Fréderic Vaucamps–born in France in 1963– began his apprenticeship as pastry chef at the age of 14. Fred–as he is affectionally called–is a self-made entrepreneur who developed his knowledge through practice, experimentation, successes, and also failures. In 1982, he and his brother opened a pastry shop that was a complete disappointment.
But as often happens with great men, he was not discouraged and continued his personal and professional journey, which has turned him into a modern exponent of the very high standards of creativity and quality characteristic of French haute pâtisserie.
In 1985, Fred discovered in his book collection some confections that left him completely stunned and captivated: the Merveilleux, a traditional recipe from northern France and Flanders, consisting of meringue covered with whipped cream.
These sweets had been part of France’s sophisticated tradition since the late 18th century, at the time of the Directory, the period that followed the terror of the French Revolution. Under this new regime, high society regained its splendor. Famous women such as Madame Tallien and Madame Recamier opened their “salons” as meeting places for the nouvelle elegance: The Incroyables and Merveilleuses (The Incredibles and Wonderful).
The Incroyables were young gentlemen of effeminate manners, whose only concern was the pursuit of pleasure. Meanwhile the ladies or Merveilleuses followed fashion canons that scandalized all Paris, as they wore dresses made of silk and transparent chiffon that resembled the garments of ancient Greek and Roman women.
Frédéric Vaucamps returns the fun and fantasy of the Incroyables and the Merveilleuses to their former glory with subtle improvements. The kramiek— a Flemish word for a small brioche bread filled with raisins— first appeared around 1830 in Wallonia and Flanders. In the hands of this sublime baker, these sweet become ephemeral illusions or small works of art, enhanced with different flavors and a touch of fantasy.
Fifteen years after his initial failure, Fred opened his first store in the French city of Lille, where he improved the recipe for Merveilleux with a meringue covered with whipped cream and dark chocolate chips that melt in the mouth.
His fame has since grown with unique creations of different Merveilleux, such as L’Incroyable, L’Impensable, Le Merveilleux, Le Magnifique, Le sans Culotte and L’Excentrique, as well as his delicious brioches, Les Cramiques: Grape, Chocolat and Sugar.
These unique sweets masterfully combine ingredients as appetizing as merengue, handmade cookies, whipped cream, white chocolate, coffee cream, chocolate chips, almonds, hazelnuts, praline, caramel, crystallized cherry and many more.
At present, there is a second Aux Merveilleux pastry shop in Lille and one in Knokke, Belgium. In 2008 he opened another in Paris and since then, four more stores have made their debut while others are in the process of opening both in France and abroad.
Their latest store is located in New York City (37 8th Ave), where the Merveilleux–made in front of the public–deliver a unique visual and olfactory experience. ■