A Taste of French Pastries in New Mexico
August First on the Road is a new series where we’ll follow Jodi and Phil on their adventures beyond the bakery. Grab a snack and buckle up!
We hadn’t planned on spending two nights in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but the brakes on the old Grand Marshal (our vintage RV) started to squeak as we navigated the mountain pass in Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. It was time to play it safe and have some work done.
We didn’t know if she’d need to be admitted, so we grabbed an AirBnB in the charming, historic neighborhood of Mesilla. We had a delicious lunch and latte at Cafe de Mesilla, and chatted it up with the owner, Joyce. After we told her about August First, she said, “Oh, you have to go to Le Rendez-vous. Hands down, best bakery in the entire area, if not the whole state.”
Luckily for us, Le Rendez-vous was within walking distance of the repair shop where we took our camper. We had hours to kill while we waited for the prognosis, so we wandered over to the bakery for coffee and French pastries.
What Makes it So Special
Owners Thierry Marceaux and his wife Jung Sook moved to Las Cruces from New Orleans after they were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Thierry, originally from the French Alps, came from a family of chefs. He has a formal training in pastry, and moved to the United States in his early 20s. He settled in New Orleans and quickly rose in rank to become a well respected Executive Pastry Chef in a number of top organizations, including the four-star Fairmont Hotel, formerly and now known again as the Roosevelt.
Thierry’s training is unique. He has a perfect mix of familial influence, a formal French training, and years of working in hotels that employ international staff. As he pointed to his well-loved books of formulas, he explained that all of them are his, but carry inspiration from the many chefs he’s worked with over the years.
As we entered the bakery/cafe, which sits in a corner unit at a well-visited intersection in the west side of the city, I immediately noticed Jung Sook’s energy and attention as she packed boxes of pastries by the door. They were delicate, perfect, and beautiful. My eyes then caught the two large display coolers, which held dozens of sophisticated, authentic French pastries, including Paris-Brest and macarons. Phil couldn’t resist his favorite, the classic cinnamon roll. I went for the almond croissant and a lovely little apricot danish. They were, in fact, perfect. We learned later, as we hung out in the small bakery in the back with Thierry, that he makes all of his laminated dough by hand, mostly due to lack of space. This is not an easy task, especially when you consider the broad selection that his bakery provides and the time that these items demand.
Just when my dropped jaw returned to its proper position, I noticed the food menu. The lunch special of the day was a crawfish étouffée, and previous specials included bœuf bourguignon, pot-au-feu, and steak au poivre. When I was in my late teens, I worked as a server in a formal restaurant, where I prepared steak au poivre tableside. I also served the above dishes, as well as a variety of French pastries. I remember the precision and skill, the patience and time, and the top-quality ingredients it took to create a classic French menu. It’s something that is difficult, if not impossible, to find across America anymore.
Thierry and Jung Sook don’t have to go this far with their menu, but they do. And the people of Las Cruces are truly blessed to have them in their community. The local appreciation showed, as the dining room began to fill as the lunch hour approached.
We chatted with Thierry in the back for quite a while, and really enjoyed getting to know him. That’s one of the highlights of this trip for me: meeting people who love baking, are challenged by every aspect of the business, yet keep at it because it’s settled so deeply in their souls.
Thierry and his wife have the passion it takes to not just be restauranteurs, but incredibly successful ones. They have overcome so many challenges just to land in the spot they’re in. Katrina’s devastation took out everything they knew. Their home, their jobs, and their community were all lost and left behind. The resilience it takes to keep going, and to not just continue in this challenging business but to set the bar above the highest spot, is worthy of great respect.
Le Rendez-vous Cafe and French Pastry
2701 W. Picacho Ave., Suite 1, Las Cruces, New Mexico
Open 7:30am to 3:30pm, Tuesday through Saturday and 7:30am to 2:30pm, Sunday. Closed Monday.