Dalton native Amanda Perreault grew up as the youngest of three kids, and she could see her mother worked hard. So she offered some help in the kitchen.
"My older sisters were not cooks in any way, so I had to take that on," Perreault said. She would test out dinner ideas in her home economics class before repeating them later for her family — and that made her mother happy.
"I think that's why I like to cook — to see how much it pleased her," Perreault said. "My favorite was always the dessert."
Now 37, Perreault gets to make her favorite part of the meal all the time as the executive pastry chef for the Southfield Store and the Old Inn on the Green, sister businesses in New Marlborough owned by Peter Platt and Meredith Kennard.
Perreault started working in the Southfield Store's bakeshop about 13 years ago. She began her culinary career cooking savory items, but as a vegetarian, it didn't completely make sense to be dealing in burgers and steaks all day, she said. When Perreault had a chance to work with the Old Inn on the Green's former executive pastry chef, Shirl Gard, she took it.
Except for a two-year period as pastry chef for Chocolate Springs Cafe in Lenox, Perreault stayed. Gard has since retired, and Perreault now oversees the same bakeshop where she first learned to make laminated dough for things like puff pastries and croissants.
"It's something I still do — I love the transformation of it in the oven," she said.
In general, Perreault said she likes to make classic desserts, and to make them perfectly. This is perhaps another inspiration from her childhood — in addition to cooking for her mother, Perreault grew up baking cakes with her grandmothers in Dalton and North Adams.
Perreault still uses her grandmother's rustic apple cake recipe in the bakeshop, today. Other items served at the Southfield Store and the Old Inn on the Green cater to the businesses' local, loyal patronage.
"A lot of people that come here have been coming for years, and they have favorites," Perreault said. Giant cookies, chocolate croissants and apple danishes, for example, lined the Southfield Store counter on a recent Saturday.
Perreault does encourage customers to try something new by creating classic desserts with small twists. How about a milk chocolate ganache tart flavored with jasmine tea? Or a key lime tart topped with blueberries, candied citrus and "disco dust" edible glitter?
"The little nuances, they make something kind of go from basic to more elegant," Perreault said. "Our desserts have gotten more elegant as time goes on."
However elegant or simple, Perreault said, everything baked in her kitchen is made from scratch using the best ingredients, ingredients like the "super fatty and tasty" Plugr European butter.
Whenever possible, the bakeshop also uses local ingredients, such as milk from Highlawn Farm in Lee and fresh fruit from nearby orchards. One of Perreault's cheesecake recipes calls for ch vre, or goat cheese, from Rawson Brook Farm in Monterey.
Perreault has just two staff members to help her, but she said she likes to stay involved and continue to make things.
Together, with pastry chef Cynthia Walton and pastry cook Jordan Miller, Perreault bakes pastries, desserts and granola for the Southfield Store, the Old Inn on the Green and wholesale customers around the county. She also makes Shirl's Gelato for both humans and dogs, prepares Southfield Store retail items like pancake mix and mason jars filled with cookie ingredients, and helps owner and chef Platt cater weddings, events and, over the summer, Jacob's Pillow.
"It's hectic, but we love the challenge," Perreault said. "We do so many different things, and that's what kind of keeps me here and keeps me excited to come to work every day."
That, and perhaps a joy for cooking that started when Perreault was a child who wanted to help her busy mother. Perreault said her mother now lives in South Carolina, but she does return once a year to the Berkshires and she always makes it to the Southfield Store. There, she can sit at a simple wooden table in the warm, light-soaked cafe, smell the buttery scent of baking pastries from the nearby kitchen and enjoy some more of her daughter's cooking.
"She loves it," Perreault said.