Plate to Page, Class of Weimar 2011
Photo © Julia House
Pssssst…. Want a sneak peek at the Wikio Top Gastronomy Blogs rankings for June 2011? See who’s at no. 7!
Do you remember your first time? The anxiety about whether you would be good enough in comparison to others? The insecurity about whether your equipment is large enough? The anxious worrying whether your partner would call the next day? But then there was no time to worry as you fell headlong into the action; all the passion and intensity; all the trying out of different props; all the changing partners… ) And then just like that, it was all over. You had survived your first time - and not only did all your partners call the next day, they also Tweeted. And Facebooked. And blogged!
Yes folks: twelve participants who had never met. Eleven nationalities. Four instructors. Three days of pretty intense writing and photographing, and living in close quarters with one another. One stunt oven door that came crashing onto your feet when you least expected. One long-anticipated ABBA singalong. Looking at it objectively, the first ever Plate to Page workshop could have gone either way, really! But instead of parting on Monday morning with a sense of relief and escape, we parted with tears in our eyes (both of laughter and sadness); with heads humming with inspiration and ideas, and hearts full of affection; with much excited jumping up and down and waving, and promises to “see you on Twitter!” shouted through taxi windows. The first Plate to Page workshop had come and gone in a blur, the culmination of nine months of planning, and all people could think of was how soon we could have another.
My journey started at 05h30 in the morning the day before the workshop, with a mournful Tweet from a deserted train platform en route to Heathrow. Soon I was in Frankfurt and FINALLY hugging my wonderful partner-in-swearing Ilva for the first time in the flesh on the train platform. Three hours later we were in Weimar, laughing and talking all at once with my super-talented co-presenter Jamie and my sister-from-another-mother Meeta as we piled into the car with our suitcases, amazed that we had finally got to the day of the workshop with our sanity intact! We spent the evening at Meeta’s, barbecuing and drinking prosecco working on our presentations till late into the night.
The next day it was off to the Kipperquelle Hotel where a welcome lunch had been arranged, and one by one we welcomed the participants as they arrived: Ken and Mitch from New York; Julia from Canada; Ishay from South Africa; Deborah and Jenn from Switzerland; Simone from The Netherlands; Jasmine from Italy; Astrid from Austria; Arthi from the UK; and Mona and David from Ireland (who had won their places on the workshop in a competition run by our wonderful sponsor Bord Bia in conjunction with the Irish Food Blogger Association). And it took about, oooh… 30 seconds before we started taking pictures of everything – trees, flowers, food – but mostly of each other! The aroma of bratwurst on the grill soon had us at the lunch table though: chatting, eating and getting to know each other. Participants now refer to this period as “the calm before the storm”.
And then it was straight into the swing of things – all work and no shop! Tough love, foodblogger style. We kicked off with presentations from all four the presenters and a discussion on the difference between good vs. bad food writing and photgraphy. And then threw the participants in the deep end with an hour of very intense practical writing and photography, a lot of stair climbing between venues, and a lot of me pointing at my watch saying we were behind schedule Suffice to say that the participants in the writing workshop will never look at a pink Post-It note in the same way again…! But I can vouch for the fact that there is nothing that compares to the creative energy of sitting in a room surrounded by people writing furiously; and there is no substitute for one-on-one tuition with a talented photographer.
Good thing we had worked up an appetite as dinner was a sumptuous affair at the Bistro Francais, with everybody keen to try out the low-light restaurant photography tips that I had given them in my final presentation of the day. Oysters two ways were followed by a feast of crab claws and sea snails; scallops with broad beans; a honeyed goats cheese salad; salt marsh lamb with green beans and new potatoes; and a dessert of flan and crepes filled with salted butter caramel. The room was alive with the tinkling of glasses as we toasted, the clatter of cutlery as we persuaded the stubborn crab claws to yield their bounty of sweet meat, and of course the clickety-click of shutters as we snapped everything that stood still for more than 3 seconds. Welcome to food blogger heaven! And well after midnight when most were tucked up in their beds, Meeta, Ilva, Jamie and I were still up, packing the heavily-laden goodie bags (thanks Bord Bia!!)
Saturday morning bright and early we were back at the Kipperquelle and raring to go – and first up was the handing out of the goodie bags. OK, so the workshop may have been all WORK and no SHOP, but who needs to shop when you have a stylish goodie bag packed with Butler’s Irish Fudge, Lakeshore Mustard with Guinness, Ballymaloe Country Relish, Hotel Chocolat savoury chocolate goodies, an Ergo Chef knife, an OXO Good Grips strawberry huller and peeler, and Sweet Pete’s salted butter caramels? But of course the good times could not last forever and soon it was back to work! The morning flew by once again, taken up by a photography presentation and a writing workshop that saw the participants once again receiving the Pink Post-Its of Doom, which led to playing word association games to kick-start their inspiration (or drag it screaming form its den, whichever method they preferred!).
Lunchtime saw participants heading out into the sunshine to put into practice what they had learnt and style food for a picnic shoot, using the gorgeous vintage props sponsored by Paula Walters, and edible treats brought by each of us from our home countries. I think it was this session in particular that had our token non-blogger Mitch saying things like: “Food bloggers do a lot of things. They exclaim as each person unpacks their picnic food. They move a thyme leaf this way and that, taking photos of each movement. The arrival of a vintage cake lifter produces gasps of admiration. The one thing they do not do is eat.” (we love you, Mitch!) You’d be forgiven for thinking this was true as we spent a good hour in the dappled sunlight under the trees, arranging food, photographing food, rearrranging food (on our knees in the gravel at some points!) – but not eating it. Civilians dining nearby stared, but we were oblivious (although that might also have been a side-effect of the copious amounts of Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel sparkling wine provided by our sponsor Wines of South Africa!). And finally, rest assured that we DID sit down and feast on our picnic food!
After a couple of hours for participants to write up the morning’s experiences in a blog post, and to edit their 7,000 photos down to two (!), we returned to the lecture room so that every pair could present their work and then school was over for the day! People were quickly divided into teams to work on starters, main course and dessert for the evening’s meal, with yours truly on the dessert team. With the kitchen downstairs already a crazy blur of activity, we (me, Ken, Jasmine, Arthi, Mona and Jamie) withdrew to the lecture room in the attic with a ton of strawberries and our new Good Grips strawberry hullers (thanks OXO!) to prepare the berries. Quote of the afternoon was surely Mona, who said that: “Up to now, my cherry pitter had always been my favourite kitchen gadget – but no more! Now it’s my strawberry huller!!” And shortly after that, we seamlessly segued into a rousing ABBA singalong. As you do.
Back downstairs, things were in full swing in the kitchen. People photographing food; people styling food; people preparing food, expensive cameras lying everywhere; Springfield’s spectacular Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc and Beyerskloof Bouwland Pinotage flowing freely… it was more like stepping into a dynamic sculpture than a dinner! The guesthouse owners had kindly put up a long table and benches for us outside, not mentioning that the seats would never find firm footing on the gravel and would repeatedly try to pitch 5 people at a time head first into their asparagus tortilla! The tortilla was followed by various types of Flammkuchen which seemed to flow from the kitchen in a near-endless stream; and finally we rounded of off the evening with some much-photographed Eton Mess, Weimar style.
When food bloggers dine together… (and no, this was not all of them!!)
Surprisingly, given the gruelling schedule (!), we still had a full complement of participants by Sunday morning, all still pretty bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with nobody electing to have a lie-in instead of facing the pink Post-It notes again. Sunday morning’s writing exercises were all about choosing your words carefully and putting the reader in your shoes; while Meeta and Ilva unlocked the secrets of Lightroom, Photoshop, and working effectively with Lowel Ego lights. From there we moved onto some tips for selling your work and getting published, which took us neatly to lunchtime. We had been lucky enough to receive two enormous Irish grass-fed Hereford beef fillets from the lovely people at Bord Bia as part of their sponsorship, and this was to be their moment of glory (thanks for your expert cooking, Mona!) – but not before they had been given a makeover and a photo shoot, of course. A multitude of large sharp knives, lots of wine (Kleine Zalze bush vine Chenin Blanc and spectacular Waterford Kevin Arnold Shiraz this time) and a stunt oven door that kept crashing to the floor notwithstanding, we all eventually sat down to lunch with our limbs and friendships intact. Hurrah! It was also at this point that the lovely Alessio joined us for food, drink and… umm… dish washing! We love you, Alessio!!
Photo © Junglefrog Images
And then, after the craziness of lunch, calm descended on the land as participants wandered off in pairs to complete a magazine article with pictures documenting the lunch, and presented their pieces to us all while we minched on super-decadent kouginette pastries from Georges Larnicol. One quick wrap-up later and it was all over. I don’t know about the participants, but the presenters were left positively buzzing – it’s that feeling of having a lot of adrenaline and nowhere for it to go. Clearly, we needed to decompress and I can think of few better places than Gasthaus Taubach where we went for a farewell barbecue dinner. For a start, you enter the premises through what I can only describe as PROP HEAVEN! Was it just me or did EVERYTHING there look desirable? Next time I am visiting with a suitcase. If they had known who they were dealing with they would have frisked us on the way out!
Photo © Junglefrog Images
And the next morning, after a sunny breakfast and handing over the pair of Lowel Ego lights that the wonderful people at Prokit had sponsored to our two lucky winners Jasmine and Astrid, it was all over, bar the waving from the taxis.
I have tried to concoct a snappy, witty end to this post in my head a thousand times. And yes, I have tried in the style of a noir novel, a romance novel and a scientific journal (!). I think that what the workshop really brought home to me was the incredibly synergy that exists between teaching and learning. As a teacher, you think you are the one imparting the information, but afterwards, you are astonished by the flow of information that your “pupils” actually fed back to you in return. It reaffirmed my strong belief that teaching is probably the most meaningful thing anybody can do, and how much I love it.
It also reaffirmed my belief in the internet’s power to connect people. Our incredibly generous sponsors who took a chance on sponsoring us. Twelve attendees had enough faith in us, on the basis of our websites and Tweets, to sign up and pay good money to attend a workshop that had never been run before. We opened the doors of the workshop to twelve strangers, but instead they took up residence in our hearts and in our memories. It will be a long time before I see a flash of red hair on a tall woman and not expect to see Astrid’s smiling face; or see a bright jungle-green car and not expect Simone’s gorgeous blonde frame emerge; or tell a joke and not wait for Julia and Ken’s naughty, naughty laughter. All twelve of you are rock stars in my eyes. May your writing and photography go from strength to strength and may you stay as creative, hilarious, dynamic, talented, sincere and generally fabulous as you all are.
And then, of course, there are my fellow-presenters. I could not imagine my life without you guys in it. Thank you – you rock my world in so many ways. (and who the hell is that guy behind me anyway?? Was he with you??)
And here are some write-ups from others about Plate to Page Weimar:
Jenn – Plate to Page Workshop
Arthi – Ending on a High Note
Arthi – Reliving the Plate2Page Experience
Astrid – Who Would Have Thought…?
Ilva – Plate to Page Weimar 2011 – The Review
Jamie – From Plate to Page
Jasmine – Plate to Page Workshop
Meeta – We Met in Weimar
Móna – Life Changing, It Was
Móna – Life Changing it Was, Part 2
Móna – Life Changing it Was, Part 3
Móna – All in a Days Work
Simone – Plate to Page – Experience of a Lifetime
Simone – Metaphors, Similes, and What it’s All About
Ken – To Weimar with Love
Ishay – Plate to Page Food Writing & Photography Workshop – last but not least