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“I get a buzz out of creating” – Sebastian Thommen on going from playing Michael Collins to opening a food truck

By July 6, 2021No Comments

Cork actor and artist Sebastian Thommen is not one to sit around. So, when the pandemic stuck, he converted a vintage horsebox into a food truck selling sourdough toasties

‘That spark to do stuff has always been there,” says Sebastian Thommen. And what a spark he has. Right now, this 38-year-old is serving sumptuous sourdough toasted sandwiches and serious coffee from Toast, his new food truck, which is based on the Olde Faery Trail, Ballinlough Park, Cork. It is a business which came out of Covid-19.

Like so many, his normal working world had come to a halt. Although what’s normal for him, may seem somewhat dizzying to the rest of us, as Thommen is a man of many talents.

He is an actor — you may remember seeing him as Michael Collins in the 2016 RTÉ drama series Rebellion — and an artist. He has studied clowning (more Mr Bean than circus) in Barcelona because he was interested in physical theatre. A windsurfer, he has taught outdoor sports.

He also runs a small events business — corkhenparty.ie — where he hires actors and they do murder mysteries for parties and corporate events. Before the pandemic, business was just beginning to pick up, and he was happy to have it because acting work is erratic.

“Being in Rebellion didn’t change everything,” he says. “It shows you how deluded you can be, thinking that work will keep coming in. It doesn’t happen like that. You still need to grind to create an income. As an actor, I’ve never liked sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. I’ve always thought that I need to be out creating.”

Sebastian Thommen of Toast Cork City. Picture Clare Keogh

Just before the first lockdown, Thommen was on stage, with the Rampart Players in Kinsale, in Harold Pinter’s Night School. “I savour it because I got to be in a play before everything happened. You could be waiting six months before you’re in a play.

“When Covid-19 came, I had to reassess. I’ve always worked or created work to support my acting career. You go into it knowing that, and I don’t mind that. I’ve had all kinds of jobs from farming and fishing to fireman and lifeguard. I’ve set up drama workshops and film workshops for kids.”

When the first lockdown started, he chatted to a chef friend, relaying how his plan to put some money he’d saved back into the events business was on hold. The pal suggested that he set up a food van instead, offering to give Thommen a steer with the menu. That was the nudge he needed. “I love toasties, and I love coffee even more, so it went from there.”

Why toasties? “They are easy to do, I’m not a Michelin chef. The idea was to keep it tasty and use local ingredients, like Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef. It’s a simple menu with a special way of cooking them with a large griddle and steak weight presses. They come out with a caramelised crust which infuses with the melted cheese.”

Sebastian Thommen (left) with Brian Gleeson in a scene from RTE’s Rebellion in which Thommen played Michael Collins. Photograph: Patrick Redmond

Thommen is an unusual entrepreneur. He is not driven by money but by a passion for creativity. “I get a buzz out of creating. The money side of things isn’t going to make you happy. It’s the doing, that’s where the fun is. You need to put bread on the table but that will come if you’re doing it for fun or you’re doing it because you enjoy the process. You have to be doing something that you enjoy.”

And that is how he has always lived his life.

Born to an English mother and Swiss father, the family came from England to live in Macroom, Co Cork, when he was five. His parents parted and Thommen was later inspired by his stepfather, who was an actor. “It seemed like a plum job to me.”

When he finished school, he went to work in an outdoor-sports centre and soon became skilled at windsurfing. When he became a father at the age of 20, he decided that it was time to go to acting school at the Kinsale College of Further Education.

“I had this enthusiasm for actingand it’s so exciting to play these characters. The big thing for me was to be near my son in Kinsale. I got to create my work around him, while pursuing my acting career. You show love by being there for them — it’s time and making memories with them.”

He knows how important this can be. As a boy, Thommen became friends with a neighbour, Brian Tester, who took him out fly-fishing and taught him about life on the river. When Brian died, he left Thommen his paints. He had a talent for art, but as the years went on, life got in the way.

Three years ago, he vowed that he would start painting every day, and he has. Nothing deters him. On his website you’ll see his five-year-old daughter on his shoulders while he paints away, working on commissions.

The plan with Toast is to be hands-on for the first year. After that, friends and family can step in when he heads off for auditions. But right now, he’s enjoying the moment. “I almost feel like I’m on stage in Toast because I’m behind the counter, serving people. There’s lots of joking and it’s great fun.”

Article Source: Independent.ie – “I get a buzz out of creating” –  Sebastian Thommen on going from playing Michael Collins to opening a food truck

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