Carl Charrette is the first cook-baker at Valentine Dining Hall. He has used his tremendous creativity and lifelong baking skills to create a new line of vegan desserts and help Val transition to making desserts from scratch, much to students’ enjoyment. Before coming to Amherst, Carl pursued his passion for baking by owning his own pastry shop and working at high-end resorts and restaurants.
Q: How did you become a pastry chef?
A: I did an apprentice program at the Balsams Grand Resort hotel, up in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. It was a four star grand resort hotel. That's where I started. I found out about the Balsams apprentice program and it just intrigued me working at a massive resort that sat on 15,000 acres of land. I ended up staying there for five years. In that time, I got promoted to head baker. I worked under the pastry chef, and we’re still friends to this day.
Q: How did you end up working at Amherst?
A: I bopped all over the place working in big resorts until I came back to Easthampton, Massachusetts, where I grew up. I started my own pastry shop, called Sunrise Pastry Shop, and had that for 15 years. I went over and worked at Smith College for a year [before] I found out about the position at Amherst. I have worked here for six years now.
Q: What’s your favorite part about working at Amherst?
A: Joe [Flueckiger, the director of Dining Services,] pretty much lets me do what I want. When I started here, they didn't really have a nice vegan or gluten-free line. So I’ve been able to create those. The recipes are just in my head, I just like creating stuff. I don’t go on a computer, I don’t go on YouTube. I make my own recipes. I know ratios, what to what, how much water, how much yeast, blah blah blah. I just like creating stuff.
Q: What inspired your passion for creating vegan desserts?
A: Over time, I said [to myself], “How come someone can come in and get a beautiful chocolate cake, but the person who’s vegan cannot? If these people are standing together, the one who is vegan is watching somebody grab a beautiful piece of chocolate cake or a beautiful blueberry muffin that they can’t have. How come they can’t get that?” So that’s kind of been my stride over the past couple of years. If it’s upside down pineapple cake, it’s vegan upside down pineapple cake. So the vegan person who comes up gets basically the same product — and we get a lot of compliments for that! Our vegan/gluten-free muffins are very popular. The other day someone tried a vegan blueberry muffin and said it was out of this world, and I said I just wanted to let you know it is vegan and gluten-free. People are shocked when I tell them that, because usually people have the perception that if it’s vegan or gluten-free, it's not going to be that good.
Q: What is the biggest challenge that you face in your day-to-day job?
A: It’s harder for us now in the bakery because we do so much from scratch. Over time, I have kept creating desserts more and more from scratch, whereas we used to use a lot of box mixes. So it’s a little more of a challenge, but as long as we stay organized, neat, clean, and work together as a team, we can handle it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s the students who benefit from it. I consider a student to be a customer. Like, you have a pastry shop, they’re coming in to buy your product, and that’s the way I view my work here. So if my students are dissatisfied, I would rather have somebody come down [to the bakery] and say, “Hey, Carl, I didn't really like that.” I would change it because they’re customers.