Does it ever become a routine when one does something often enough?
In some cases it might, yes, becoming a chore, perhaps. There are some things, however that no matter how often you repeat them, they still preserve the initial charm of the first time. And From Plate to Page certainly falls in the latter category.
As one of the four instructors of the From Plate to Page workshop series, we go through months of planning, organizing, fretting, email writing and at times frustrations but when all that has subsided and I am finally in the midst of excited, anxious and expectant participants, I feel a buzz that defies all barriers of routine.
I am probably just as nervous and anxious as each of the 12 new faces sitting in front of me. They look at me from across the table expectantly and my eyes dart quickly around the room. Do I still have time to bail out? What was I supposed to be doing here? Who signed me up?
But that feeling lasts only for a split second as the adventure of another Plate to Page weekend begins.
For me the adventure started this time at Heathrow Airport as I braved my way through the London Underground to get to Jeanne’s. Not a big deal for many, but people who know me will understand the reason behind my apprehensions. I am not too keen on public transportation and as I hardly ever use the service I tend to get anxious at the concept of having to share the smallest of spaces with hundreds of others. But I did well and arrived without any major incidents. It was too good to be true as I was well aware that The Curse of London was hovering above my head.
It seems that every time I make my way to London I am damned with some kind of bad luck.Whether it was the motor dying in the fast lane of a German autobahn on the way to Frankfurt, waiting a crazy 3 hours on the runway totally snowed in at Frankfurt airport and then again on the way back at London City airport, my travels to London have been anything but boring. This time however, it was going far too smoothly.
That soon changed as Jeanne, Jamie, and I got ready to take on the British motorway on our road trip to Somerset. After a bit of pre-planning and checking the road maps we had the GPS set and were raring to go. A road trip with the girls - this was going to be fun. But a wrong turn and we were sitting in the middle of London city rush hour! While I was enjoying the sights if Big Ben, London Eye and co. Jeanne was certainly not very amused.
Finally we made it to the motorway and headed towards Taunton, constant chatter and laughter in the car. We were enthralled as we saw the signs leading to Stonehenge and decided to make a stop. I was excited as I’ve always wanted to visit this place. My excitement did not last long as I pulled out my camera and saw that my filter on my lens had been smashed and dented. I presume it was most probably, an inconsiderate passenger on the flight who rammed his bag into the overhead compartment in such a way, damaging the filter in my bag. No matter how I tried I was unable to get it off. I did not want to damage the lens so I removed it from the camera, hoping to find a camera shop in Taunton.
My 50mm lens did a pretty good job of capturing a few moments I will always remember.
Finally in Taunton we headed towards the station to pick up Hilda who joined us to spend an afternoon at Meare Court. Unfortunately, as it turned out, we ended up spending a larger part of the afternoon in the car driving in circles and constantly ending up in “the wrong Maere Green!”
After my lens was brought to the Taunton branch of the London Camera Exchange and left in the hands of Andrew, who promised me he would find a solution, I was feeling a little relieved. We found our way to Meare Court Farm our domicile for the next 3 days. Meare Court is a striking stone farmhouse tucked away in the rolling hills, just outside Taunton. Serene, inspiring and captivating, it offered plenty of space, nooks and corners for participants to steal away in tranquil parts of the expansive grounds to work on their writing or photography. It was something out of a Jane Austin novel.
Once Ilva joined us on Thursday evening the four of us were more than content and relieved to be spending a quiet evening digging into some pretty fantastic curries from Donald Russell, one of our fabulous sponsors.
Late Friday morning the first of the participants began arriving at Meare Court and not long after we were well under way with our class introducing themselves in their elevator pitches, any initial apprehensions of anxiety drifting away. As in both of our previous workshops, these participants were a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and truly international group. Soon cheerful banter in French, German, Swedish, Spanish, English thrown in with a few words in Arabic and Hindi resonated throughout the room. As the morning progressed, the participants had already partnered with their roommates and we had unofficially adopted our mascot Tess, the resident sheepdog, for the weekend. We also found immense pleasure running after the farm rooster who was followed by the tottering circle of English hens.
As we all warmed up towards each other, we sat down to a light and colorful lunch of luscious salads, quiches, salmon and potatoes all washed down by a range of some of the most magnificent local Somerset apple cider from Orchard Pig.
A highlight at lunchtime was also celebrating the first participant birthday at Plate to Page. Spandana was surprised with an exquisite torte, candles, birthday song and all.
The afternoon kicked off the sessions with writing and photography presentations and hands-on exercises. The first day usually pushes our participants into what has previously been called a grueling programme. Writing and reading paragraphs and extracts, chasing them out of their comfort zones with camera techniques and food styling capabilities. It settles in as a bit of a shock for most of them but as the weekend evolves, it becomes evident how useful this extreme pace on the first day is.
It’s refreshing to see the dedication and motivation in many of the participants, soaking up all the fine details and information and then putting it all to work for themselves. Watching them discuss set-ups, angles of light and seeing the little furrows appear on their foreheads as they dare to switch from auto mode to manual mode or push themselves further is pure bliss for me. Sometimes their faces light up at the successful results, sometimes the furrows deepen in frustration, but none of them give up. Together they share the ups and downs, exchange ideas, thoughts and feedback between themselves and work to hone their skills as a team and individually.
Thanks to some very photogenic products sent by our sponsors there were enough motives for the participants to style, photograph, write and finally indulge in. We select our sponsors carefully, often looking for small, local and select partners who are as passionate about what they produce and create as we are. They spread their passion and love by providing us with products that we use to not only fill goodie bags with, but cook with, drink and of course feature them as motives in our styling and photography sessions. I think we do a pretty good job about spreading the word as many of them have put their faith and trust in us and have become cherished partners for multiple Plate to Page workshops.
From Donald Russell who provided us with legs of lamb, curries and fish pies, Bisol Prosecco, Orchard Pig cider, Edge of Belgravia (limited edition numbered ceramic knives), Taste of Home (cookbooks and aprons), Gourmelli Gourmet Foods, Sunchowder’s Emporia gourmet jams, Halen Môn smoked sea salt, Sally Williams nougat, Blue Basil Gourmet Brownies, The Garlic Farm (smoked garlic, fresh asparagus, relishes), Laithwaites Domaine of the Bee Wine, Capricorn Somerset Goats Cheese, Raw Love Life raw chocolates, Food Matters (Nielsen-Massey extracts, Riso Gallo rice & risotto), F & W Media (Brette Sember’s Muffin Tin Cookbook), and Kelly Moore camera bags each and every one of these fantastic and generous sponsors helped us make the weekend truly delicious and exciting.
As Friday came to an end we found ourselves gathered in the spacious kitchen warmed by the ancient aga, around the rustic and well worn wooden table. The contagious laughter echoed throughout the house, as corks of Crede Bisol prosecco popped open and bubbles tingled our noses. The oven doors opened releasing the aromas of Donald Russell’s fish pies in a delicious creamy sauce, I could hear my stomach rumble. Rounding the meal off we ended the day on a sweet note with a lavish raspberry Eton Mess. Plates are passed, food shared and conversation is plentiful - this is the spirit of From Plate to Page.
Saturday morning started exactly where Friday ended, around the kitchen table covered with a bountiful breakfast of fruit, bagels, muesli, yogurt, preserves, cheeses and cold sausages. With freshly brewed coffee steaming in the early morning crisp air, we made our way to the presentation room for our styling session, which was followed by a hands-on styling demonstration. Both Ilva and I guided the participants into our own workflow, thought processes and set-up showing them the details that need to be focused on and giving tips and pointers for prop selection. After which the participants had time to play and experiment on their own.
In between all the buzz, it becomes important for us to take small interludes to re-collect our thoughts and ground ourselves before we dive into the next session. It’s something the four of us have learned to do and the grounds of Meare Court offered ample space for a tranquil few moments under a tree, a short breather in the kitchen listening to Ella Fitzgerald, a joke between girls or just a walk in the wide green fields.
Photo: Ruth of Bread and Milk and Blackberries
The trips to a local smokery and pub served not only as an outing to break up the pace but also were the basis of our 2 major assignments that always make up a larger part of Saturday and Sunday. After the participants were given their assignments we headed towards Brown & Forrest. One of the reasons we were very keen about this smokery is because it was a small, family-owned business that focuses on quality rather than on mass-production.
From the fist instant we met the charming and vivacious owner, Jesse Pattison, his passion for his handicraft was evident. He joked with us, commenting on the size of our cameras and pretty soon we were eating out of his hands. Or rather off the table, which was set with a selection of the fabulous artisanal products the smokery produces: old-smoked salmon; hot-smoked eel, chicken and duck; and some very divine smoked trout paté.
Our group was divided into two and Jesse took each group into the smokery to show us how they hot and cold smoke a wide array of products; from salmon to eels to garlic and cheese. Jesse’s vibrant nature captivated and intrigued our group within minutes. Questions were answered, notes scribbled and images shot - soon it was time to leave the smokery and head for lunch.
Continuing with our theme of Best of Britain we planned our lunch in a marvelous typical English Pub serving untypical gourmet food. The Canal “The Pub that thinks its a restaurant” lived up to its motto, serving fresh and simply good food using local products. I remember visits to the pub in earlier trips to the UK in the late 80 and early 90s. The food was nothing like what came to our table that day. Fresh local asparagus with poached eggs in a light mustard sauce, a deep flavorful game goulash or the wonderful see-bass with creamy spinach and finally a most delicate clotted cream tart scattered with berries for dessert.
Returning back to Meare Court the participants grabbed their notebooks, cameras, notepads and pens, each team retiring to quiet sanctuaries that Meare Court so amply provides. Time to work on completing assignments and capturing all that was experienced in words and images. Rich chocolaty brownies flavored with cardamom, orange or cappuccino, or decadent raw chocolate, or the piles of gooey macadamia nougat provided enough brain food and energy boost to keep them going.
On Sunday class started early with presentations on post processing and many discussions on pitching articles for magazines and finding professional photography work. The afternoon was once again reserved for participants to complete their second assignment.
Sunday brought to us another highlight. Our gorgeous Plate to Page Tuscany alumni Hayley from the Delectable Diaries was treating us to a incredible 3 course meal, cooked mostly on the aga. A slow roasted lamb shoulder, kedgeree, asparagus, and a typical British Victoria sponge cake were just some of the goodies on the menu for that evening.
Plate to Page is the type of workshop series which does not end after the respective weekend. We as instructors like to keep tabs on how our past participants progress and many of them become friends with whom we like to keep in close contact. We are proud when we get emails, tweets and excited Skype calls and hear that Mona has written her book, Jenn is working on her photography and is beginning to get professional work, Simone continues with her awesome photography and is now also giving smaller workshops, Marta has been travelling the world and has had her photography featured on a table calendar (which sits proudly on my desk). These are just some of the alumni who have taken part in past Plate to Page workshops, all of them have flourished and progressed, taking steps towards their individual goals. We would like to think that Plate to Page provided them with new food to get a little closer to their dreams.
By Sunday evening I usually like to pack away my camera. It’s been a long and intense few days, with lots of emotional moments and powerful thoughts. On Sunday evening all I want to do is spend time with each of the participants, enjoy our last meal together, relax with glasses of wine and bask in the warmth of chatter and laughter that fills the kitchen. The table is set with food fit for royalty and as we sit huddled together shoulder to shoulder, passing around heavy platters brimming with succulent meats, crisp salads and tantalizing desserts I cannot help but get sentimental.
For three days we shared a common passion - writing, photography, styling and food. As instructors we guided our participants, sometimes pushing them and often encouraging them to reach out for their goals. In the span of the weekend it was not just about camera, styling and writing techniques, but being so close together we become a homogenous group sharing dreams, fears and wishes.
Officially Plate to Page is the hands-on series of workshops for food photography, styling and writing. They combine both important aspects together providing a very unique and original basis for the workshops unrivaled to any of its kind. Participants are challenged to go beyond their expectations, push their skills to the limit and entice their individual creativity and objective ideas. As instructors we feed their imagination, gently guide them to unleash their talent and give them the confidence to trust in their instincts. Plate to Page, officially, equals 12 participants, 4 instructors, a lot of hard work, plenty of motivation and a vast amount of inspiration.
Unofficially, the Plate to Page weekends go a lot deeper, touching us with so many emotions. Laughter echoing through the house, with glasses of wine in our hands chatting into the late hours.
Signing to ABBA, humming to Ella Fitzgerald, the music lifting our spirits to giddying heights.
Sharing dreams, fears, ideas and desires as we sit huddled on the sofa with steaming mugs of coffee, the panorama of English green countryside offering the perfect backdrop.
Celebrations of feasts, of incredible food and drink, of coming together from different corners of the world and finding the perfect wave to ride on in an ancient Manor House in the middle of the English country.
Friendships are made and bonds tightened. Arriving as strangers but we leave as friends, with friendships that lasts beyond the workshops.
Cribbing about the Wi-Fi (or the lack of it), waking up early and standing in line to get into the shower, making pots of steaming coffee, reaching out for another brownie, screaming at bursting light bulbs and squealing in delight at the abundant variety of yogurt, swearing at burnt toast and sighing with pleasure at the sight of the perfect Victoria sponge cake.
All this and so much more is the dynamic spirit of From Plate to Page.
Without my extremely talented, loving and caring colleagues these workshops would not be as magical, as hilarious and as spectacular as they always are. Thank you Jeanne, Ilva and Jamie for your professionalism, for your loyalty and most of all for your friendship.
Thank you to the Class of Somerset 2012: you made this weekend special and extremely enjoyable with your passion and motivation:
A very huge thank you to our stellar sponsors for your trust and faith in us - we could not have pulled this off in such a grand way without your support.
Bisol Prosecco | Donald Russell (legs of lamb, curries and fish pies)
Sally Williams (nougat) | Halen Môn (smoked sea salt)
Orchard Pig (Somerset ciders and fruit coolers) | Laithwaites Domaine of the Bee wine
Capricorn Somerset Goats Cheese | F & W Media (Brette Sember’s Muffin Tin Cookbook) |
Riso Gallo (3-grain rice & easy risotto) | Edge of Belgravia (limited edition numbered ceramic knives)
Sunchowder’s Emporia (gourmet jams) | Blue Basil Gourmet Brownies
Taste of Home (cookbooks and aprons) | Gourmelli (selected gourmet foods)
Nielsen-Massey flavored extracts | The Garlic Farm (smoked garlic, fresh asparagus, relishes) Raw Love Life raw chocolates | Kelly Moore (camera bag vouchers)
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