When Benedicte Maudet was growing up in Saint-Lunaire, a seaside village in Brittany on the northwest coast of France, her mom would roll up freshly made crêpes, sprinkle them with a little sugar, and pack them into picnic lunches. “I’m a crêpe lover — they’re easy to eat and quite healthy,” said Maudet with the appropriate accent. “In Brittany, we eat crêpe like they eat bread in the rest of France.”
Today, in a simple kitchen on the bottom floor of an office building on East Haley Street, across from Veracruz Park, Maudet is emulating her childhood by mass-producing crêpes to prepackage for the Santa Barbara market and, hopefully, the rest of California, too. Maudet’s Artisan French Crêpes is focused on classically simple recipes and organic ingredients, and she’s importing French buckwheat flour to use for her gallettes, which are the gluten-free, eggless, more savory pancakes. “It’s like we do in Brittany,” explained Maudet, who’s proud of the half-dozen Krampouz crêpe makers she bought from France. “This is the real way.”
Though she has her eyes on the French expats who live in the Bay Area and Los Angeles and “miss real crêpes,” Maudet’s research revealed quite a market among the rest of us. “Really, here in America, people love crêpes, too,” said Maudet, who launched her enterprise last fall after buying out the madeleine cookie company that built the kitchen. “It’s worldwide, like the pizza.”
Maudet comes from a family of entrepreneurs and worked in business development in France and then real estate in Miami and New York before coming west. But as a young woman, she attended culinary school for four years. “It’s like I am coming back to my roots,” she said. “My mom is my Julia Child. She’s an amazing cook. I learned more with her than in school for four years.”
Her business plan is three-pronged: She sells to food-service providers, like The Berry Man, whose clients include restaurants, hotels, and retirement homes; she’s also in retail at Tri-County Produce with high hopes for Lazy Acres and Whole Foods; and she sells directly through her website to consumers, who can have the crêpes delivered or pick them up at the kitchen. Maudet will also be doing occasional demos and plans to post favorite recipes and tips on her Facebook page, but she doesn’t have any desire to get into catering. “In France, it’s very common to buy a fresh package of crêpes at the supermarket,” she explained. “Here, people cook tortillas at home, so my hope is one day they do crêpes like we do in Brittany.”
Maudet originally intended to set up shop in the San Francisco area, but she came to visit Santa Barbara and never left, despite having no friends or family in town. “Everyone is happy to live here, and you can feel that,” she said. “And everyone loves quality here. It’s not only the rich people.”
But the true inspiration for this shift of careers in middle age was her father, who passed away suddenly two years ago. That’s why she used her family name for the business. “It was a shock,” she said. “I got all of this energy to do this. I know that if it’s a success, he would be proud.”
Maudet’s crêpes are simple — flour, eggs, salt, and water — as are the gallettes: buckwheat flour, water, and salt. They’re light in texture, delicately delicious, and easy to use with all forms of cooking, from rich and savory to sweet and citrusy. While people in France like them large — her griddles can do up to 16 inches wide — Americans prefer smaller, so she sticks to 10-inch versions. If needed, she could churn out 900 a day, though there are larger setups that allow one person to do 500 an hour.
As for sweet styles, her favorite is just sugar and salted butter. “Salted butter is the best friend of the crêpe,” she said. “But it has to be good butter, of course.” She also likes chocolate sauce and caramelized bananas with vanilla ice cream.
On the savory front, Maudet loves pan-fried scallops and leeks on her gallette. “That’s the most expensive dish in a crêpe restaurant.” But she’s also a fan of the most common type: egg, ham, and cheese. “We call that complet, as in complete,” she explained.