Saturday, May 8, 2010

Next-of-kin: Sallyanne and Sarah May Clark

Restaurateur SALLYANNE CLARKE and her daughter SARAH MAY
Sallyanne Clarke jokes that she has three children: daughter Sarah May, 20, son Andrew, 14, and L’Ecrivain, the famous Dublin restaurant she owns with chef husband Derry.

Sarah May nods in agreement. “The restaurant is 21 years old this year,” she laughs, “It’s like the eldest child in the family.” And a particularly demanding child at that. Sallyanne originally intended to help Derry out for just the first six months after l’Ecrivain launched. Two decades later, she is still welcoming diners at the front of house while Derry keeps things sizzling in the kitchen.

“There was us and there was the restaurant,” says Sarah May. “It’s not like we were abandoned or anything but it came first. When you’re younger, you don’t understand that the restaurant is what is clothing you and putting food on the table, literally.”

These days, Sarah May has a clearer insight into the pressures her parents were under as she works several shifts a week in l’Ecrivain while studying marketing and event management in college.

“When she was a child, we’d come home at night and she’d be sitting up waiting to talk to us and play,” remembers Sallyanne. “She was very with it, very outspoken, very precocious, very bright. She always asked questions and still does.”

Sallyanne would bring the children to school in the morning and collect them afterwards. Squeezing in a rest between lunch service, the school run and evening service wasn’t so easily guaranteed. “We would try to persuade Sarah May to have a little nap with us, and she’d say, ‘But I’ve already had mine!’

“I always remember she would be in the bed beside you in those afternoons when we didn’t have someone in to help out, she’d be sticking her fingers in your eye and pulling at your nose, trying to get you to wake up so she could talk to you. You might have had a late night and an early morning and you knew you’d have a late night again ahead of you so it was always go, go, go.”

Mum and daughter agree that combining family and work was a delicate balancing act. “It’s always a trade-off,” says Sallyanne. “But being a working mom meant I could structure my time and when we were with them, we gave them our undivided attention. It was their time, nobody else’s.”

Sunday is sacred for the Clarkes. “The restaurant is closed on Sunday so it was always a family day, and still is,” says Sarah May.
The dynamics of their relationship have changed somewhat as the kids have grown. As Andrew, who is currently in boarding school, told Sallyanne recently: “You know Mum, I think you’re missing me more than I’m missing you!”

Moving into her own place has made Sarah May realise that her childhood equipped her with a sense of independence.
“I was talking to one of my friends the other day and he said ‘I don’t know how you live on your own, I don’t even know how to work a washing machine’,” she says. “That’s ridiculous. I can’t believe how some parents baby their children. They are 20, 21 and they don’t know how to do anything for themselves.”

Now that Sarah May is moving on in life, Sallyanne notes that it’s more important than ever to make sure the family bond survives that transition to adulthood. “Outside of seeing her at work, we do a dance class on Monday night together. We usually meet up an hour beforehand, go for a coffee. It’s just one day a week but it’s a conscious effort we make to do something together. It’s brilliant fun.”

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