5 Minutes with...Letitia Clark

We chat to Letitia Clark about everything from food to family and her fondest memories!

Letitia Clark Cooking

Writer, Chef and Illustrator Letitia Clark has had a varied career! Originally from Devon, she trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine after gaining her degree and Masters in English Literature. Working in some of London's most loved restaurants - The Dock Kitchen, Moro and Spring - she also picked up work within publishing alongside cooking for events, weddings and pop-ups!

Now living in Sardinia with her partner and son, her work has been featured in The Evening Standard, Waitrose, Conde Nast Traveller and The New York Times to name but a few. Her first book, Bitter Honey: Recipes and stories from the Island of Sardinia was published in 2020 and a second book, La Vita e Dolce, followed in 2021. 

We caught up with Letitia ahead of the release of her third book - Wild Figs & Fennel : A Year in an Italian Kitchen.

Wild Figs & Fennel Book
Images by Charlotte Bland
Plate of food on table

You obviously have a strong connection with Italy - the food, the people, the culture. What first took - and kept - you there?

I first visited when I was 15 and my maternal grandmother decided it was time 'I saw Venice!' She was a huge influence on my life; she was full of fun and stories, the most well-read woman I've ever met, and the best cook. She made it her life's work to 'educate me', not necessarily in the traditional sense, but to introduce me to all of the things she thought were important, like Italy! She adored Italy. And so she took me to Venice to eat deep-fried soft -shelled crab and black squid ink risotto and icing sugar dusted cream-stuffed cornetti at breakfast. 

Her mother, my great grandmother, had been born in Florence in a crumbling old palazzo near the hills full of nutty artists and sculptors. These ancestors weren't really Italian, more Austrian and German and who knows what; but they set up camp in Italy and my grandmother was taught all the Italian ways by her mother. She passed these on to me. I never thought I'd end up living in Italy, but I'm very glad I do.

We often talk about the quality of produce in different parts of the world - especially Europe - would you agree that it's superior? What sets it apart from places like the UK and what would you advise to people without access - what would you splash and save on ingredients wise?

A good question! I know it's potentially hard to imitate the recipes in an English kitchen, and I never want my recipes to be exclusive, so it is something I worry/think about. I think it's really important to buy the best olive oil you can, there's no shortcut there sadly. And real parmesan or grana (grana is generally cheaper). But for baking, supermarket tub ricotta is fine, and also Italian food is so simple it calls for few ingredients, so should generally not be too expensive to prepare. You don't need elaborate spices or anything like that. Just some good fresh produce.

Farmers markets are great if you have access to them. That way you'll have the best produce and the prices are fair. You can scrimp on mozzarella when it's baked into things, just ideally not in salads. I think, sadly, you just can't compete with things that have grown in the sun. That's our main problem in the UK. But there is lots of UK produce that is amazing; particularly our berries. And rhubarb. I miss rhubarb and gooseberries! You don't need to always buy Italian ingredients, necessarily, just apply the Italian philosophy to British produce, and you can't go far wrong.

Plate of fruit on a table
Image by Charlotte Bland

This is your third book - what inspired it and what keeps you creating?

I often say the only thing worse than writing is not writing! I think this applies to all creative endeavour. It's bloody hard a lot of the time, making yourself do it, finding the time to do it, especially when normal life involves so much damn admin. Then fighting your own high standards and perfectionism and keeping going at it. It isn't always rosy! Sometimes I miss having my job mapped out for me by someone else, and just clocking in and clocking off. But, and it's a big but, I never take for granted how lucky I am to call my passion my career and vice versa. If I stop creating, I will curl up and die, I think. It's the only think that I have ever wanted to do. It's what keeps me going.

This book in particular was inspired by the years between 2020-2023, when the pandemic meant that my daily walks in the countryside took on a whole new significance. I noticed more, foraged more, tried to slow down and remember what was important. I wanted to capture those little moments and the changing landscape and seasons, as well as the people that make up our daily lives. It's also a book about becoming a family, as I wrote lots of it when I was pregnant, and it's dedicated to James, my son.

You have had a varied career - did you ever think when working in restaurants that you would be here today - promoting a third book?

Very varied! I always hated the idea that we only ever do one thing in our lives. I'd like to have a hundred lifetimes and try a hundred different things. I was especially restless when I was young, I think I was searching for something, or running away from something, who knows. Then I think when I hit 30 and moved here and had a little breathing space at last, I thought, right, now I can finally write and draw and cook my own food. There's no excuses anymore. And so I did. And no, I never had any idea where I'd end up! I wrote in my yearbook when I finished school that I'd probably end up as a 'washed up English teacher trying to write bad novels'. I wasn't that far off. Sardinia was a complete surprise.

food on tray
Images by Charlotte Bland
plate of food

Can you name a favourite dish - in the book or otherwise - one that gives you joy or comfort?

Hmm. I love all the pasta and beans recipes, which are always very comforting. I'd like to write a whole book about pasta and bean dishes. The zucchini ginger lemon and yoghurt cake is a favourite. I am obsessed with zucchini. And cake. And Lemons!

Dishes can evoke memories...what is your fondest memory relating to food?

Something called Dishy Eggs. These were an invention of the aforementioned grandmother. She used to make them for me every morning. She had chickens and would bake the fresh eggs in ramekins on the hob of the Aga with a large slosh of thick jersey cream, copious amounts of butter and salt. I absolutely loathed them. They gave me chronic indigestion and made me feel sick all day. But she adored making them for me, and I never had the heart to tell her I didn't like them - she was not a woman one ever wanted to disappoint - and so on it went, for 20 years or so. It taught me that love is a much greater force than taste. And that food is so often how we express our love for people. She was very much of the stiff-upper-lip school, but Dishy Eggs were her solid and indigestible equivalent of an embrace.

Images by Charlotte Bland

You have a love affair with Sardinia, what makes it so special and is there anywhere else you are dying to explore around the world - whether for the cuisine, lifestyle or culture? What's next for you?

I am always trying to explain why I love it here. You sort of either do or you don't. The people that come here and love it do so with a fierceness that I love to see. Then there are others that are not convinced. That's what makes it so interesting. I always say it's a bit like the lesser-built up bits of the UK, the wild places that I have always loved, like Wales (we spent holidays in the hills above Aberystwyth when I was a child, where my Dad's cousin had a damp cottage) or Cornwall (where I spent most of my summers and where my dad lives). Next I would love to explore Sicily, the other main Italian island which seems to have so many similarities but also its own world entirely.