Bernadette’s Take on
Denis Rosselet, Stephenville, Newfoundland
The Mystery Man
When Swiss hear the name La Brévine, everybody gets a chill.
The village La Brévine is supposed to be the coldest place in Switzerland. How cold? It can get minus 40 degrees Celsius in winter.
Denis Rosselet (66) was born in La Brévine which is a place in the Jura region of the canton Neuchatel.
You would think that somebody from such a cold place would end up in the Carib-bean or in Cuba. But no, Denis emigrated to Canada. To Newfoundland of all places.
The winters in Newfoundland can be really, really cold, with blizzards and whiteouts and yes, oh yes! – 40 below.
“That is why I came to Canada”, says Denis, “so I wouldn’t be too distressed!” Denis has a good sense of humour, as you can see.
He was 22, a freshly-baked pastry chef when he came to a Newfoundland town named Stephenville. The brother of his boss in Peseux near Neuchatel lived in Stephenville and had offered Denis a job.
At the Canadian embassy in Berne, where Denis got his visa, the official “was shocked when I told him that I am going to Newfoundland”, Denis recalls. “He looked at me as if I had ten heads.”
Well, well, well. What happened then?
Let’s make an UPC (Urgent Phone Call) to Denis Rosselet to find out how he fared on an island in the Northern Atlantic.
Denis, why on earth did a French speaking Swiss emigrate to Newfoundland and not to Québec?
I had a job in Stephenville, and my boss spoke French. He and his Canadian wife made me feel at home. I was lodging with them and I liked it. I did not speak English first but the local people were so nice, so welcoming.
Was Stephenville not very different from La Brévine or Peseux?
Oh yes, it was culture shock. The houses looked all the same to me, wooden frames and very colourful, not like in Europe. It was confusing at first, and I used to get lost in town.
When you started out, could you bake Swiss pastry in Stephenville?
The Canadian pastries were not as fancy as in Switzerland. The bread was completely different. We did not work a lot with chocolate, like in Switzerland, but I did not mind because working with chocolate is time-consuming and it can be tricky at times.
How come you are still in Newfoundland?
I bought my own bakery on Main Street, Danny’s Bake Shop. My Canadian wife and I started with one employee. We made bread and all kind of pastries, apple strudel, cinnamon rolls, French pastries like “millefeuille” which is actually a bestseller.
What about pralines, do Canadians like them?
No pralines for me, please! They are too time-consuming. My customers will not touch Swiss pastries like “diplomates” with rum either. They don`t like liquor in their pastries. I also tried canapés (open-faced sandwiches) with gelatine on top. One costumer asked me: “What – do you have shellac on top of them?” The Newfoundlanders are not adventurous when it comes to new stuff!
Why does your business thrive while other bakeries had to close?
Stephenville is the hub of several communities. We supply the corner stores in the area. I bake everything from scratch. The dough is always freshly made, nothing frozen. There are not additives in my products. And I have products that supermarkets don’t have. That is why I am still in business. I have 12 employees now. In 1997, I built a brand new larger bakery in the centre of Stephenville. My son and daughter work in the bakery, too.
Are you famous in Stephenville and area?
Sometimes people come to the Danny’s Bake Shop and ask: Is there really a Danny? And my employees say: Oh, yes, he is in the back. I am always in the kitchen so people usually don’t see me.
I don’t advertise whatsoever. It is all word-of-mouth.
I have read that your Napoleons are very sought after. What is it?
(laughs) I am actually sick of making Napoleons because I’ve made so many.
Napoleons are millefeuilles. (Crèmeschnitte for Swiss Germans).
Do you sell crusty bread like the bread in Switzerland?
It is very difficult to make crusty bread with the flour you get in Canada. The flour here is too rich and finer than in Switzerland. You cannot make a flaky croissant like in Switzerland either.
Most Canadians still want sliced bread. They are not used to crusty bread. I have to go with the flow.
What do you do when you visit La Brévine?
I eat frog legs, snails, röschti, leek, cheese and meat fondue. And I drink absinthe!
(P.S. Absinthe is a formerly banned spirit drink that is made with Artemisia Absinthium (wormwood) and other herbs.)