A taste of France in Fargo: Couple chooses Midwest over Europe, opens cafe in downtown
FARGO — With his dark rimmed glasses, slightly tousled hair and neatly trimmed beard, Benoit Decormeille could easily be mistaken as just another hip 30-something if you saw him walking around downtown.
But as soon as he speaks, his charming French accent lets you know he's not from North Dakota originally. Then watch him in the kitchen of Cafe Amaury in The Red Silo, meticulously crafting delicious French crêpes and other culinary delights.
No, he's not from North Dakota.
Ben, 35, and his wife, Marcela, 41, were born in countries far from here but realized after marrying that they didn't want to raise a family amid the chaos and crime of a big city.
So to Fargo they came.
A meeting of the minds
Their story starts in Berlin, Germany, where they met — Marcela was teaching as a small college and he was working on a master's degree in education. Marcela had grown up in the Czech Republic when the Iron Curtain was falling in the late 1980s. As a teenager, she was sponsored by a foundation to attend private school in the United States, and she ended up in Vermont. Benoit, or Ben, grew up in France cooking with his grandmother.
"I learned everything because of my grandma," he says. In Berlin, he worked for a French chef as they catered various events with a guest list that included movie stars, politicians and business leaders among the thousands of attendees.
"Every day was different, but it was hard," he says.
Six years ago, the two met in a Spanish bar in a trendy Berlin neighborhood to watch flamenco dancing.
Even before their son, Johnny, was born two and a half years ago in Berlin, Ben and Marcela knew their time in Europe was limited. They'd been watching the first season of the television series "Fargo" when it occurred to them that this Midwestern city might be just what they were seeking.
When she'd been living in the states as a teen, Marcela recalls a road trip that led her from Boston to Seattle through South Dakota, and she says she remembers the state as "mesmerizing".
"To me, it's never been boring," she says of living in North Dakota. Marcela secured a position as a professor in the history department at NDSU, which she started in January 2016. She and Johnny lived in Fargo that spring while Ben finished his master's degree before joining his family in August 2016.
An opportunity presents itself
Ben taught French classes at NDSU, but he wanted to make sure he maintained a flexible schedule so he and Marcela could continue to take care of Johnny without sending him to daycare.
His culinary background earned him an invitation to the Red River Market to make sweet French crêpes, but Ben says people often inquired about savory options as well. The crêpes were such a hit at the market that last fall, Red Silo owner Bobbi Jo Cody invited Ben to open a cafe inside their store.
Just weeks later, Cafe Amaury - which is a French man's name and their son's middle name - opened in December and Ben has been making French specialties like crêpes, croque monsieur, croque madame and more. The challenge has been finding the right balance of French ingredients to suit American tastes. The ham and cheese crêpes with crème fraiche has been a hit, he and Marcela say.
Another challenge has been locating the high-quality ingredients Ben prefers to cook with, like organic flour and eggs, which he gets from Doubting Thomas Farms in Moorhead. He gets the majority of his vegetables from Prairie Roots Food Co-Op.
"I want to use very good products," Ben says. "I may make less profit, but I want high-quality ingredients."
Co-owner Todd Cody can attest to that important aspiration. "The customers love (his food), and he cares deeply about the quality of what he's using. (Cafe Amaury) has been a great addition for our store," Cody says.
Making Fargo home
Ben and Marcela are still getting to know their new city, but they've found much to enjoy about the metro.
"I love the downtown area," Marcela says. "The parks and trail along the river are great."
Ben noted the people.
"People here are very friendly," he says. Marcela says they've enjoyed meeting their neighbors and making new friends for the first time in several years.
Ben also noted the freedom here. "In Europe, there are laws and rules against this and that," he says.
They both love the wide open spaces. Marcela specifically noted nearby Buffalo River State Park and how beautiful it is, saying the emptiness just adds to the beauty. She says on a drive to Jamestown, they were "transfixed by the emptiness" of it.
"We're proud of living here," she says.
"Fargo has everything," Ben says. "It's small, but it has everything."
If You Go
What: Cafe Amaury inside The Red Silo, 12 Broadway N., Fargo
When: 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday