‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’ is a saying that is particularly true of West Cork, which has a way of often drawing people down unexpected life paths!
For Linda Shaw-Hamilton and Sebastian (Seb) Carava of La Creperie, when they moved their family from Brittany to West Cork 16 years ago, they never anticipated the direction that life would draw them in here.
“We actually had always dreamed of working as craftspeople, ever since before we met, me in pottery and Seb in woodwork, but that never happened,” explains Linda “not yet anyway!”
While La Creperie started off in 2019 from a small stall at Skibbereen market, before expanding to Bantry and then Clonakilty; two years ago the couple left their jobs to become fulltime market traders. Today their popular food van, renovated by Seb during lockdown, is always conspicuous for the long line of people queueing for their tasty crepes and galettes.
The recipe that West Cork customers enjoy today travelled with the couple from France, from the quaint little crêperie where Linda worked, in a little mountain village of 170 habitants in Brittany.
Crêpes and galettes are a big part of the culinary tradition in Brittany. Every village has at least one crêperie and most households would have a crêpe machine – a ‘billig’ in the Breton language.
“Different areas have different styles and where we lived the crepes were made particularly thin,” shares Linda. “Actually that’s the big difference between crepes and pancakes, crepes and galettes are made very big, like 40cm in diameter but very thin, so they cook really quickly on the extremely hot bililg and are then folded over a few times.”
She explains that galettes are made from buckwheat flour, which the couple stock up on on trips to visit friends in France.
“The buckwheat flour we use in our galettes (buckwheat savoury crêpes) is one we can’t get here. It’s grown and milled on an organic farm in Brittany and the quality is excellent; it’s non-refined and so very flavoursome and nutritious.
“At the beginning not that many people knew what a galette was, but they have become increasingly popular.”
There are now eight savoury options on buckwheat galettes and 10 sweet crêpe options on the menu. Wheat and dairy intolerances and vegans are also catered for. Linda and Seb use mainly fairtrade and organic and source as much of their ingredients as possible locally with the eggs, mushrooms, ham, vegan cheese and fresh greens all bought from the market.
When they first moved back with their two daughters to West Cork in 2007 to be closer to Linda’s granny, the plan was to stay for a year. Although nostalgic at times for France, West Cork is now most definitely home for the couple who first met in the summer of 1995 when they were in their early twenties in a little pub in Plouyé, a very small village of Brittany, run by an eccentric and interesting Welsh man, where Linda was the barmaid.
While Linda has worked on and off in kitchens since her teenage years, including Adele’s in Schull and Hudson’s in Ballydehob and her local crêperie in France, Seb’s love of food started with his grandparents, who were from the Breton-speaking part of Brittany. Family dinners were always hours around the table – eight hours on Christmas day – enjoying multiple courses. “It was like a medieval feast and one I always looked forward to,” shares Seb.
“We would start with seafood platters including cray fish, full crab, periwinkles and clams, then move on to diverse raw vegetables followed by cold meats and a charcuterie board, followed by the main dish, a big roast, varying between beef, lamb, chicken, pheasant and venison. After the main dish we would have lettuce and cheese and then finally, the dessert.”
Seb’s family on his father’s side were originally from Sicily but lived in Tunisia for three generations amongst a Sicilian community, before arriving in France in 1964. A large family, it wasn’t uncommon to have 25 sitting around the dinner table on many family occasions, enjoying mediterranean cuisine.
“More feasts,” laughs Seb “a mixture of Italian and Arabic, all sorts of pasta dishes, couscous, tagine, octopus and so on.”
Unsurprisingly he gets passionate when talking about food “My friends in Ireland tease me about this but in France it’s quite normal!” he laughs.
For both Linda and Seb, the ease of conversation and chats they share with their customers, and getting to know them over the years, is what makes their work so satisfying and interesting.
“We love the little chitchats we have with the young and older generations,” they share. “You meet people from all walks of life and we really enjoy the connections we have with customers while we’re cooking for them.”
Linda’s grandparents, the Sheppards, were from Schull and had a farm in Skibbereen before Linda was born. “I love it when local people visiting the stall share their childhood memories of my grandad when he used to deliver the milk from house to house out of the churn!” she says.
“For many years I often felt homesick,” shares Seb. “But last year for the first time in 15 years I realised that I would find it really difficult to go back to live in France. I like the mixture of people in West Cork and I find it’s generally easy to start a conversation with an Irish person whether you are at the pub counter or queuing at the supermarket till. There is a very strong sense of community here where everyone is looking out for each other.”
The crêperie has been a real plus in both their lives and Linda and Seb enjoy working together…prepping and all the other behind-the-scene stuff that goes with running a busy market food stall and the fun part, cooking and meeting people at the markets. “The flow is easy…Mostly” they laugh.
You can catch La Creperie at Clonakilty Market every Friday and Skibbereen Market on Saturdays.