What do you get if you add together twelve participants, four instructors, thirteen nationalities, and three days of intensive hands-on writing and photography in a picturesque garden setting in Germany? The answer is the inaugural From Plate to Page food writing and photography workshop which took place in Weimar from 20 to 22 May 2011.
The From Plate to Page workshops are the brainchild of four respected food bloggers and good friends Meeta K. Wolff of What’s For Lunch, Honey? (http://www.whatsforlunchhoney.net), Ilva Beretta of Lucullian Delights (http://luculliandelights.com), Jeanne Horak-Druiff of CookSister! (http://www.cooksister.com), and Jamie Schler of Life’s a Feast (http://lifesafeast.blogspot.com). Having spoken at and attended a number of large lecture-style conferences, these four ladies decided that the traditional format, although good for networking and socialising, did not offer much in the way of practical learning opportunities for more established bloggers looking to hone their writing and photography skills. Their goal in creating From Plate to Page was to offer an alternative to large conferences and to provide an opportunity for bloggers of all levels of experience to receive one-to-one tutoring from four of Europe’s most established food bloggers.
Day one of the workshop saw the participants arriving at the Kipperquelle Hotel from as far afield as New York, Ireland, South Africa, Canada, and a number of European countries. Bloggers were soon getting to know each other and their instructors over an informal al fresco lunch (but not before all the food had been extensively photographed, of course!).
Once lunch was out of the way, each participant introduced themselves and their blog in a short 5-minute “elevator pitch” and participated in a discussion on good versus bad food writing and photography before the intensive work of the day commenced. After presentations on photography basics and writing style and voice, participants were divided into groups of six. These groups then worked in turn with the two photography and two writing instructors on exercises designed to help them define what their natural verbal and visual style was and to assist their creativity.
Everybody agreed that, although the exercises threw participants into the deep end and made one blogger remark that this was an “all work and no shop kind of weekend”, they certainly got everybody out of any writing and photographic ruts and got our brains buzzing with new ideas. A brief presentation on restaurant reviews and low-light photography techniques in restaurants was followed by a Breton-themed dinner at the Bistro Français. Oysters were followed by a feast of crab claws and sea snails; scallops with broad beans; a honeyed goat cheese salad; salt marsh lamb with green beans and new potatoes; and a dessert of flan (Far Breton) and crêpes filled with salted butter caramel.
Day two started with the handing out of generous goodie bags to participants, including many items generously supplied by our main sponsor, Bord Bia, the Irish Food board, including: Hotel Chocolat; Ergo Chef knives; OXO and Sweet Pete’s. Soon, though, it was back to work and the morning was taken up by a photography presentation and a writing workshop that saw the participants playing word association games, learning how to find inspiration for a post.
At lunch time participants headed out into the lovely hotel gardens to put into practice what they had learned by styling food for a picnic shoot. Using the beautiful vintage props sponsored by Paula Walters, they arranged and rearranged food to get the perfect shot, while the instructors walked around and spent time with each person, sharing knowledge and advice and giving hands-on guidance.
Only once everybody had their perfect shot in the bag did we all sit down for a feast of exotic foods, brought by each participant from their home country. After lunch, participants had a couple of hours to write up the morning’s experience in a mock blog post while the writing instructors once again spent time with each pair, helping when inspiration failed and giving some writing guidance.
Once all the posts and photos were ready, we returned to the lecture room where each team of two presented their work to the group and instructors for discussion and critique. Attention then turned to dinner, which was prepared by the entire group and eaten al fresco at a long table under the stars. Asparagus and goat cheese frittata with salad was followed by various types of Flammkuchen, and rounded off with Eton Mess and fresh strawberries.
The morning’s presentations on day three started with writing exercises focussing on choosing your words carefully and putting the reader in your shoes – plus everything you ever wanted to know about metaphors, similes and active verbs. On the photography side, the secrets of Lightroom and Photoshop were unravelled as well as advice on working efficiently with Lowel Ego lights. This was followed by presentations on writing and photographing for publications and working professionally with art directors and photo editors as well as tips on how to get published.
At lunchtime, however, it was all about the beef. Our principal sponsor Bord Bia (www.bordbia.ie) had supplied us with many delectable ingredients we used throughout the weekend for the meals, but the incredible Irish grass-fed Hereford beef fillets were the absolute highlight and the theme of the day’s writing, styling and shooting exercise. Everybody joined in to help and soon sat down to a sumptuous lunch of honeyed goat cheese & pine nut salad; mustard-crusted beef fillets; and baked pears with zabaglione and fresh berries.
After lunch, participants paired off to complete their mock magazine article with pictures documenting the lunch, later presenting their pieces and photos to the group for discussion and critique. Once presentations and discussions were over, it was time for a quick wrap-up and summary of the weekend’s main points before a farewell barbecue dinner at Gasthaus Taubach and a lucky draw which saw two winners walk away with Lowel Ego lights kindly sponsored by Prokit UK.
The participants’ feedback indicates that the workshop was creative, energising, hectic, stimulating, laughter-filled, challenging and unforgettable, with some participants even describing it as “life-changing”! It should come as no surprise that the next workshop, scheduled for 28-30 October 2011 in Tuscany, is already oversubscribed and From Plate to Page is set to become a regular and much-needed addition to the calendar of food blogging events around the world.
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