Yes, you read correctly – the title did say 2013 and it’s not a typo. This is the reason why I teach writing and photography courses, not time management courses, or “How To Stop Procrastinating” courses. But moving rapidly along… Meeta and I had been teaching photography and writing respectively for a while together on Plate to Page workshops and so when she announced a photo workshop right here in my hometown of London, there was no question about the fact that I would be teaching alongside her. The theme for the workshop was going to be street food (very appropriate considering London’s bustling street food culture) and to handle this side of things, the dynamic Sumayya was to be joining us, not only preparing a feast for participants at mealtimes but also to teach a hands-on Pakistani cooking class for students both to participate in and photograph.
Meeta arrived in a chilly but clear London on Valentine’s Day and the following morning, although I could not join them until later, I dropped her off at the funky Central Street Cookery School in the heart of London where crisp wintry light was flooding through the large windows and Sumayya was cooking up a welcome brunch for participants. Later, participants introduced themselves over mugs of spicy chai and shared their stories: what had brought them to food photography, and what they hoped to take away from this workshop. It never ceases to amaze me how diverse our workshop groups are, and how surprisingly emotional their stories are, and this group was no exception. Meeta spent the afternoon introducing basic photography and styling concepts, and the final sessions of the afternoon were where I stepped in: low-light and restaurant photography, and post-processing of low-light images in Photoshop, two areas often overlooked in similar courses. I loved sharing my experience and seeing participants’ astonished looks when they saw some before and after Photoshop pics! Shortly after my presentations, we all bundled up and headed out for the short walk to the Montcalm Hotel where we would be having dinner in the Chiswell Street Dining Rooms. The restaurant and hotel had truly outdone themselves and provided us with a chandelier-bedecked private room where we could snap away at the food to our hearts’ content – they had even included a hilarious “warning” in red on the booking form: “Food photographers!! Will take pictures of their food!!”. Waitstaff Anton and Gemma truly got into the spirit of things, posing for us obligingly and taking all our weirdness in good spirit! The food also did not disappoint (here is my full review of the Chiswell Street Dining Rooms) and included such delights as Scottish salmon tartar with soft boiled quail’s eggs and caviar served with iced horseradish; Longhorn beef fillet carpaccio with black figs and Parmesan; sea bass served on creamy olive oil mashed potato with smoked celeriac remoulade with orange and rosemary sauce; or Middle White pork fillet and slow roast belly with Jerusalem artichoke purée, fondant potato and an apple chutney. A heavenly chocolate roulade with Kirsch-soaked cherries as dessert was a fitting highlight to a great evening.
Image above © and courtesy of Food Vegetarisch
Saturday morning dawned chilly but sunny and soon Meeta and I were on the train back to Central Cookery School for the second day of the workshop. The day kicked off with Meeta’s practical demonstration of post-processing images in Lightroom, followed by her hands-on styling demo. And then it was time for participants to put in to practice what they had learnt and try their hand at some practical exercises designed to get them thinking how to translate their ideas and visions into reality in the form of a photograph. It always amazes me to see with how much gusto participants throw themselves into these exercises, and how people who were complete strangers a day ago manage to work effectively in teams.
The theme for the London workshop was “From London to Pakistan/India – Pub and Street Food” and this was Sumayya’s department. Throughout the workshop Sumayya had been providing traditional food and drink from the Indian subcontinent and now it was the turn of our participants to learn two of the fundamental techniques of this cuisine. While on group photographed the action, the other group were taught by Sumayya how to roll out and fry parathas (a traditional flatbread); and then the roles were reversed as the other group got to learn how to temper pulses for a fragrant, slow-cooked dal. Participants loved getting their hands dirty and doing some cooking, but most of all they loved getting into weird and wonderful positions on chairs and behind taps to get that perfect action shot.
With everyone having worked up an appetite, eyes lit up when Sumayya announced that lunch was served. The smells that had been wafting through the room all morning had given us all a clue that lunch woudl be special – and we were not disappointed! Here’s what Sumayya served up – a veritable street food feast:
- light and crispy vegetable pakora
- dahi baras (lentil fritters topped with chilled spicy yoghurt and mint)
- mini kebab buns
- fragrant saffron rice with pistachios, almond and raisins
- channa dal topped with cumin, red chilli and garlic
- sweet samosas filled with cardamom, caramelised banana and coconut
After lunch, participants got down to the serious business of their assignments. Props were carefully chosen, chillies were positioned on rice just so, models were posed and re-posed, and the air was abuzz with creativity. The venue provided the perfect backdrop for whatever look participants were gong for – indoors there were bright, modern backgrounds, while the outside area provided rustic picnic tables, and some fun urban touches like the cheerful washing line graffiti panted on one wall. I even spotted a massive Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 as I chatted to the groups outside in the washed-out winter sun – it wouldn’t be a London workshop if you weren’t somehow under the Heathrow flight path! As always, the burst of creativity shown by the participants and their work amazed me and inspired me, and the feeling of cameraderie was almost palpable by the time the teams started post-processing their photos for the final presentations.
With the final presentations wrapped up, it was finally time for participants (and instructors!) to relax as we welcomed our wonderful sponsor Vitamix UK. Vitamix had generously provided us with the use of a Vitamix machine to make our farewell cocktails, as well as a machine to offer as a lucky draw prize. Luckily for us, the lovely Laura from Vitamix UK came along not only to meet participants but also to show us how the very impressive Vitamix works, and to put it through its paces to make some fabulous cocktails. And the lucky winner of the prize dras turned out to be Aniko who let out a whoop of delight when she heard her number called as the winner. We hope you enjoy your machine, Aniko! It was a lovely high note on which to end a whirlwind two days of skills acquired, friendships made, and warm laughter.
In addition to the Vitamix UK raffle prize, we also sent participants home with a couple of other goodies from our generous sponsors. Feines Zeug is a German company producing artisan snacks with names like Big Love and Philosoper’s Bites. Each participant took home either their raspberry & white chocolate almonds; their freeze-dried raspberries in white chocolate (my favourite); or their sour cream & onion cashew nuts. Loved both the cute names and the packaging! Participants also received a tin of Duke of Delhi dark chocolate chunk Bombay mix. I was a little sceptical of this at first. I mean… chocolate in Bombay mix? But by the end of the tin I was addicted and you would be too! Pistachio Rose makes the prettiest, delicately spiced shortbread and it was hard to resist not finishing a packet of their shortbread hearts on the train home. A huge thank you to all our sponsors for their support!
If you want to follow the workshop as it unfolded, take a look at my Storify summary of all the social media action. And if you want to see what others have written about the workshop, here are some recap posts:
- From What’s for Lunch Honey?
- From Food Vegetarisch
- From 2 Lights
- From Veggisbloggen
- From Multiculti Kitchen
Stay tuned for my recap of this year’s workshop, which took place earlier this month in Italy!