Berkshire Mountain cafe weathers the winter

Turkey on fresh sourdough bread with sharp cheddar and raspberry jam. Peppery potato chips. Chocolate eclairs with custard and whipped cream …

On Elm Street, around the corner from downtown, chef Aura Whitman and Berkshire Mountain Bakery have teamed up to create one of the few rare places around here where you can get a hot meatloaf sandwich on fresh sourdough bread at 7 p.m. on a week night, with a homemade tangy sauce, and sit casually for an hour, reading a book over coffee.

Richard Bourdon has run the Berkshire Mountain Bakery in Housatonic since 1986, and has made a name for himself far beyond the old brick paper mill where he makes his headquarters. (Bon Appetit named Berkshire Mountain among its top 10 bakeries in the country in 2011.) He expanded into Pittsfield several years ago and approached chef Aura Whitman to work with him in 2018.

“I’m very excited to be here,” she said, taking a short break on a sunny morning. “People have been asking for the last couple of years if I would do this again.”

Whitman ran a longtime Pittsfield gathering place, Café Reva, on Tyler Street for more than a decade. In a quiet space away from the main street, under an unassuming sign, locals would gather for fresh hot soup and omelettes and plate-sized pancakes by the
sunny windows.

She moved from there to become chef of her own nAtURAlly catering at Berkshire Organics, while Berkshire Organics ran their own co-op market space, and when Berkshire Organics closed their retain space to focus on a website and delivery model, Bourdon came to her with an idea.

She has known Bourdon for 20 years, she said, and has served his breads and baked goods in all her ventures.

“Richard is just an amazing baker and an amazing person,” she said, “so solid in his beliefs and what he’s doing … It’s who he is in his core. He’s so humble, and he loves talking to people. He’ll stop whatever he’s doing to talk about bread.”

Berkshire Mountain Bakery serves pizza with local and fresh toppings at its Pittsfield cafe.
Photo by Kate Abbott

Berkshire Mountain Bakery serves pizza with local and fresh toppings at its Pittsfield cafe.

She met him in 1998 as chef at Seven Hills, she said, serving his bread and rolls, and in nAtURAlly catering she has turned to him for flatbreads and bread for sandwiches, croissants, brioche.

She values his approach to food, she says, his attention to the ways people choose to eat — and the way he chooses to cook. Like her, he cares about high-quality ingredients and the knowledge and skill in preparing them.

“I’m always that extra-step person,” she said. “You can use tomatoes for sauces and peaches for jam.”

‘I’m always that extra-step person … You can use tomatoes for sauces and peaches for jam …’ — Aura Whitman

But the taste of the tomatoes or the peaches will matter. Make a BLT with local tomatoes and poor-quality bacon and it’s not going to taste good, she said. She cares about all of the details. She makes her own condiments too, and she serves organic ketchup.

And people notice, she said. She has heard from a lot of people through the years. And they keep on coming back for more. She is bringing old favorites from Cafe Reva to Elm Street, savory dishes, specials and sauces.

They are keeping all the highlights from Berkshire Mountain Bakery, she says, especially the pizza specials, and she is playing with huevos rancheros, polenta with poached portabello mushrooms, breakfast club sandwiches.

The maple syrup comes from her family’s trees, she said, to go with the stuffed French toast she makes with Bourdon’s sourdough chocolate bread, and the cherry pecan French toast with goat cheese and honey.

She is working with local farms, she says, for greens and meats and cheeses, bacon and sausage, and eggs, even local duck eggs. And Bourdon has plans to grow vegetables and herbs on his own land.

She also carefully revives and reuses everything she can. Bread or croissants can become croutons. Leftovers turn into soup stock. A few remnants get fed to local pigs.

Along with the menu, they have expanded their space into a new seating area.
“We didn’t close for the expansion,” she said, “so regulars have seen it as we built it.”

Bourdon made the tables with wood from his own property, she said. And then they went looking for comfortable chairs.

A short section of this interview first ran in Berkshire Magazine in fall 2018. My thanks to editor Anastasia Stanmeyer.

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