Dubai this time had a very different aura to it, compared to the past years. For the first time I felt as if the city had a flow, it seemed to groove to a distinct vibe – almost as if after years of searching Dubai had found its character. The city proudly projected a balance it has seemed to have found and this balance and groove was also characterized in the workshop I recently held in Dubai.
After the few changes we took on last year’s workshop things this year definitely fell into place fairly quickly. I have come to depend on the partners I work with as they are not only special but also immensely professionally. It’s so good: it keeps me on my toes, allows me to perfect the workflow, come up with new ideas and make reliable functions work even more smoothly.
Together with my friend and very vivacious Dima Sharif we embarked on putting together all the required pieces that makes up a unique workshop in Dubai. Once again this year we partnered with the professional culinary school SCAFA - School of Culinary & Finishing Arts as the values we want to give to this workshop is easily achieved by the incredible team. SCAFA brings together people, introducing them to a modern culinary training in an ever-growing culinary and hospitality environment.
With this in mind we divided the workshop session into two parts where we dedicated a separate day for SCAFA students, who had the opportunity to get a different insight into the world of food and plating. As professionals they learn a lot about the aesthetics of food and how to prepare it. Showing them another aspect of food and how visuals and styling can help them in their future careers as as upcoming chefs and industry professionals was quite exciting.
The second part was the two day workshop specifically for our participants. With thirteen participants arriving mainly from Dubai but also from Lebanon, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi we had a house full of eager and slightly nervous participants. The two days were packed with activities, theory sessions, hands-on practice, several exercises and assignments and input not only from the instructors’ side but also between each other. It is always sensational to watch how two heads are huddled together as they discuss and brainstorm their ideas, trying to realize their visions. There were occasions of frustrations that were overcome, moments of pure joy as the set-up came together and instant satisfaction when the light-bulb comes on! From my vantage point – a process I enjoy watching every time.
SCAFA’s rooms are well equipped and provide great quality of light throughout the day – at times challenging to handle but perfect to teach the participants the different methods and ways to tame it for our images. The professionally equipped kitchen was the exceptional for our cooking demos and practical assignments and SCAFA’s in-house Bistro quickly became the hub of our meals and coffee kick!
Baker & Spice provided a convivial brunch on the first day of the workshop. The wide array of their organic and wholesome selection of food included home-made labneh, yogurt and granola, fruit salads, jams, mutabal, Shakshooka and an incredible variety of breads and sweet baked goods offered exactly the right setting to get to know the participants and for the participants to get the vibes from each other. The communal style meal always offers the right platform to kick-off the workshop.
The first day is always extremely intensive as we pack several theory sessions, discussing several topics like using camera techniques, how to manipulate light to create the required mood, the techniques of good focus and the artistic expressions. We also talked about styling, color, texture and how to engage the viewer on an emotional level to bring them right into the image by creating edible narratives with their photos. These interactive sessions are a great way to really bring the participants straight into the heart of food photography and styling. We discussed current trends, how to manage your time efficiently during photography / styling process and also how to set-up a workflow to use your time effectively. Punctuated with demos and exercises, day one warms the participants up before they are thrown into their assignments.
As the sun began to set we headed towards the Jumeirah Beach for a relaxed and fun dinner at the beach. Retro Feasts Dubai exclusively hosted our group and treated us to a variety of their signature dishes like the salmon Nicoise, Coronation chicken salad and chicken satay skewers. The fact that we had free access to their quirky little restaurant allowed us to take advantage of freely moving around and working on assignment work with the many visually interesting niches and corners providing many unique photo opportunities. The entire Retro Feasts team led by the charming and adorable Polly Smith was so forthcoming and friendly that we all felt instantly comfortable. Dinner provided the opportunity for catching up with everyone and talking individually with the participants.
The following day kicked –off with an intensive session on post-processing, workflows, organizing your images and working with Lightroom. Dima took over seamlessly enticing the participants into the hands-on cooking session which was part of the day's assignment. I have worked with Dima on several occasions, including the shooting of her book which is due out soon, so I know that she works on a high standard. We complement each other on many aspects and we both push each other to reach further and more intensively. We make a great team and I am lucky to have her as a cherished friend. Dima wrapped the participants in the art of making Kanafeh a delightful, flaky pastry noodles, crispy and delicate, filled with a smooth and sweet cheesy cream.
Lunch, created also by Dima and plated by the talented chefs at SCAFA was a revelation. Rustic Palestinian dishes jazzed up with a modern day make-over – simple freekeh salad with garden fresh vegetables followed by a succulent safflower roasted chicken on a bed of roasted vegetables all rounded off by the kanafeh á la mode!
The afternoon became an intensive time to work on final assignment images. It was a challenging task participants had and I noticed many were consumed with their tasks. Once again frustration and pleasure lie so close to each other and when at the end of the day the assignments are presented the awe inspiring pictures speak a thousand words. In a matter of just two days the progress the participants make is just magnificent. It makes all the hard work so worthwhile seeing how they develop, unleashing their creativity to produce such amazing work.
The amazing props provided by Ronai LLC were one of my many highlights – my weakness! Exquisite and elegant the many colored and textured props offered unlimited possibilities for the participants to experiment, creating different sets and moods for the images.
Balqees Honey came back to sponsor us again this year with a delightful selection of their Yemeni raw honey. Participants had the opportunity to create “product shots” as part of their assignment using jars of the honey and the best two were awarded lavish hampers of Balqees honey. Two absolutely lovely ladies Shafeena and Safa took away those hampers! So proud of these girls as both arrived a tad nervous and uncertain about their skills and talent.
Shafeena - 1st Place Balqees Raw Honey Product shot competition
Safa - 2nd Place Balqees Raw Honey Product shot competition
Finale Dinner and enter the amazing Chef Russell Impiazzi. A food rock star who arrived with his entourage and stole the show with his incredible creation. The culinary director of Lafayette Gourmet Russell has been a part of the team for four years now since the very first workshop I have held in Dubai. I totally trust his creativity and fabulous ideas so when he told me he had something “wild” planned for me – I wanted to be surprised. Russell and his team created a beautiful forest scenery complete with morning mist each savory dish placed delicately around the scene. Just as I was thinking this cannot be outdone Russell began painting a dessertscape of macarons, tarts, cheesecakes and fruit. Styling at its highest level. I was inspired and in awe! We ended the evening with a fantastic raffle sponsored by ELEKTA Gulf who allowed us to add an element of surprise to our finale dinner. Three professional windows tablets were raffled to three lucky winners!
After 2 high-powered days the dinner was the most magical moment to end the workshop. I was exhausted I have to admit – more this time than I have been in previous workshops. But I have come away with so much energy and new ideas to bring to life.
Dima, Russell and me - after a great two days exhausted but so happy - Image: Minna
I’ve created a little Storify story summarizing several highlights of the workshop as it happened.
A big thanks to the thirteen participants that decided to make this happen for themselves by investing in their creativity and talent and for allowing us to guide them . I very much enjoyed watching their progress over the two days.Thank you for travelling from far and near and for fuelling the fire of creativity the drives us.
A huge thank you to our very special partners and sponsors for the Dubai 2015 Workshop. Without these partners and supporters many aspects of this workshop would just not have been possible.
SCAFA - School of Culinary & Finishing Arts – for generously allowing us use of their venue and rooms. For making us feel right at home and for a caring, professional team supporting and attending to all of our needs. Thank you Francisco and Alisha!
Balqees – once again providing not only jars of their incredible raw Yemeni honey for tastings but also sample jars for the goodie bags and lavish gift hampers for product shots winners.
Lafayette Gourmet - for supplying the incredible ingredients for our lunch Special thanks to Chef Russell for creating the magical finale dinner!
Ronai LLC – for providing the participants with an amazing variety of extravagant dinnerware, glasses, boards, slates and crates as props.
Baker and Spice – for the amazing brunch and variety of breads and baked goods to fortify and as heroes for our styling and photography sessions. Not to mention the huge and very generous goodie bag for each of our participant.
Lootah Premium Foods - suppliers of some of Dubai’s most exclusive produce and ingredients. Supplying fruit for our participants and for our styling and photography sessions.
Retro Feasts Dubai for taking us in and sppoiling us with a lovely, light and fantastic dinner and for giving us exclusive use of their quirky restaurant. Thanks to the entire team!
ELEKTA Gulf for the awesome tablets for our raffle competition.
Lastly, but by no means last – my vibrant co-host, organizer and dear friend, Dima: thank you for your honesty, for your power and for your loyalty! We are twins in our minds, hearts and souls.
We’ll be back Dubai – 2016!
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