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Manna from Devon

Interview: Manna from Devon

If you want to sharpen your cooking skills, then there are certainly plenty of Devon based cookery schools that are up to scratch. But if you’re looking for something that little bit more personal then Manna From Devon might just do the trick.

Established in 2005, the Manna from Devon Cooking School and Bed & Breakfast was established by Holly and David Jones and today they teach cooking skills to small groups of people in the relaxed setting of their Victorian home overlooking the beautiful River Dart.

The couple are self-described ‘students of the senses’ who travel as frequently as possible to learn about new flavours, techniques, and dishes. They bring all of these new found skills home to Devon and now offer everything from workshops on Woodfire Oven Cooking to classes in mastering Asian and Indian cuisine.

We caught up with Holly and David to find out more about their culinary inspiration and how they’ve made their foodie business work…

First and foremost, how would you describe your foodie philosophy?

Cooking should be about enjoying food either with family and friends or for yourself. For us, cooking is a way of connecting with other people, from the students on our courses to the local producers that supply our ingredients. Devon’s vibrant food community is one of the things that first attracted us to this area, and we design each course to feature the freshest, healthiest products we can get our hands on.

From the very beginning, we have been proud to feature our fabulous local producers in all of our course offerings. Come to a fish course, and you’ll prepare dishes from a box of fish that came in through Brixham market that morning, via our fishmongers Mark Lobb and Neil Walker, or on a cakes and pastry course and we’ll use organic eggs from Edward Jones at Fountain Violet Farm, just up the road.

What gave you the idea to start your own cooking school?

David was on a course at another cookery school and thought we have the venue, the knowledge, the skills and the passion; we should be doing this. So we did! We’ve both always had a passion for talking to people about food, and for helping them discover new flavours and kitchen skills, so it made complete sense.

Have you faced any challenges in growing your business?

Plenty. We don’t mind a challenge; if it was easy, everyone would be doing it! We both have backgrounds in the services and they teach you to make a plan so we can think through things to hopefully resolve them. You have to be organised.

The more we do though, the more there is to do! With new courses being added, the launch of our new book, and other commitments outside of Manna we find our time is spread even thinner. So we just keep talking between ourselves and our team; we know who has what skills now, after working together for 14 years, so the work gets divvied up accordingly.

Manna from Devon

Credit: Nick Hook Photography

What has been the highlight of your foodie careers so far?

Writing a book on wood fired cooking that surpassed all expectations. It’s now in its 5th reprint and sells worldwide, bringing in regular emails from those enjoying it. We’re just about to publish a 2nd (due out December) so are hoping that will do equally well.

It’s been a huge pleasure to have steered Dartmouth Food Festival to the nationally recognised event that it is now. It takes place every October and sees 30,000 of visitors over three days, with hundreds of wonderful local producers, and so many demonstrations with a very high calibre of local chefs. We’re very lucky to live where we do.

We also love travelling to find out about food and cooking; we’re answering this from the Douro
valley in Portugal. One of our trips took us to South Carolina where we met world renowned BBQ pit master Rodney Scott, what a legend!

What’s your favourite course to teach?

That’s tough – we genuinely love them all! Each one of course teaches completely new skills, but the main message we want to give, which we hope shines through in all of them, is giving people the confidence to go off and do it at home for themselves.

Since our Wood Fired book came out we have seen a new enthusiasm for our Wood Fired Oven courses, and as this style of outdoor cooking is going to be big in 2017 we’re particularly excited about teaching this as a brand new skill for many people.

Can anyone learn to cook or does it require certain skills or attributes?

The technical skills of cooking are simple and anyone can learn them. It helps if you are also willing to give to others so there is a reason to cook. It also helps if you are slightly greedy and willing to learn new skills.

We believe that cooking should be free of stress or anxiety, and we structure our courses to emphasise hands-on practice of good, basic culinary techniques rather than slavishly following a particular recipe.  In this way we hope to impart to our students the confidence to cook intuitively, to trust their senses, and to have fun while doing so!  Most importantly, we strive to teach everyone about ingredients and flavours, so that you can feel confident adapting the dishes we make during class to whatever you have on hand.

Making a meal at home needn’t be tied to a lengthy shopping list or an intimidating set of instructions.  It need only be approached with a sense of curiosity and enthusiasm, and the knowledge that food tastes best when it was a joy to make.

What’s one piece of cooking advice that everyone should know?

The first commandment of wood fired cooking: though shalt not call it a pizza oven!

manna devon

Credit: David Nuescheler


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