It’s glitzy, it’s shrill and it’s kitschy, this once-upon-a-time fisher village entices with bright lights and the superlative. While Dubai’s headlines always places its unparalleled projects in the limelight: world's tallest tower, manmade islands and underwater hotels, there is a part of Dubai that seems to have been forgotten.
A part that I remember often visiting when I used to come here in the mid 80s, before the towers rose from what used to be sand and shrubs.
I’ve always wanted to integrate this part of Dubai into my workshops as I find there is a very special charm to the bustling Deira or Bur Dubai that the famous glitzy downtown Dubai just cannot match. In the past dazzling the workshop delegates with the Atlantis and Georgio Locatelli was unbeatable and absolutely sensational, I longed for a mix - to show the new but also to take my delegates to the heart of old Dubai. In this respect we managed the balance this year, simply fantastically.
Having such a strong team backing me as I do in Dubai, I realized was essential, especially with this year’s turbulences I experienced. I can only bow my head in gratitude to my fantastic partners. Foremost Sally, whose paramount support has been a driving force in these workshops. With Miele allowing us the generous use of their gorgeous, light filled and well equipped gallery once again, the venue was secured. Lafayette Gourmet, led Chef Russell Impiazzi looking after food and meals and the vivacious Dima Sharif making the cooking demo and the Palestinian meal a remarkable event for the delegates. This year I was excited to have the pleasure of including the stunning Arva Ahmed of Frying Pan Adventures to the team. I met Arva at last year’s workshop and in an instant knew that she had to be part of the Dubai Workshop team. I am so glad she agreed as she was my link to realize my vision of linking the new with the old.
We opened the doors of the Dubai Workshop 2013 on a beautiful sunny morning, as most October mornings are in Dubai. Our delegates flew in from Nigeria, Turkey, Bahrain, Kuwait, Holland and of course delegates from Dubai too. I am always extremely excited to meet the new team but it was also so special to see the familiar faces of Minna from The Naked Plate, who has been at every single one of my Dubai workshops and of course sweet Simone of Simone’s Kitchen, with whom I recently held the Amsterdam workshop in September. During brunch as everyone introduced themselves, I felt that although there were some scepticism from one or two delegates, the vibes in the room were very positive with a dynamic energy flowing. This makes a great basis for me to work with each participant and help them come a step closer to their goals. The main reason I insist on keeping my workshop group small is to allow me to work one-on-one with each delegate and provide as much guidance and advice as I can.“Say cheese!” A few of the workshop delegates gather around the red leather Miele “M"
I was able to beat the scepticism quickly! We moved smoothly from theory, discussing the principles of food photography and styling, covering the fundamentals and talking about how important light is, learning how to control the camera and sharing styling secrets, to the quick exercises and demos. Always a great way to get the creative juices flowing. Miele provided us with coffee and tea and we were lucky to have a constant supply of sponsored Badoit and Evian water, including some in beautiful limited edition bottles by Ellie Saab (I love Ellie Saab and was such a sucker for this bottle).
Late that afternoon Arva came and whisked us all off, in an air-conditioned bus, to the on-location assignment. She had carefully designed a street food tour for the workshop to fit into the assignment that would take us to the heart of old Dubai. We would be tasting ethnic fare from all manner of authentic food establishments, with Arva sharing the exact percentage of the capacity of our stomach that would be claimed. Arva is bubbly, energetic and has the ability to make one feel relaxed and at ease in every surrounding. For the workshop participants it was not just about testing the capacity of their stomachs, but it was also about testing their photography skills. With poor lighting conditions, confined spaces and finding the right angle, the task and the assignment was a challenge. But that was exactly what I wanted!
We started in the heart of Deira with warm Falafel mahshi: chickpea falafels stuffed with chilli paste and onions, freshly made and crisp to the bite. As we took our seats on glass tables set out on the pavements of Murraqqabat Street we were treated to silky hummus with a tangy coriander, parsley, bell pepper and lemon juice sauce called tatbeela, Egyptian ful medames, my favorite dip made with fava beans. And who can resists sweet and warm Kunafa Na'ama - a cheese pie with ground kataifi noodle pastry on the top, drenched in syrup. Even if the capacity of my stomach was already half filled I was eager to follow the group to indulge in some Syrian pistachio Boodha ice cream on Dubai’s bustling Rigga Road.
Usually a meal ends with dessert but Arva manoeuvred us towards the notorious Abu Hail area where “fast cars and women of questionable profession” are a common sight. Our destination was an inconspicuous Morroccan restaurant, just big enough to fit all 16 of us on a long table. As we entered Tagine wa Tanjia, we were greeted by a singing staff who welcomed us so warmly that we all felt at home instantly. They were slightly flabbergasted by all of our cameras and picture snapping. We were pampered with a crispy and flavorful sweet-savoury chicken pie with almonds and eggs called Bastilla followed by a slow-cooked lamb Tangia with preserved lemons, cooked in clay pot.
The cameras clicked constantly as the participants shot images for their assignments, once the shots were in the bag, we were all eager to tuck into the feast that was laid out for us on the table. The long day came to a happy and satisfying end. Arva made this an unforgettable experience, not just for me but I think many of the delegates take back special memories with them. If you plan to visit Dubai make sure you book one of the sensational Frying Pan Food Adventures, which is in the top ranking things to do in Dubai on Trip Advisor. Arva and I have already started our initial brainstorming for next year’s workshop!
The next day back at the Miele Gallery we started the day with Sally’s essential session on Social Media Strategy. As a Marketing Communications Consultant, Sally is an expert in her field and had a plethora of information, tips and tricks to share for our delegates and gave important advice on how to move around in the ever fast paced world of Twitter, Facebook and Co.
Day one usually makes me nervous: be it the thoughts of how the new group will click together, will everything fall into place, will all the equipment work … the thoughts that occupy my mind are plenty. Day two on the other hand excites and relaxes me a bit more. I can take a small step back and watch how the group work together executing their assignment. Once again this year I handed the baton over to Dima Sharif who seamlessly engaged the group into the cooking session which was integrated into the day's assignment.
This year I have been working very closely with Dima, shooting her first cookbook, so I have come to know what to expect from Dima and she knows what to expect from me. We make a powerful and efficient team. Easy, to the point and spirited; that is Dima - add to that professional and competent and you have all the makings of a fun and informative cooking session. She captured the participants quickly and even got one of them to like okra after having admitted his dislike for the vegetable.
Dima created a light and spectacular Palestinian menu, portraying recipes from her upcoming cookbook. As I had already tried them all I knew the participants were in for a delightful treat. She served platters of beetroot salad with hints of thyme, followed by pan fried sea bass fillets with lentil pilaf & pine nut salsa paired with stir fried okra and roasted tomatoes and a pretty cauliflower salad. Rounding off the meal was her famous Ruz Bhalib Bil Mistka, a luscious rice pudding flavored with mastic and rosewater.
Finally it was time for the last class and to review the participants work over the past two days. I am strict - I know - I have been told a few times, but I hope that the critique I give will help each participant see where improvement is needed and where their strong points are. My aim is for them all to go back home, inspired by what they learnt and achieved at the workshop and to practice further with new ideas.
Chef Russell was back in the kitchen that evening accompanied by the very lovely Hayley of Be Supernatural. A few days earlier Russell had convinced me to dare to be different with our final dinner and try out something he was working on for Lafayette Gourmet - a Raw Vegan tasting menu created by Hayley and himself.
As I came out of the presentation room both of them were in the middle of preparing the meal. Zucchini was turned into spaghetti, bowls and plates were being arranged and I was looking forward to seeing what my delegates would say. Raw vegan falafel served with a mint yogurt dressing, a spicy raw vegan mushroom masala curry and a vegan spaghetti with a rich and aromatic Italian herb sauce invited the dinner guests to unique tasting of dishes. Tantalizing the sweet taste buds was a selection of fruit crumble served with a mango ginger custard and a raw vegan cacao coco mousse - for me a highlight, with the freshly pressed coconut cream. The menu created some interesting food discussions amongst the guests and I think the menu was a pleasant surprise.
During dinner another highlight for me was the tasting of the divine Raw Yemeni honey supplied by Balqees. With exclusive honey of Yemeni Sidr or the cinnamon and ginger fusion or the saffron blend, each spoonful enlightened my tastebuds with new character. Of course I had to bring back a few bottles.
Goodie bags always make the participants squeal with joy and as Sally handed out the vivid Miele red bags filled with exclusive and incredible items I had to think of all the great sponsors who contribute in many ways to make the workshop so successful.
A massive thank you to our Dubai Workshop 2013 sponsors and partners:
Badoit and Evain water - throughout the 2 days.
Lindt & Sprüngli - for once again collaborating with us to fill the goodie bags with chocolates.
Lime&Tonic for providing access to exclusive experiences
Toffee Princess - has been a wonderful part of all my Dubai workshops sponsoring her luscious Scottish tablets in the most divine flavors.
Tavola - for supporting us in many ways.
Arabian Wheatgrass - for not only supplying us with fresh wheatgrass but also for a sampling of seeds for each participant to grow at home.
Balqees - with not only the amazing tasting but also with a sampling for the goodie bags.
Down To Earth - for providing their potent fresh spices for use as props and to take home.
La Mere Culinaire - for not only being a part of the workshop but also for generously putting some extra treats for the goodie bags.
Crescendo - for - providing some incredibly flavored vinegars
Miele Gallery - for the unique experience.
Thank you Cynthia for allowing us to feel at home.
Lafayette Gourmet - for the supply of incredible food and great meals.
Russell you are my food rock star!
Dima Sharif - for treating us to an amazing menu and cooking demo.
Dima thank you for your positive attitude and energy!
Frying Pan Food Adventures - for giving us an amazing experience with the street food tour.
Arva thank you for making my wish come true!
When a workshop is winding up there is often relief: it went well, the participants are inspired and full of ideas and the general positive energy, but there is also slight melancholy at wrapping it up. We are often busy for weeks during the year planning and preparing, tackling correspondence and dealing with frustrations, the highs and the lows and I get attached to the workshop and the people who are on the team.
I would like to say a massive and a very special thank you to Sally! You have been my beacon and a strong support throughout the 3 workshops. I have truly come to care and love you for your down-to-earth and thoughtful advice. You will be missed.
Also a big wave and a thank you to all my awesome and fun participants:
You made this a special two days and I thank you for putting your trust and faith in Sally and me. I hope you will keep me updated on your progress.
If you are keen to keep yourself updated on all upcoming workshops join my food styling & photography mailing list here.
I also instruct comprehensive online Food Photography and Styling courses over at the interactive school of photography and multimedia The Compelling Image (TCI). These courses are aimed primarily at food bloggers and photographers who would like to enhance and hone their food photography and styling skills. More information can be found here.
Enrolments for November:
18 November 2013 (Enroll before 25 Nov 2013)
25 November 2013 (Enroll before 02 Dec 2013)
To buy a place on this course, please select the session that you would like to here.
My instructor page on TCI here.
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