Photo: Simone Van Den Berg
“You really came all the way from New York for Plate to Page?”
With a look of inconceivable marvel on his face, my husband asked this question on the last evening of what became known as the WORKshop: where the work was put back into workshop!
This was Plate to Page.
Not only did they come all the way from New York, but also Canada, South Africa, Holland, Switzerland, UK, Ireland, Italy and Austria. Twelve participants made their way out to Weimar on the weekend of 20 – 23 May to be the part of the very first hands-on Food Photography and Writing Plate to Page.
On that last evening, as I sat on the terrace of the Gasthaus Taubach enjoying our last meal together, I eavesdropped. And what I heard made me feel good. It made feel warm, it elated me and it satisfied me. Looking across the table at the fifteen people I had just spent an intensive 3 days with made me reflect to the beginning of how it all started.
A year in the lives of Jeanne, Ilva, Jamie and myself in four different countries, joining forces to put together the sort of workshop we thought was going to be of extreme value for those who attended. It was important to us that each person who attended any of the Plate to Page workshops benefit immensely and take back the motivation and inspiration to achieve higher goals. No short 30 minute, speed-dating style sessions, instead we put together a demanding and challenging program.
We attempted to create something that we were very passionate about and as each day passed we carved and we molded, shaping this baby into a product we would hopefully be proud of. We fretted, we argued, we wavered, we hesitated, we got excited, we were joyous, we worried, were plagued by self-doubt, we rebelled and we bitched! The emotions were always at a peak and the rollercoaster ride we went on each day was tummy-tickling and nerve-wrecking at the same time.
Finally the pinnacle of the past year’s planning and organization had arrived. We were in the middle of Plate to Page – it was really happening.
Jamie arrived first and the minute Soeren and I picked her up at the station, we began chattering, picking up where we had left off the few hours before - on Twitter, on Facebook on email! We returned to the station the next day, this time to get Jeanne and Ilva and then we were finally complete. Ready, excited and raring to get Plate to Page rolling.
Day one kicked off with a welcome barbeque at the Kipperquelle Hotel where we were to spend the next couple of days. Over the sizzling bratwurst and light salads we welcomed the group of twelve eager participants.
It was time to get down to real work!
And we worked them hard! Kicking off with presentations from the four instructors, discussions on the difference between good vs. bad food writing and photography and evaluating the homework the participants were asked to send in prior to the workshop (Yes - homework!). The participants were then divided into groups and it was time for individual writing and photography assignments. By now all twelve knew that this was going to be a very intensive weekend with a lot of hard work.
I felt completely fulfilled as I could literally feel the focused concentration and it uplifted me as an instructor to be able to impart the knowledge, I accumulated over the years in the photography field, to such a highly motivated group of exceptional bloggers.
Photo: Jeanne of Cook Sister
We wrapped up the final session of the day with low light food photography tips and restaurant review writing and headed on to a charming restaurant run by my dear friend Elizabeth Leroy at the Bistro Francais. Elizabeth and I had carefully planned a divine feast fit for the finest of food bloggers, taking up the entire separate party room.
A Breton menu with oysters, followed by crab claws and sea snails; scallops with broad beans; a honeyed goats cheese salad; salt marsh lamb with green beans and new potatoes; and a dessert of flan and crepes filled with salted butter caramel.
In between the lively chatter and clinking of wine glasses there was a lot of shutter snapping as the participants put their newly learnt photography knowledge into practice.
Photo: Jenn Oliver
Day two brought along the first of the two major themed assignments and after a series of more technical discussions and presentations the participants were sent of in teams of two to tackle the picnic themed assignment.
With gorgeous vintage props sponsored by the delightful Paula Walters and delicatessen foodie treats each of us had brought along, we had two tables full of ideas and inspiration to perfectly style and photograph a picnic shoot and the Kipperquelle provided plenty of solitary space and corners for writing a picnic themed article.
This was what a food blogger and food photographer dreams of - at least I do! To be let loose with ideas swirling in my head and raring to put them on camera. During the photography shoot, Ilva and I helped the teams with ideas, styling tips and pushed them to think out of the box. Each one of our participants were so eager and literally soaked up each detail with enthusiasm.
Maybe it was the Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel sparkling wine sponsored by the very generous Wines of South Africa, who provided all the wines for the entire weekend, but I think I had a permanent smile of satisfaction fixed on my face that afternoon.
And while it is common belief amongst non-food bloggers that we do not eat, instead we fret over a piece of stray parsley and let out squeals of joy at the sight of delicate vintage props, the truth is - we do eat. It just takes us a little longer to get to that part.
Photo: Simone Van Den Berg
Returning to the lecture room we then began dissecting and evaluating each pairs’ article, giving them tips on where they could improve and discussing their ideas and thoughts. It was here that we called it a day and got ready of our evening live-cooking session.
Dividing the participants into groups we dived into preparing our three course dinner, which consisted of my Spanish Tortilla with Asparagus, Fennel and Cress on a bed of salad, a variety of Flammkuchen and finally a sensational Eton Mess using fresh strawberries. We were in the swing of things, cooking - yes but also, styling, photographing and drinking sensational wines: Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc and Beyerskloof Bouwland Pinotage (my favorite).
Nothing bonds like cooking, chopping, and dishwashing in a commune-style atmosphere. The purpose of these live-cooking sessions was to get just a little closer to each of the participants, to learn to love and accept them (and they us) as more than food bloggers or participants at a workshop. These cooking sessions also gave each participant plenty of photography practice and food for thought for hopefully many posts to come.
Sunday, and it was time to get the beef out! Our second themed assignment for the weekend was all about writing and photographing more professionally. We started with writing exercises, unraveled secrets to good post-processing using Lightroom and Photoshop and we discussed how to efficiently use artificial and studio lights.
The theme for the day was BEEF. Our divine principal sponsor Bord Bia had supplied us with many delectable items we used throughout the weekend for the meals, but the incredible Irish grass-fed Hereford beef fillets were the absolute highlight.
This was definitely the Angelina Jolie of beef! Never has beef been so lovingly styled, so intensely photographed and so beautifully prepared (Mona you are the rock star) as it was on that day in Weimar.
Photo: Simone Van Den Berg
The beef perfectly sliced using the sharp Ergo Chef Knives was the main course, served with a creamy polenta and roasted summer vegetables. To start off the lunch we indulged in a honey roasted goat cheese with roasted tomatoes on a bed of rucola salad. Dessert was a blissful highlight of poached pears with a fluffy and light zabaione topped off with summer berries.
While the participants retreated into their quiet corners to reflect on their writing assignment and select a few images for the article, we were thankful to welcome the brilliant Alessio who joined us from Bonn. We filled him with food and drink and he graciously offered to help with the dish washing! Thanks buddy!
The silence, the concentration, the focused frowns of each participant was uplifting. The clack-clack-clack of the keyboards echoed throughout the lecture room and as each team presented their work it was hard for me to realize we were coming to an end.
I took a moment to gather my thoughts in a solitary moment ….
… a good sip of a glass of Kleine Zalze bush vine Chenin Blanc!
Photo: Jeanne Horak Druiff
Sitting on the terrace of the Gasthaus Taubach I could hardly believe that the weekend had evaporated in a cloud of fun, exhilaration, hectic and total bliss.
Being an instructor was definitely not only about teaching but also learning. I learnt a lot that weekend. The attendees probably went away feeling positively motivated, but they left me inspired. They left, aspiring to reach new goals, but I stayed behind thinking of the goals I had just achieved. And all of us wanted more. More Plate to Page and perhaps more work in a Workshop?
Photo: Jeanne Horak Druiff
At this point I would like to thank our incredible sponsors, without whom this workshop would not have run so smoothly as it did. Thank you for taking a chance on us and sponsoring Plate to Page: our main sponsor Bord Bia (The Irish Food Board), Wines of South Africa, Hotel Chocolat, Prokit UK, Maison Georges Larnicol, OXO, Ergo Chef Knives, Sweet Pete’s and the lovely Paula Walters. Their generosity allowed us to provide high class gifts to our participants, but they also helped make this fantastic weekend possible!
Thank you to the inaugural Class of Weimar 2011. Twelve people, took a chance and came to Weimar as strangers but left with a huge smiles and a spot in our hearts.
Arthi | Astrid | David | Deborah | Ishay | Jasmine | Jenn | Julia | Ken | Mitch | Móna | Simone | Alessio* (*our honorary member)
Finally to my fellow-instructors - life without you three would not shine as brightly as it does. I cannot imagine you not being a part of my everyday and I know that I need this for the rest of my life. Thank you for all you do and for making this dream come true. Here’s to Plate to Page Tuscany in October.
Photo: Simone Van Den Berg
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