London is a tough and competitive market. When it comes to food blogging there are a multitude of blogs broadcasting from this inspiring and pulsating city that it’s hard to keep count. However, even though there are many bloggers and foodies in London I never looked into the city as a place to host one of my workshops. It’s an expensive city and costs like venue, travel and other expenses that need to be considered while calculating the overall ticket price can quickly become costly making it seem ridiculously high-priced.
When Sumayya and I put our heads together for this workshop it was one of our biggest challenges. We brought Jeanne in and began working on creating an impressive but affordable 2 days for twelve participants looking to hone their skills and finding their creativity. We had a few ups and downs but in the end we put a darned good schedule together.
London however, is a tough market! We found that before Christmas the tickets did not sell as fast as they usually do making us think of a plan B and a plan C! As the new year came around it picked up pace and within a short time we sold out.
As I arrived in London the sun was shining and my spirits were high. I love London it is such an inspiring city and even though the Underground and public transportation totally intimidates, I love people watching as the tube takes me from station to station.
The workshop kicked off on Friday the day after Valentine’s day and as the participants poured into the beautiful light-filled Central Street Cookery School, the aromas of Sumayya’s brunch menu were wafting throughout the room. Tamarind, coconut, cardamom, ginger and orange filled the air and we welcomed the participants to bowls of chickpea curry with hot poories, mugs of steaming cardamom infused chai and coffee and a heavenly sweet aromatic semolina halva. With platefuls of comforting food each participant shared a little about themselves, their goals and what they expected to achieve from the two days.
Petra, Valentina, Eva, Aniko, Charlotte, Bernadette, Lu, Madeleine, Nuraan, Dot, Fleur and Marie-Louise who came from Austria, Paris, Norway, Germany, South Africa and from around the UK made this a colorful and fun group of ladies. Each one of these lovely ladies came from a different walk of life, each with different ideas and goals but all of them driven by the common love of food and passion for food photography and styling.
I love listening to each story, it is often an emotional period, as stories of hardships are shared about difficulties faced and coming to the workshop there are hopes to take a step onto a new path. It sets my mind on how I can help each individual person tackle their own personal goals showing them the route they can follow and how I can help the whole group come together as a dynamic group to work as a team.
The first day is filled with a lot of theory covering the whole spectrum of light, focus, depth of field, color, props, composition. Little practical exercises help to loosen and shake things up preparing each of the eager participants for the assignment.
When Jeanne took over I was exhausted and can only imagine how the fantastic participants must have felt. Refreshing ourselves on fruit, tea and coffee we pushed forward with Jeanne leading the discussion on low-light and specifically restaurant photography. I love Jeanne’s style, her candid yet engaging way of presenting captures everyone from the first minute.
We packed up our gear and headed to our dinner date at the lovely Chiswell Street Dining Rooms where at the Montcalm City Hotel we had reserved a private room. It was the perfect location to practice the low-light and restaurant photography on-site. The team from the Chiswell Dining rooms had created a spectacular menu for us to photography and eventually indulge in.
From a sweetcorn velouté with Dorset crab and sourdough croutons to Scottish salmon tartar with soft boiled quail’s eggs and caviar served with the most incredible iced horseradish to the most amazing Longhorn beef fillet carpaccio with black figs and parmesan to start with leading us to the mains of a beautiful pan fried fillet of sea bass served on creamy olive oil mashed potato with smoked celeriac remoulade and an orange and rosemary sauce or the most succulent and tender pan fried Middle White pork fillet and a slow roast belly on a bed of Jerusalem artichoke purée, fondant potato and an apple chutney.
Even after this there was no way anyone could turn down the sensual array of desserts prepared for us. A divine chocolate roulade with boozy Kirsch cherries or the white chocolate parfait with port roasted plums and an almond tuille, or should it be the heavenly salted caramel tart with caramelised banana or a comforting vanilla spiced rice pudding drizzled with a hot chocolate sauce and spiced with a cinnamon stick. We dined like the royals in this wonderful location. Our service staff Anton and Gemma were wonderfully forthcoming, funny and incredibly kind waiting on us till we took our pictures, playing models and always smiling and joking with us. It made us all feel comfortable and at home.
There was something extremely majestic about walking into the private room with the long beautifully laid table. I fell in love with the gorgeous chandelier and the fine details like fresh flowers and the bread boards with fresh bread and salted butter in the little dishes. As the cameras continued to click, I slipped out of my shoes and walked the room on the lush carpet. It was our private room after all. The evening ended on a high note. Jeanne and I walked towards the tube station the night air was mild and it felt like a refreshing Spring evening. It was a lovely moment where the two of us had a few moments to recap the day and catch the striking sight of the Shard. London - so full of energy.
The next day after a walk through Lightroom and a few tips on post-processing the teams set off to create their assignments. The second day is always filled with so much energy and creativity and watching each individual participant push themselves out of their comfort zones is so elating. They created fantastic set-ups, taking into consideration the guidelines I gave them. They studied, reviewed, discussed and then set out to find the right props, look for the perfect light to highlight the mood and take a set of images for the final presentation.
Although the workshops focus mostly on enhancing the photography and styling skills, as a food photographer/stylist the big bonus is always the food. The concept for the workshops is simple and provides the participant with a food experience. For my London workshop the theme was “From London to Pakistan/India - Pub and Street Food” and we integrated the theme in all the activities throughout the two days.
Sumayya gave an insight on specific cooking techniques often used in the Indian/Pakistani kitchen. This way the 12 lovely ladies were able to roll out paranthas or learn how to temper for a slow cooked dal. The feast that Sumayya had planned for lunch was my personal highlight if the 2 days. I absolutely love Indian street food. Sumayya spoiled us with specialities like dahi baras: lentil fritters topped with chilled spicy yoghurt and mint, fragrant saffron rice with pistachios, almond and raisins, Channa Dal topped with cumin, red chilli and garlic tempering, sweet samosas filled with cardamom, banana and coconut to name just a few of the dishes we were treated to.
As a special treat for my readers, I have asked Sumayya to share the recipe for the sweet samosas. Just a word of warning though: they are addictive.
Coconut, Cardamom & Banana Samosa with Chilli Chocolate DrizzleServes: makes about 10 samosas (baked, but can be lightly fried in vegetable oil as well)
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
60 g desiccated coconut
2 tsp. freshly ground cardamom seeds
1 1/2 tbsp. crumbled jaggery or muscovado sugar
20 filo pastry sheets that are 2/5 inches wide OR Samosa pastry if available
Vegetable oil to seal the samosas
For drizzle and decoration:
10 pieces of dark chilli chocolate
1 tsp. salted butter
- To make the samosa filling combine the mashed bananas with the coconut, ground cardamom, jaggery or sugar and cover.
- Pre-heat oven to 200° C. Place two filo pastry sheets on top of each other and place 1 heaped tsp. of the banana mixture at one corner of the sheets and fold into a triangle, covering the banana mixture. Oil the filo surface as you keep folding until the end of the pastry. Stick the loose corners with a little oil. Make all the triangles and then place on a baking sheet, brush with oil and bake in oven for 3-4 minutes or until light brown.
- To make the chilli chocolate drizzle, place the chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water (on the stove and water should not touch the glass bowl) and melt the chocolate. Add the salted butter and stir in until everything is evenly melted.
- To serve the samosas, lightly drizzle with the chilli chocolate drizzle. Enjoy hot!
After the hearty lunch we continued with the assignment. London was showing itself from it’s glorious side. Sunny skies and mild temperatures allowing us to work outdoors on the grounds of the Central Street Cookery School. There was a lot of activity and ideas were discussed, tried and then retried. The participants exuded the energy and helped each other to get their perfect images. I loved watching them, dedicated and absorbed in their work. Jeanne and I went around adding our comments, giving them tips and feedback.
As the final shots were taken a calm took over the spacious rooms of the school as each team huddled in front of their notebooks to select, post-process and edit their images for final presentations. Sumayya, Jeanne and I welcomed our wonderful sponsor Vitamix UK, who had been very generous to provide us with a Vitamix machine to make our finale cocktails and one machine offered as a giveaway prize. Laura from Vitamix UK came in to say hi and show us how to make the sensational cocktails. A great way to celebrate the end of a enlivening 2 days.
And who won that awesome Vitamix machine? Trust me we all had our eyes on it but it was charming Aniko who with a loud cheer as her number was announced got us all laughing and took the machine home with her. Aniko hope you are enjoying making smoothies, cocktails and soups. Congratulations!
Check out what we all got up to at the London Workshop over at our Storify page. It’s a fantastic recap and we keep updating it as details from all our participants and sponsors come in.
A huge thank you and my deepest gratitude to our lovely sponsors, Vitamix UK, Feines Zeug, Duke of Delhi, Pistachio Rose and to Chiswell Street Dining Rooms for providing a great dining experience.
If you missed the London Workshop and this has whet your appetite, I’ll be hosting another styling and photography workshop in March here in Weimar. A package deal that includes tuition, accommodation, meals and a whole lot more - not to mention connecting with like-minded people and talking, taking and inhaling food, photography and styling for 2 days.
Check out the Weimar workshop details!
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