I didn’t really want it to end. But all sweet things must, eventually, come to an end and so I had to say a sad goodbye to my charming group of students at the Arvon foundation in Totleigh Barton, Devon, and to the centre’s inspiring managers Claire and Olly. Oh, and also to Mr Doggles, a dog who’s much more than just a dog.
I spent a week at Totleigh giving a course in creative writing, alongside Peter Gordon.
Both Peter and I, we later sheepishly admitted to each other, arrived at the centre with serious trepidations. We hadn’t a clue how to teach food writing, or, for that matter, any other form of creative writing. I guess we both secretly trusted the other to get out of this one safely.
As a matter of fact, it wasn’t half as trying as we had imagined. Claire and Olly put us at ease in seconds, with their calm and naturally reassuring demeanours. The beauty of the place and its long and solid literary history also managed to calm our nerves. And Mr. Doggles, of course, with his canine lovability and persistent barking fevers.
But it was only after the first encounter with our students - all so obviously different from each other and having a vast variety of culinary and literary agendas, yet with tons of humour and big personalities – that we realised that all is safe.
The rest was pure fun: from the chicken auction in Hatherleigh to the eventful readings in the barn, from the one-on-one tutorials, where some brutal honesty was often called for, to writing restaurant reviews, from group cooking in the afternoons, where the standard continuously deteriorated, to fumed roars of laughter around the massive dinner table dissecting the organ of one infamous TV chef.
I guess that in the end it worked out so well because our week was about so much more than just creative writing. It was about self expression, changing direction and exposure; it was about courage to embellish, uncovering a voice and leaving safe grounds; and it was about simple human (and dog) interaction.
Due to the phenomenal response to the Saturday classes we run together with Leiths School for Food and Wine, we had to come up with a new booking system with greater clarity and, hopefully, eliminating the frustration of the long waiting list.
Basically, a new list of courses will be advertised every six months. After several weeks, Leiths will open their phones for bookings over two clearly designated days. Those who don’t manage to secure a place in those two days will, unfortunately, have to wait for the next time. To start with, Leiths will restrict booking to one course per person calling.
This may seem a bit harsh but we believe this is the most effective and fairest way to ease the disappointment created by the existing system, where courses are booked out as soon as they are advertised and before many can’t even get a chance to check whether they are available or not.
Here is the system in detail:
• Leiths’ website and the Ottolenghi site will make it clear when the next menus and dates are going to be displayed.
• The new menus will be displayed for several weeks before booking starts.
• The website will give two dedicated booking dates for the next series of classes.
• You will need to make bookings by telephone to Leiths School of Food and Wine on 02087496400 between 9.00am and 4.00pm on those dates.
• You may book for yourself and one friend if you wish.
• When the places are all full, Leiths will then take a waiting list of 15 people.
• Gift vouchers for Ottolenghi courses will only be available during the 2 days of bookings.
You will be able to book onto these courses if you call Leiths on 02087496400 on the 20th and 21st of October, 9am – 4pm, or until places run out.
Thank you so much for supporting Ottolenghi classes at Leiths and we are sorry such a formal arrangement has been necessary, but we hope you understand and find it easier to use.