One never knows how the dynamics and mechanics of a group will function. It’s an intricate matter bringing 12 people together, each from different parts of the world, with different personalities, characters and desires. The drive has to flow in positive directions and the synergy between the group must be cohesive and interactive. It is one of the things that keeps us, as instructors of the Plate to Page workshop, always on our toes.
It is also something that never becomes a routine. With our fourth From Plate to Page workshop just under our belt, I am still positively reminiscing on the 3 wonderful days we spent in Ireland. Prior to the workshop there are months of organizing, planning and coordinating. We check, re-check and bang our heads when things do not move along, but when I stand in the middle of the new group I feel an excited buzz that is unparalleled.
Friday morning brings the participants together for the first time. To break the ice we kick-off with introductions from each participant, asking them to share their challenges, wishes and goals they would like to achieve for the weekend. There are always mixed feelings as we begin to describe the way the next 3 days will be set-up. Some are hesitant to write and share, others are reluctant to photograph. Working in pairs and groups make some nervous, while others are excited to take on new challenges.
I admit, as instructors we are rather strict. We want each of our participants to look out beyond their box, to walk away after the weekend with the realization of having learnt something new or achieving something they thought they could never tackle. Often working intensively with a small group, pushing them to the limit under a time constraint and watchful eyes of instructors can be challenging but I am convinced, as instructors, we work on a very positive level with our participants and while we offer critique, it is constructive and channels the participants in a more focused direction.
“Fighting the inner Gollum!” and coming out a winner puts the biggest smiles on the participants’ faces. As the day unfolds and exercises are tackled with success and the group merge into a cohesive team, there are cheers, laughter and even tears as the emotion of conquering fears is always a powerful one.
One of the most rewarding moments for me is to see the high quality of work the participants produce within a short period of time. Each one arrives with different expectations and different levels of talent and experience. Each one has their own specific goals that they want to tackle. Within a matter of hours they are thrown together in exercises and assignments of words and images.
Writers squeal in delight as their images are greeted with such positivity and photographers sit-up proud as their written stories create an emotional sigh of admiration. Slowly the initial barriers and doubts are broken as creativity unleashes.
The weekend progresses on a fantastic high. Twelve participants, four instructors and several exercises and assignments will always make us hungry and thirsty. With food and drink in abundance convivial meals are something to look forward to, a welcomed break and a chance to get to know each other more intimately. Corks of Nino Franco Rustico prosecco are popped and bottles of red wines from Brancott Estate are emptied as giggles and laughter are echoed through our cottage.
We have taken over Decoy Cottages as the grounds of this stunning location becomes the backdrop for photo sessions. Plates of food are arranged, props scrutinized and the set-up discussed. Heads huddled together as adjectives are bounced around, sentences re-arranged and ideas exchanged. It is exhilarating to watch the assignments come alive.
Our Saturday field trip takes us to the quaint Sage and Stone Farmers’ Market set between the rolling hills just outside of Duleek. We were extremely grateful to the organizers, all the artisan producers and stall owners who moved the market to Saturday just for the Plate to Page workshop. I always believe it is the attitude of the people that make or break an event. For me, coming to the Sage and Stone market was one of the true pleasures of the weekend. Each artisan producer went out of their way to talk to our participants and answer their extensive questions and pose for images, the smile on their faces never wavering. The weather, typical Irish, changed within minutes to strong showers and bright sunshine did not dampen our moods.
Back at the cottages we scuttle around the kitchen to prepare lunch, taking shots and making notes all at the same time. Ilva and I set-up and style a few demo motives and explain hands-on the fundamentals of styling. Talking about colors, textures and props, we raise the level for our participant and challenge them to take shots of difficult motives: white on white, deep rich blue in a dark and moody atmosphere. We hear sighs! of exasperation or whoops! of contentment from the participants, while Ilva and I wink at each other happy to be pushing them out of their comfort zones.
Quickly they scurry off with Jeanne and Jamie, armed with notebooks, pens and papers as they begin their writing workshop. They are pushed to follow their instincts and find inspiration. They file their stories and pensively work on their exercises. I enjoy hearing their pieces of work; some make me laugh out loud while others move me emotionally. The progress each participant has made within a few days is fascinating. Even those self-proclaimed “non-writers” are producing some brilliant writing work. Image courtesy of Jeanne Horak-Druiff
We love integrating our Plate to Page alumni however and whenever we can. David of Kitchen 72 and P2P Weimar Alumni was our star chef for Sunday. With his creative and intuitive dishes he had us eating out of his hands. Colorful salads and tongue tickling desserts studded the table. Raw and pickled salad with carrots, radish, fennel, fennel pollen and chard or a barbecued salmon with beetroot juice, apple blossoms and sea beet leaves or the most succulent smoked sack of bacon, sponsored by our main sponsors Bord Bia, or potato salad and purple kale, brussel sprout tops were just some of the most divine dishes we were spoilt with. Although all of David’s creations were out of this world, it was his caramelized pears with a crumbled beetroot cake and sorrel granita that tantalized my tastebuds and left me speechless. Thank you so much David for an amazing food experience that we will always remember. Image courtesy of Jeanne Horak-Druiff
With the last meal we know the weekend is ending. Monica says it best when she states she wished that this could go on forever. Yes we know and share that feeling. Making new friends, finding inspiration, working hard, laughing even harder and letting creativity take control for just 3 days seems like not enough time. But as the workshop ends we are exhausted but satisfied at having wrapped up another successful workshop weekend. We are happy that each participant takes something new with them, discovering a deeper talent and learning how to focus on it to make it work.
Plate to Page Ireland was simply a grand experience. There are a lot of people who come together to make our workshops work so smoothly. And we thank them all for putting their faith and trust in us. Our sponsors Donald Russel Butchers for some heavenly meals and desserts, Ed Hick’s Bacon Jam, Love Moorish Smoked Humous, Prosseco in abundance from Nino Franco in Italy and heady red wines from Brancott Estate in New Zealand, artisinal jams from Wendy at Sunchowder’s Emporia in Florida, zesters and knife sharpeners from Edgeware, Dukkah and Skinny Hot Chocolate from South African NoMu, Donegal Rapeseed Oil, a copy the cookbook Heartbreak Recovery Kitchen by Jeanne Ambrose and Lindsey Ambrose, artisinal chocolates from Rococo Chocolates and some pretty good Patron Tequila.
Lots of gratitude to Bord Bia for supporting us and for the second time helping us create an extraordinary workshop. We loved Ireland!
A massive thank you to Paula at Decoy Cottages for being our angel on location and making sure things clicked in and worked like clockwork. You were our wonder woman!
A huge thank you to Earls Kitchen for the amazing catered Brunch on Friday and the fantastic dinner on Saturday.
To all the fantastic farmers and artisan producers at the Sage and Stone Farmers’ Market; thank you for taking us on an amazing foodie ride and making our field trip such a success.
Without our wonderful participants who came to Ireland from faraway places like Singapore, Panama, South Africa, USA or closer to home, Portugal, Slovenia, Scotland and Ireland this would have not happened. Thank you Monica, Sofiah, Anne Marie, Karon, Susana and André, Kate, Samantha, Mafe , Sumayya and Lidija – we hope you enjoyed your Palte to Page experience.
Finally sincerest thanks to my 3 amazing colleagues and cherished friends – Ilva, Jeanne and Jamie we’ve done it again. It would not have been as much fun, as exciting, at times hair-tearing without you all. You rock and raising my glass to you!
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