Chatting to Holly and David Jones, the Expert Bakers behind Manna from Devon Cooking School
In this Workshop Spotlight we take time to chat to Holly and David Jones from Manna from Devon Cookery School, the expert bakers behind Master Italian Breads and the soon to be released Master Sourdough Breads. In this interview the duo share their passion for recreating authentic world breads, where they get their baking inspiration, and some of their expert tips and tricks for making the perfect loaf at home.
Can you tell us a little bit about both of your backgrounds and how you started out in cooking?
HJ: David learnt about cooking at his secondary school and always wanted to work in food somehow, but he took a rather circuitous route by studying philosophy at university, joining the Royal Navy and becoming a management consultant. My route was slightly more direct by studying languages at university, joining the army and then going to Leith’s School of Food and Wine for a year’s diploma course. Since then I have been working in food, and have not looked back since.
What made you want to start Manna from Devon Cooking School?
HJ: We both are passionate about good teaching and when David was at another cookery school, we thought we had both developed the right skills and passion to do it ourselves! We also have a lovely home we use in the gorgeous setting of south Devon. This was 12 years ago and since then students have literally come from all over the world to work with us, which is very exciting – the furthest coming from the southern coast of Tasmania, so we can say for certain that Manna’s reputation is global!
At Manna you stress the importance of hands-on practice of good, basic culinary techniques as well as fostering a sense of curiosity in cooking. Why is this unhindered approach to cooking important to you?
HJ: We both learn from doing rather than watching or reading so it’s natural to want to let our students get stuck in and see what happens when they have a load of dough to knead, a fish to clean and fillet or a fire to build in our woodfired oven kitchen. When the penny drops it’s such a great moment!
You run a number of retreats where people can learn how to cook in the beautiful surroundings of Spain and France. What drew you to these places and how do they inspire your baking style?
HJ: Yes we take 2 groups a year to both France around the Dordogne and Andalucia in Spain. The two settings are stunning and unspoilt, with food being really important to daily life and central to the local culture. We have always loved travelling to explore food whether in India, Vietnam, Italy or the States. Talking to stallholders in markets about what they are making or selling (usually not in the same language!) is a great way to learn. We love going off the beaten track, and putting our faith in serendipity to give us some of our best foodie memories.
DJ: We found our retreat in Spain by going on holiday there ourselves; we were tired, we needed a break and we couldn’t have found a warmer welcome. Needless to say we came back refreshed in body and mind and thought it would be a great place to take some of our students. We are about to take our 6th group out there and everyone so far have loved it, seeing what we saw on our first trip – a relaxing and nurturing environment, a slower pace of life, and a genuine love of cooking. We are just heading to the northern Dordogne with our first group and think we have found a similar – if slightly different – place there too. We can’t wait to go!
You famously use a number of local producers in your cooking classes where possible. Can you tell us why it is important to you to source ingredients locally?
DJ: South Devon is full of fabulous ingredients from the fish landed in Brixham fish market just five miles away, to the meat reared on farms, to dairy, vegetables, chillies, fruit, cider, and even local wine. Devon is also full of great characters, big and small businesses who love what they do and do it incredibly well. We literally couldn’t get better ingredients if we went elsewhere so why would we?! It’s also important to us to use these businesses – they have great produce, have great stories and it firmly places us in the community. It’s really not any more work to deal with several suppliers than just one big one and it’s a lot more satisfying!
Who are you currently most inspired by in cooking?
HJ: To be honest, the people who really inspire us to work harder, learn more, be more creative and more “on it” are our students. We love teaching them and passing on our knowledge whether it’s here at the cooking school, on our regular weekly YouTube videos, on the Workshop app, our through our writing – knowing that they will be able to be more confident in what they do at home in cooking for their families and friends because of us is really exciting. When we see photos or get emails of what they’ve been up to, we just love it!
Your workshops Master Italian Bread and Master Sourdough Bread have just been released on the Workshop app. Can you let us in on any insider tips and tricks to elevate your bread to a professional level?
DJ: Patience and practise. You’ll create something not bad the first few times but with practice in making dough, shaping it and really getting to understand what’s going on, you’ll get to make something that is so good you won’t ever want to buy bread again!
Finally, what is next for Manna from Devon? Any exciting plans you can tell us about?
HJ: We’re thinking that we would love to take the cooking school on the road – around the UK, into Ireland and maybe even further afield. Food and travel – that’s what we love!
Thank you Holly and David for your time!
It’s been inspiring to hear more about your journey into cooking and to see how passionate you both are about sourcing local produce, supporting the local economy and how important it is for you to become part of the Devon community of foodies.
You can get Master Italian Breads with David Jones, for £19.99 on iOS and Android. Learn how to make a foolproof focaccia, prepare an authentic biga preferment, achieve a light and airy ciabatta, and an enriched, rustic pagnotta – at home and entirely on your smart device.