Joni Woolf: Bittersweet’s pastry chef, Kelli Taranto is the real thing

Published 11:30 pm Saturday, August 27, 2016

A visit with Kelli Taranto, the new pastry chef at Bittersweet (the delightful bistro/bookstore on Forsyth Street where the coffee is great, and so are the books) is a fine way to start a day. Lovely, enthusiastic, and a cheerleader for our city, Kelli brings style and substance to the world of sweets, from simple cookies to fabulous wedding cakes. Arriving in Americus earlier this year with her husband of nine years, Chris, emergency physician at Phoebe Sumter, Kelli has taken to Americus, as we say in the South. They live in the historic district, shop in town, and return to Atlanta only for visits with family. Seeking a smaller town to live in, and avoiding the commute required when one lives in the city, the Tarantos found Americus to be the perfect-sized town to start careers and make a place for themselves.
On a recent summer morning, Kelli was stirring early, about to move from interview to kitchen, where the real work begins. She didn’t start out to be a chef. But it found her when an unexpected opportunity appeared. She loved cooking, but hadn’t thought of it as a career. She had worked at several jobs, not finding her niche.
“My grandmother wanted me to be a traditional housewife,” she said, but that wasn’t where she was headed. She knew she wanted something different; she just hadn’t quite found it. Then she read about a cake decorating workshop at Michael’s. “It was starting the next day,” she said. She signed up for it, and “I was hooked.” She had found what she was looking for.
After the cake decorating workshop, she enrolled at Cordon Bleu in Atlanta, and trained there for a year and a half, then at the Cloister at Sea Island for three months.
“We had a great mix of instructors,” she said; she completed the course having made all A’s. “You learn a lot about yourself in that kind of setting,” Kelli confided. “I was fortunate to realize early on that this was my passion.” She was fortunate also to spend five years at the Ritz Carlton Buckhead, a career opportunity that prepared her any direction she chose.
Fortunately for us, Kelli and Chris chose Americus. And Kelli has become known to many of us as the pastry chef at Bittersweet. Her cookies and pastries are on display and for sale, and pair nicely with a cup of hot coffee and an easy chair. There are few ways better to spend a morning than reading the paper while nibbling a cookie made of white chocolate and blueberries. In addition to the work at Bittersweet, Kelli also prepares pastries of all kinds for events large and small — for four, or 40, or more. Wedding cakes are a specialty; she works with brides and grooms to give them something unique — and delicious — for that special day. Kelli’s pastries are not only beautiful. As one who has sampled at least half a dozen, I find it hard to recommend a favorite. The cookies are splendid, tasting nothing like those that come from a box at the grocery store. And the lemon tart has the perfect amount of lemon — tart, sweet, mouth-watering good.
Kelli shared the good news that Bittersweet is about to expand to offer a wider variety of “social services.” Owner Elena Albamonte, whose law office is next door, is moving across the street to free up the space adjacent to Bittersweet for parties of all kinds — especially tea parties featuring pastries. This will provide even more opportunities for Kelli to work her magic with delectable desserts — bringing even more folks downtown to enjoy all the good things that are happening here. (Speaking of tea parties: I worked last Saturday in Calvary’s Mustard Seed House, where a father came in with his daughter to shop for a nice cup and saucer. She had been invited to a Jane Austen party and was asked to bring her own teacup. Now there’s an idea for Kelli and the folks at Bittersweet: a Jane Austen Party, or perhaps a “Pride and Prejudice” Party. I can envision all sorts of directions this idea might take!)

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at