Eating, drinking and hosting in a place like Sardinia is the stuff of holiday dreams. The azure blue sea, the gentle coastal winds, the freshest of fish, the soft and unctuous malloreddus pasta which is uniquely native to the island. For Letitia Clark, this is not just a dream destination but where she has made a home. It’s a different place to her home county of Devon, although its coastal beauty and the way it influences the food culture is perhaps not so different. Letitia, an author, chef, illustrator and food writer, has been writing and cooking in Sardinia since she moved there from London in 2017. You might have come across – or have a well-thumbed copy of – her books, Bitter Honey, a beautiful homage to Sardinia’s rich and storied food history; or La Vita è Dolce, a tome on Italian inspired desserts. Each as colourful and appealing as the recipes she creates. We caught up with Letitia to find out a little more about her creative pursuits, the draw of living in Sardinia (as it wasn’t obvious enough) and the ordinary object that has a special significance in her kitchen.
What drew you to cooking and food as a career?
I sort of fell into it, really. I went to University to study English Literature; I wanted to be a writer but I wasn’t sure what to write about and spent most of my time procrastinating by cooking mad and impossible recipes for my long-suffering flat-mates, or reading Nigel Slater instead of Shakespeare. When I graduated I realised I had learnt very little about Literary Theory, but knew how to make excellent rice pudding. So I thought perhaps I’d pursue the food path, and see where it led me.
You’re a writer and illustrator as well as a cook – how do you see these three creative pursuits colliding in everyday life?
They are in constant competition with each other, in a way, because I’d like to devote more time to all three pursuits, but there just isn’t enough time in the day. But they are all three connected; it’s about trying to render something clearly and beautifully for someone else, to make them taste, see or feel the way you do, so all three creative pursuits are trying to do the same thing, really.
Are you a strict recipe follower? Or do you think there’s always a bit of room for personalisation when it comes to cooking a dish?
God no, I am incapable of following recipes. I use them as a springboard, and love them, but never follow them to the letter. I hope people do the same with mine, and I am very happy to see when they do.
How do you like to host?
In a relaxed and casual way. Formality is the enemy of ease. I like things to be elegant but natural, not over-thought; dishes to be generous but simple and nothing showy. Everything served on good plates, with seasonal fruit and vegetables and flowers scattered about. A bottle of wine, some fizzy water. Nothing too fancy. White tablecloths.
You’re originally from Devon but you live in Sardinia now. Do you think your food has taken on those coastal influences?
Definitely. I adore fish. And I am drawn to the sea. I love to swim and I would feel sad living inland. I don’t cook or eat fish often, because it’s a treat, but when I do eat it I’m very, very happy.
Can you tell us a bit about Sardinian cuisine; and also the local philosophy on food and hosting?
Sardinian cuisine is rustic, simple, bold, traditional. Those are the four main words I would use to describe it. It is Italian in as much as Sardinia is part of Italy, so a lot of the techniques and ingredients are similar, but it has a strong regional cuisine which has been carefully and proudly preserved. Sardinians are enormously hospitable and love to share their food and stories with people; they have a strong identity and connection to their ‘terra’ and take great pride in it, and in the preservation of tradition. They are famously good hosts and meals with guests can last for hours.
Your second book, La Vita è Dolce, is a celebration of sweet things inspired by Italy. Can you tell us about a memory of your favourite (or any) sweet thing?
When I was a child my grandmother used to make me tiny pots of Alpine Strawberry jam, which she labelled with my nickname, Tootie. The strawberries were so tiny (mouse-sized) that it took hundreds to make up even the tiniest jar of jam, so it was very, very special, and the perfume and flavour so floral, I can still remember it. Just one pot a year, that we would try to make last, spreading only the tiniest scrape on hot buttered toast (white bread, of course). That’s the flavour of my childhood.
Finally, can you tell us about an ordinary object that has a special significance in your kitchen?
I have lots of ordinary objects that have a special significance! Almost all of them! But a specific one is maybe the small knife I use for almost everything. I like small, wooden handled knives, which you can use in the palm of your hand, as I’ve seen many Sardinian women do, or just cutting straight into the pot. It’s a symbol of economy and practicality, and also defiantly un-showy. You don’t need fancy knives to make good food, as these knives and these women prove.
What’s your favourite piece in the Monoware collection?
The serving platters
What’s a dish that reminds you of home?
Your favourite cuisine?
Italian – Sardinian!
Best song/album for a dinner party?
I love Spotify’s Italian mixes, especially anything featuring Mina.
Photograph by Matt Russell