour at any given point. For evidence, just take a peek inside the pastry case that anchors the bakery, where a deeply savory shakshuka-inspired Danish laced with pepper jam gently coddles a soft-cooked egg, and a supremely flaky spicy-greens croissant is skirted with melted cheese — Riddell's vegetarian-friendly answer to a classic ham-and-cheese croissant. (Riddell herself is vegetarian.) There's the chewy, spicy ginger cookie crafted from three forms of ginger (ginger juice, ground ginger, and crystallized ginger) and a lemon tart made with a tangy white chocolate–spiked cream, graced with a sharp swoop of torched Italian meringue. Behind the counter, the back shelf displays loaves of bouncy onion focaccia and generously seeded loaves of rye, in case you need a few more carbohydrates to take home.

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Riddell spent over a year planning out Machine Shop as she worked as a pastry chef at Barberet Bistro & Bakery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, following stints working in California, for prolific restaurateur Stephen Starr, and at Philadelphia's (now-shuttered) legendary French restaurant Le Bec-Fin, where she pumped out desserts for five years. Machine Shop started in 2017 as a wholesale venture, with Riddell and her former business partner Katie Lynch baking hundreds of loaves of breads, cookies, and laminated pastries for about 40 restaurants. They operated out of a compact 720-square-foot space in a former classroom in the Bok Building, an old vocational high school that has been transformed into a home for artisans and entrepreneurs. (The bakery space used to be located in the school's machine shop, hence the name.)

The partners' wholesale business was quickly gaining steam, but that came to a sudden halt in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic set in. "I left on Saturday afternoon because I was off Sunday," recalls Riddell. "We had all of our orders when I left, and then we had zero by the time Sunday night rolled around." So they quickly pivoted the business, first to a delivery-only model and then to a pop-up serving the general public, the latter proving to be wildly popular.

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Riddell has since moved Machine Shop into a charming but bare-bones industrial space on the Bok Building's first floor, which is nearly double the size of the original location. She turned to her favorite tattoo studio to do the branding for the bakery, and the striking minimalist wooden counter that anchors the room was designed by a furniture maker who happened to have his workshop right next to Machine Shop's former space. For now, the wholesale business is on pause as Riddell ramps up the offerings at the bakery — she has plans to launch a chocolate program next — while she also remains adamant about maintaining a four-day-a-week work schedule.

Before the pandemic, Machine Shop's wholesale business required working 363 days out of the year, says Riddell. "I would get calls at 2 a.m. because someone didn't show or something broke. The only people who should be getting calls at 2 a.m. are doctors because someone's life is on the line." She is determined not to re-create that system. "I want everyone to have a lifestyle that they're happy with," she says. "I don't think that work should take over your whole life. It's my passion, and it's what I spend all of my time doing — but that's my choice."

Machine Shop, 1901 S 9th St, Philadelphia, PA,

Meet all of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs 2022: Warda Bouguettaya | Damarr Brown | Ana Castro | Calvin Eng | Tim Flores and Genie Kwon | Melissa Miranda | Justin Pichetrungsi | Emily Riddell | Rob Rubba | Caroline Schiff

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