Getting a group of people under one roof for an entire weekend can be a tricky, if not an intricate matter. The dynamics need to be just right; the energy has to flow in all the positive directions and the synergy between the group must be cohesive and interactive. It’s difficult to get all the processes right in one group, usually a good amount of work is involved beforehand to bind each individual into forming a harmonious group.
Having worked with and in a few team development projects I know how complicated things can get. I guess that is why I am blown away by the fact that our From Plate to Page groups synthesize so well. With the Weimar workshop I thought it was because many of us knew each other through blogs, Twitter and Facebook and our first class of P2P participants would be hard to beat.
Then came Tuscany.
[Photo by Jean Pierre Dagneaux, courtesy Jeanne Horak-Druiff]
For the second time we opened the doors to From Plate to Page, this time under the Tuscan sun in the lush autumnal landscape of Pistoia. As one of the presenters, organizers and hostesses of this food photography and writing workshop, it was important to create an environment that allows for bursts of positive energy, which serves as a foundation for passionate creativity.
On paper it looks good: 12 participants with 4 instructors over 3 days in 1 villa. Add to that a good handful of exercises, sprinklings of presentations and lots hands-on advice and one has the perfect recipe for a 3 day workshop. In practice it’s not as easy as that. Over the period of 6 months we meticulously organized the program, discussed each aspect of the 3 day course in detail, cajoling sponsors to collaborate with us, planning the perfect meals to include all dietary needs, checking and re-checking that everything was just right.
All of a sudden I was landing in Florence, an hour late but excited to re-connect with my three colleagues, who over the years have become somewhat of an extension to my own self. It’s a friendship so natural and unpretentious that we automatically pick up where we left from. It felt great to be in this company – live and in person. We shopped for groceries, made the final touches to the schedule and packed goodie bags till late in the night giggling and chattering all the way. Being together felt good.
[Photo: Marta Majewska]
[Photo Jeanne Horak-Druiff]
[Photo Jeanne Horak-Druiff]
Friday kicked off the workshop at the Il Salicone, with a light lunch, served in a rustic Italian kitchen around tables laid with plastic table coverings, ornamented with bold flowers. It would have been cheesy anywhere else in the world, but here in Italy it felt just right.
Soon we were well underway into our program. Friday is always a bit of shock treatment for our participants. It sets the scene and the pace for what is to come and I truly think our participants were asking themselves “What have I gotten myself into?”
Writing exercises, camera techniques, lighting, finding your voice, aperture, shutter speed, ISO and once they thought it was over we were dividing them into groups for photography exercises. This brought them together to work as a team, each helping the other. It was incredible to watch how their passion unfolded and they enjoyed each aspect of the day.
They became a dynamic group and the next day after a writing workshop on the mechanics of writing and a photography and styling session we paired the groups in teams of two for the rest of the weekend and each team got their first assignment.
Maybe it was the Tuscan warmth, the rustic charm, the bright blue skies and the impressive picture-postcard-perfect landscape or maybe it was the laughter and chatter that reverberated through the stone walls of Il Salicone, maybe it was a little bit of it all, but as the group walked down the gravel path, canopied by chestnut trees still dressed in green, I could not help but feel the synergy between them.
The short walk to the vineyard was a welcomed break. The Il Salicone winery is a small artisanal family run estate producing Sangiovese blend wines for local purchase. It was the perfect day, the sun radiated its warmth as if it was high summer and not the end of Autumn.
Lunch was enjoyed outside on the humble grounds of the winery where the meal was set nonchalantly on mismatched plates. Nicoletta, our Italian hostess and owner of Il Salicone, brought out platters of chicken liver crostini, salame, prosciutto, cheese with thick runny acacia honey and baskets of crusty Italian bread.
Our next course a rustic Ribollita, slowly cooked with day old bread and seasonal vegetables drizzled with a delicate olive oil, together with a variety of frittata is so simple yet simply satisfying. The wine, a Poggioalcanto, offers a full bodied and fruity flavor. Finally, the meal takes a sweet turn with plates of cantucci. Glasses are refilled and the traditional Tuscan almond cookies are dipped into glasses soaking up the fruity wine. Contrasts of flavors explode on the tongue, resonating all that I have experienced in Italy in just one bite.
Between the food, the talk and the ideas I see the participants making notes, walking the grounds capturing the food and scenery on camera, their dedication is contagious. After a short tour of the winery we head back to the villa. The grounds of Il Salicone become a quiet sanctuary where the pairs retreat to work on their assignment. A bench beneath the trees, a sunny spot on the stairs overlooking the vineyard, a rattan chair on a balcony are all tranquil spots to think, to ponder and to work.
At the end of the day, all the hard work is rewarded with a divine dinner and plenty of Bisol Prosecco.
The final day started with a few more exercises and presentations before we set the scene for the assignment for each team. The positive creativity was channeled into great thoughts and ideas and it was incredible watching the teams bring their project to life. Within a matter of 2 days they were able to produce material of such high standard, applying all that was shared and learnt over the period of the workshop. The progress each one made was invigorating. As Sunday evening approached, a slight sadness took over. I stole away from the group for a few minutes to allow myself to review the weekend. Yes, I was exhausted but so satisfied with how the weekend turned out.
It seems unlikely that a group of strangers can produce so much creative energy, inspiration, laughter and leave filled with new ideas and friendships. But it happens … at From Plate to Page, under the Tuscan sun.
Thank you to all our wonderful participants who took a chance on us and came from Canada, Malta, California, Norway, Belgium, UK, Venice and Holland to Tuscany to learn the art of writing and photography.
Of course a huge amount of gratitude goes out to each and every one of our fabulous sponsors. Each one helped make From Plate to Page such a success not to mention making those goodie bags bulge and creating memorable meals! Thank you for the trust you put in the four of us.
While we have wrapped up our second workshop in Tuscany, behind the scenes we are busily working on our next From Plate to Page. A location has been booked, a date has been set and soon we will be revealing more. Keep an eye out on our website as we will be opening registrations to From Plate to Page UK shortly. Maybe we’ll see you there!
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