Mastering the Croissant
Saturday was the Fete du Croissant in Montreal, the day when artisan bakers across the island sell their hand-crafted buttery delicacies for a special price. But you don’t have to go that far for an artisanal pastry. Right Samy Roux is perfecting his baking skills here in Stanstead at the local fine bakery.
here, in Stanstead, you can find some rather top-notch croissants, thanks in part to a ‘companionship movement’ that began in France in the Middle Ages: Les Compagnons du Devoir.
For centuries, this movement has provided free and thorough training to young, dedicated French citizens to learn skill trades such as carpentry, blacksmithing, and fine baking through apprenticeships, travel and community life. Last year, the Compagnons du Devoir movement ventured out of France for the first time, coming to Quebec to launch the ‘Campagnonnage made in Quebec’ project with three carefully selected, young Quebec bakers.
Samy Roux is one of those bakers and he is presently working at the local fine bread and pastry shop, Les Vraies Richesses, where he is perfecting his culinary prowess creating ‘viennoiserie’ which, in its simplest form, is the croissant. He recently spoke with the Stanstead Journal about being one of the first Quebecers to be trained as an elite Compagnon du Devoir.
“Les Compagnons du Devoir was really the first known union. It was even outlawed for many years by the King of France because it became too powerful. It started for the construction trades when the cathedrals were being built in France, and then it was opened to other trades in the 1800’s, trades where people transform some kind of material with their hands,” explained Mr. Roux after a busy morning of baking.
“The artisanal baking industry is in full expansion right now in Quebec. It’s hard to find fine bakers, especially in the regions,” continued Samy. The ‘Campagnonnage made in Quebec’ project was initiated to answer the need for more artisan bakers of the highest caliber in Quebec and to give young Quebecers the chance to develop professionally, socially and culturally through their profession and by travelling to different regions.
As part of his ‘Compagnon’ training, Samy has spent time in Baie Saint Paul, working and learning at a fine bakery in that tourist town, and he has also spent some time in France. “We all went to France to live in the Maison du Compagnon, to see how it works in France. We lived in dorms together there, we all ate together,” he explained. “We learnt about the importance of etiquette, cleanliness…it was training of the more human side. And we got to see the real ‘esprit de campagnonnage’, the sharing and the transmission of knowledge.”
Once Samy’s apprenticeship is over in Stanstead, not for several more months as he plans to help with the transition period while the bakery expands to Sherbrooke, he will move on to a fine bakery in Cowansville, and then on to another in Trois Rivieres. “I’m also supposed to do a stage in an English province, to learn better English and to learn about bread-making in that culture,” said the young baker.
Samy is already seeing the benefits of the ‘Compagnons’ experience. “I’ve been learning how to use different kinds of equipment, and I’ve discovered different regions and how people live in those regions. It makes us more open-minded, gives us an ‘ouverture d’esprit’. We have to adapt to each place.”
After Mr. Roux’s Compagnons du Devoir training, which lasts about three years, has been completed, he will be tested before being accepted into the prestigious group. “I will have to take an exam,
make bread and pastries. If I pass I’ll get a special belt and a cane to symbolize the travelling which was part of the training. I’ll also get a nickname that will reflect where I come from and my personality. It will be a name that I’ll keep for life, and when I’m with other Compagnons, they’ll know me by my nickname.”
Enjoying his time in Stanstead, Samy described the town as “unique, with interesting, New Englandstyle architecture”. “It’s very different here from Montreal – there is so much wildlife like deer and birds. When I get up at 4:00 in the morning to go to work, I see a lot of birds,” concluded Samy Roux, who may one day be the first Canadian-made ‘Compagnon du Devoir’.
Samy Roux, one of the first three bakers to enter into ‘Compagnons du Devoir’ training in Quebec, making buttery dough for the ‘viennoiserie’.