Street SEN­SA­TIONS

Sell­ing falafels from a mo­bile food van in a coun­try that prides it­self on its cui­sine was a risky move, but it has paid div­i­dends for Deb­bie Hewitt and her hus­band Andy Read, as Sue Bradley dis­cov­ers

Living France - - Lifestyle -

From prom­i­nent cit­i­zens in a Bri­tish town of 16,500 peo­ple to English new­com­ers in a French agri­cul­tural ham­let with a pop­u­la­tion of 10, Andy Read and Deb­bie Hewitt knew life would be dif­fer­ent in their new home across the Chan­nel. Lit­tle did they imag­ine that within two years of mov­ing to La Chapelle-Bâ­ton, in the Poitou-Char­entes re­gion, they would be pro­duc­ing food that would be wel­comed lo­cally and lauded in Paris.

But that’s ex­actly what hap­pened af­ter Deb­bie started mak­ing falafels us­ing chick­peas grown on a nearby farm and sell­ing them at mar­kets, fes­ti­vals and pri­vate func­tions.

In the space of just a few months, she and Andy were in­vited to take their ‘Pois Chic’ spicy Middle East­ern-style snacks to the French cap­i­tal to join 15 other busi­nesses at the Street Food In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val 2015.

What makes Andy and Deb­bie’s story all the more re­mark­able is that nei­ther had pre­vi­ously run a cater­ing busi­ness while liv­ing in the UK.

In fact Andy, a free­lance jour­nal­ist, lo­cal politi­cian and for­mer mayor of Stroud in Glouces­ter­shire, and for­mer school teacher Deb­bie, moved to France with­out any plans as to how they would earn a liv­ing.

“We were, what you might call, ‘com­fort­ably mid­dleaged’,” laughs Andy, 46. “We had lots of friends and lived in a nice house in a lovely town and could have very eas­ily stayed there for­ever.”

Yet while life was good, both Andy and Deb­bie had a gnaw­ing feel­ing that there was some­thing else out there.

“We felt we were still young enough to start a new busi­ness: we were 44 and 46 at the time and thought that if we left it an­other five years, we might be too old to start think­ing about putting felt on roofs and that sort of thing,” says Deb­bie, who is now 49.

“Both of us thought there was at least one more chal­lenge in us; we wanted to step out of our com­fort zone and see if we could make a new life.”

One ad­van­tage they had was Deb­bie’s pre­vi­ous ca­reer teach­ing Ger­man and French, some­thing that would stand them in good stead as they be­gan to meet their neigh­bours and adapt to the day-to-day re­al­i­ties of life in France.

“Deb­bie could speak a good level of French and this was great to get us started. My knowl­edge of French was no bet­ter than the grade C at O level, which I took about 20 years ago,” ad­mits Andy.

“I went from speak­ing a very high level of English to be­ing just about able to or­der a baguette and a cup of coffee. It was a pretty big change for me, and I quickly came to the con­clu­sion that hav­ing a good grasp of the French lan­guage would be key to hav­ing a great life here.”

Deb­bie and Andy pur­chased their farm­house in Poitou-Char­entes six years ago and, be­ing cau­tious about the next step, they ini­tially used it as a hol­i­day home.

“We knew this area in western France be­cause some English friends had come here pre­vi­ously and we loved the re­gion’s tran­quil coun­try­side,” says Andy. “How­ever, in­stead of sell­ing up in the UK straight away, we wanted to make sure we had the right house in the right re­gion, with the right neigh­bours. We wanted to make sure that go­ing ahead with the move was the right thing for us.

“Our home is a typ­i­cal Cha­ran­tais long­house built in the mid-1800s and sur­rounded by beau­ti­ful coun­try­side. When we first came here it was live­able, al­though the roof on one half of the house wasn’t quite all there, and you could see the stars through it. There was no heat­ing and not all the doors opened and closed.

“Since mov­ing here we’ve grown to ap­pre­ci­ate how large our re­gion is. In terms of land mass, it’s big­ger than Wales but has just 1.8m peo­ple. We can travel for two hours in any di­rec­tion and still be in Poitou-Char­entes. There’s not a city within an hour of our home. To go shop­ping for any­thing, other than day-to-day ne­ces­si­ties, means an hour’s drive.”

Af­ter de­cid­ing to move to France per­ma­nently, the

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