Plate to Page Food Writing & Photography Workshop May 2011

I was petrified. I won’t lie to you. I had signed up for the Plate to Page workshop when I first noticed it announced on Twitter, I reckon it was around October or November last year. I started Food and the Fabulous in September and knew I needed every bit of help I could get.

And so, meals were made and captured, restaurants visited, football games played (by F.C Barcelona, not me, just to be clear) and celebrated, Christmas and birthdays came and went. And before I could lift my head up from the whirrings and stirrings of our life in Cape Town we found ourselves in the month of May and I took note of the bloggers who were also going to attend the workshop.

My eyes widened. First with admiration. Then horror. Blogging for years. Baking and cooking like that. Tweeting a constant stream of photos submitted and accepted to tastespotting and foodgawker and sites I’d never heard of before. I had submitted two images in February or thereabouts, was rejected and never bothered to open that wound again. “Why were these people, these super bloggers attending a food writing and food photography workshop? ” I agonised and courageously contacted one of the instructors with my fears. “We all have to start somewhere. We can help you to avoid all the pitfalls we went through,” she advised.

Mild concern started to give way to serious misgivings. I was certain I’d be made a fool, especially with my poor photography skills.

And then, on the Friday before we were to depart to Europe (on the Sunday), a long and detailed list of items to bring, homework to complete and a presentation to compile arrived in my inbox from the instructors. I was barely coping with the list of office and domestic tasks that had to be completed before Sunday and this was the tipping point. I’d never be able to do a thing in the choc-a-bloc two weeks we had planned in Europe before the workshop. I decided to do what I could on the Saturday and in the words of all the wise sages, let it go.

I’d cross the workshop bridge when I got there, grin and bear it (I’d have to pull some serious Food and the Fabulosity, I consoled myself) and then the reward would be four balmy nights in Venice, a city both my husband and I hadn’t been to before.

I was so wrong to worry. Not that I was perfectly equipped with my all of 8 months of blogging experience. Firstly, despite the pointing and no nonsense attitudes in the pics above, the instructors (Meeta Khurana Wolff, Ilva Beretta, Jeanne Horak-Druiff, Jamie Schler) were and are a fun, kind- hearted bunch with talent to boot. Also, they had paired us off according to strength (writing/photography) and so you got to work on the big tasks with a partner and harness your abilities in a joint effort. For other things, like the read-out-loud tasks, I was right to worry. This was certainly the all work and no shop workshop and the pink post-its of doom that we still joke about, were wielded mercilessly. Criticism was given out loud. You knew when you hit the mark or when you didn’t quite get there. I suppose reading it aloud does that- it’s instant: yes this works, no it doesn’t and a simple skill I had long stopped using.

Breakdown without the breakdown

We arrived on Thursday late in the afternoon after a four and a half hour drive from Frankfurt and had an opportunity to get to know some of the bloggers who also arrived earlier. I noted two things immediately. One, friendliness and a down-to-earth and a helpful attitude and two, cameras whipped out at every turn. A building, a statute (aren’t European cities and towns just charming that way), a tree. The Turkish restaurant we ate at didn’t have a prayer. We were hungry, but not without ‘styling’ and taking pictures of the food first. You will note that I have posted none of the pictures I took from that evening. I had no clue about how ISO and White Balance could help with restaurant pictures at night- a skill I only picked up the next day at the workshop.

On Friday we started with a brief after lunch, presentations (with a five minute timer tick tocking, as if the nerves were not a bit fangled already) and a discussion on good and ‘bad’ writing and photography, a free-style photography and writing session, a change your style/voice photography and writing session and a discussion on good and bad restaurant reviews.  Opinions varied widely on some things and others yeiled a unanimous “Oooh, bad!”

We practiced shooting the amazing Breton meal of crab, oysters, sea snails and lamb that we had for dinner. I did say it was work, didn’t I?

To a large extent I am glad that the workshop was really jam packed full of activity. Something made me shed my inhibitions and question, engage and contribute, even though it would have been easier not to volunteer to read out assignments or the like. There are many things about the way I write and I work (which is never proofed by anyone else and often done in the very wee hours of the morning), that became glaringly obvious to me and that I would never have pieced together otherwise.

Saturday progressed with advanced sessions on photography and finding inspiration for writing, and followed by styling and writing about a picnic lunch. The participants from as far out as Canada, New York and all over Europe brought food items from their countries of origin and along with the items sponsored by Bordbia, the Irish Food Board we had a feast of a picnic to style and enjoy after. Cheeses, cured meats, chocolates, jams, relishes, preserves- we were uttlery spoilt.

I was paired with Jenn of JennCuisine blog, who is a scientist by trade, a supremely talented photographer and writer who does a gluten free blog, primarily for her lovely husband who is on a gluten free diet. Speak about love! Our post focused on a simple impromtu picnic thrown together for an old friend using…wait for it, the humble South African Lucky Star Pilchards, bread, vine tomatoes and garlic and our pic made me very proud. This part was all Jenn. I only contributed to the styling and discussing composition.

Later, the entire group cooked dinner together and enjoyed it outside for as long as we could, before the mosquitoes started to bite back. And you (meaning I) thought mosquitoes only buzzed around in Africa.

Sunday, we always knew would be the killer challenge. We were to write and photograph for a magazine from a list of publications. The theme was beef, as our delicious lunch was sponsored by Bordbia, and later cooked by the wonderfully talented Mona of Wise Words, who’s voice has a gentle Irish lilt and when you read her work, you absolutely must do so in her voice! I insist.

The photos had to convey mood, be spaced for magazine print and the write -up be spot on. Only the 12 of us will ever understand the pressure we were under that day in terms of making it work with a new partner and creating a piece that fit the publication chosen and tick tock the clock! The grounds of the Kipperquelle, where we were staying and working were abuzz. Click, click, bend, re-ararrange. Wait, you’re standing in the light. Type, type, delete, argh!

I was partnered with Ken of HungryRabbit NYC who is an architect/designer, an amazing baker and along with his partner Mitch, writes a thoughtful and insightful blog. You can read what Ken said about our effort here. I’ll be the first to admit, we took a mad chance writing about toro de carne, the meat from the bull killed in a bull fight, and so we magically transported the beautiful, plump Irish beef to Spain and created an opnion piece- Toro de Carne, would you buy it?

And so, it’s been over a month since the workshop and I have only just done my write-up. My mind is awash in these precious memories now.

It isn’t easy when life and routine get in the way, but I am trying to apply all that I’ve learned at Plate to Page. The photography needs to follow it’s own journey as does the writing, but these are exciting times and I’m up for the challenge.

pic taken by the husband

The synergy between the instructors and within the group was incredible. It’s something we all speak of, in wonder. How one long weekend could bond 16 such individual bloggers, is astounding! Warm, witty and  encouraging, the participants continue to support each other on twitter, email and via the blogs. If there’s a question, a problem to trouble shoot an opinion needed, I know I can lean on at least one of these 15. Fab 15, I say!

Thank you guys, so very much.

And to think, I almost didn’t attend the workshop.

For more on upcoming workshops, please visit the Plate to Page site.

Plate to Page Instructors:-
Meeta Khurana WolffIlva BerettaJeanne Horak-DruiffJamie Schler

Plate to Page Attendees:-
ArthiAstridDavidDeborah⏐Ishay⏐JasmineJennJuliaKen  Mitch⏐MonaSimone

What they had to say:-
Arthi – Ending on a High Note
Arthi – Reliving the Plate2Page Experience
Astrid – Who Would Have Thought…?
Ilva – Plate to Page Weimar 2011 – The Review
Jamie – From Plate to Page
Jasmine – Plate to Page Workshop
Jeanne – Plate to Page, Weimar – the Super Troupers
Jenn – Plate to Page Workshop

Ken- To Weimar, with love
Meeta – We Met in Weimar
Meeta – Plate to Page – Putting the Work back into Workshop
Móna – Life Changing, It Was
Móna – Life Changing it Was, Part 2
Móna – Life Changing it Was, Part 3
Móna – All in a Days Work
Plate to Page – Weimar Impressions, the first Plate to Page Workshop
Simone – Plate to Page – Experience of a Lifetime
Simone – Metaphors, Similes, and What it’s All About

Thank you to all of our sponsors for the beautiful goodies you sent us home with and your contribution to the workshop!

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