Manna from Devon Cooking School
For many local residents, David & Holly Jones of Manna From Devon are widely known - either from their time running the restaurant at the Royal Dart Yacht Club, or their attendance at local markets and events selling their famous brownies and other food goodies or through David’s recent role as Chairman of the Dartmouth Food Festival. To readers of By The Dart magazine, they are the authors of our entertaining and informative features on local food businesses – ‘Real Food, Real People’.
But it’s possible that many readers are not wholly familiar with the Manna from Devon Cooking School which David and Holly run together from their home in Kingswear. The school (www.mannafromdevon.com) is now in its third year and is growing fast. The school’s raison d’etre is to enthuse and inspire both the inexperienced and experienced cook to improve their culinary skills in a relaxed environment. As their website states – “if you’re serious about cooking (without being too serious) then one of the Manna from Devon courses will be perfect for you.”
Holly is a chef, food writer, consultant and broadcaster. David is a baker, sourdough enthusiast, and team-building consultant. Both moved into the food business after careers in the armed forces. After leaving the army, Holly trained as a chef at Prue Leith’s cookery school and then went on to become an expert demonstrator before becoming a food writer (she helped set up food-orientated websites for the BBC). David has trained corporate teams in industry, handy for handling large groups at the School, but has long been fascinated by cooking. Both are very comfortable with meeting new people and it’s their relaxed and friendly teamwork that is one of the School’s particular strengths.
It’s their philosophy that “food deserves time, respect and attention - and we provide these in lavish amounts during our classes.” All the workshops use the best of local produce and recognise the benefits of cooking in tune with the seasons. Other than in August & December, the School runs up to 6-8 courses each month. The most popular are the fish, bread making and Mediterranean workshops. Currently, courses on preparing tapas dishes are especially popular. Other courses include Family Cooking workshops to encourage children to cook alongside their parents, grandparents etc and hopefully enthuse them to develop these important life skills. There are also specific “Survival” cooking workshops, ideal for those with limited knowledge or skills about to embark on some sort of independent living e.g. university or the newly divorced or bereaved. Holly and David will also run courses on pasta making, courses for the gourmet vegetarian, sausage-making as well as teaching you to replicate the best of cooking from around the Mediterranean. David is currently mulling over a new course, tentatively titled “Credit Crunch Cooking”. There are also BBQ courses and learning to cook al fresco.
As you would expect, their fish courses are very popular – around the South Hams and Devon, we all think we should be cooking more fish for obvious reasons but most of us don’t know enough either about what’s best to buy or how to prepare & cook the many varieties of fish. The courses are therefore designed to demystify the process and build people’s confidence with practical tips. By being hands-on, you are more likely to learn much more; if you’ve done it once in class, you’ll develop the confidence that you can do it again at home. That’s not often the case with watching a TV programme or indeed reading a cookbook.
Holly & David work closely with Mark Lobb, their fishmonger (01803 770743). His knowledge and experience of fish and fishing is unrivalled. For the fish and shellfish workshops, Mark will make a selection at the fishmarket, choosing fish which are in season, in great condition and super fresh. This will always include some well known fish such as sole, plaice, haddock, scallops, mussels and crab, as well as less familiar species like hake, pollock, mullet, gurnard, squid and cuttlefish. Much of the shellfish, such as mussels and oysters are locally farmed or collected. Only when the fish arrives do Holly & David decide how they will prepare the fish and what dishes to make. The workshop itself is very hands on and everyone gets the full experience of scaling, gutting, filleting and cleaning the fish (if they want to) as well as preparing the final dishes and gaining an insight into the local industry.
Bread-making workshops are very popular and David is very passionate about bread-making – as he says “Bread! It’s part of our way of life but so misused by mass production. At Manna from Devon we make bread as it should be made; with first class ingredients, lots of time and heaps of respect and if you join one of our breadmaking classes you’ll get to grips (literally!) with the whole process of making bread.” The courses are suitable for beginners and intermediate bread makers wishing to expand their repertoire.
All the workshops are carried out in their domestic kitchen – deliberately so, as it puts people at their ease. Courses tend to number 6-8 attendees. But they will also liaise with other venues depending on the type of course or the group’s requirements e.g you might combine a fish course with a morning’s fishing, combine a course with a visit to Sharpham vineyards or learn to prepare the best picnic and then enjoy it on The Picnic Boat (01404 42449). Some courses at weekends are designed so you can choose to cook one day and then spend the rest of weekend enjoying the delights of Dartmouth & the South Hams e.g. fish & shellfish, pasta & Tuscan cooking. Great for visitors who can combine their course whilst staying as a B&B guest at Fir Mount House, Holly & David’s period home in Kingswear – with lovely views from the bedrooms and kitchen.
As well as Family Cooking workshops, Manna from Devon will also organise private classes where you can spend a day or more cooking with friends or work colleagues. This might suit hen parties, a book club or friends just wanting to cook together. They can create a class to fit your exact requirements. Classes start from around £60/person. Given David’s training background, he is intimately aware of the special requirements of corporate and teambuilding events and Manna from Devon can easily run events for up to 25 people either at their base in Kingswear or at other suitable local venues.
A growing number of customers are enjoying Manna from Devon courses as a result of gifts from loved ones or friends. Contact Holly and David for more details of their gift vouchers etc. Often, a course is held at weekends as part of birthday or anniversary celebrations.
First Published January 2009 By The Dart