Initially it felt like being a participant of some Big Brother show. We had to share a bedroom with other group members, help to prepare dinner, and work in teams on assignments. On my first night I felt slightly homesick.
Twelve female participants from all over the world congregated together in one dreamlike place – Il Salicone villa in Pistoia, Tuscany. The surrounding auburn scenery, the green cypress trees and the early morning dew set the scene for three fully loaded days of food writing and photography.
Under the tuition of four exceptional instructors we spent our weekend acquiring food writing skills and practicing our photographic abilities. Meeta K. Wolff and Ilva Berretta were our photography mentors. Jeanne Horak-Druiff and Jamie Schler guided our writing techniques.
Our first gathering was a quick lunch of fusilli all’arrabiata. Soon we started off our workshop by introducing ourselves within a five minute time frame. To remember all the names, the countries of origin, and the blog’s name was a hard step. But, by the end of the workshop it all started to be more familiar. Well, Facebook search always helps to put a face to the name or rather a name to the face!
We kicked off with the writing part: ‘looking at a blank page isn’t easy!’ yet that’s what all writers do before getting started. Writing is a process where you create your own voice; learn vocabulary, expressions, similes and metaphors. Read, read, read – reading makes your writing improve, it helps you get your ideas and your inspirations. Write, write, write – writing frequently and regularly gets you going and practising. With writing you have to capture your audience and bring them in a parallel world where you evoke their emotions and make it feel all real. So, our first exercise was to write about a recent dining experience. Then, we had to tackle the restaurant review from another perspective – I had to rewrite the review as if I hold a grudge towards the restaurant chef. Found that quite challenging!
It was then photography time. Our abilities were immediately tested – we had to create a setting with the various props and ingredients available and shoot as many photos as we like until we got to the notion of what makes a good and what makes a bad photo. First try was quite a hurdle; however practice was backed with theory and after dinner we gathered again in our training room and heard all about aperture, white balance, shutter speed and ISO. I understood the importance of natural light for food photography and the props and material we can use to bounce or absorb light. Finally I got to terms with the A and S sign on my camera.
We woke up the next day to a delicious breakfast prepared by the Tuscan lady in charge of Il Salicone and continued our morning focusing on the senses and the importance of these five feelings when the talk is about food. Our main assignment was due after our lunchtime visit to the winery where we enjoyed wine tasting and indulged into some Tuscan products including a selection of cured hams, pecorino cheese with honey and the traditional Ribollita soup. Also some jam tarts and almond cantuccini dipped into an aged red wine. The rest of our second afternoon was dedicated to the creation of a blog post with photos which had to relate about the lunch or winery visit. I focused on the simple yet irresistible Tuscan food and got positive feedback from the experts for my piece.
As our last day approached I was already getting nostalgic. Yet, our tutors soon caught our attention and huddled us together to help us understand the required mood and style for writing for a magazine. To warm up we were instructed to write paragraphs with limited word count. In 30 words I had to write a tasting note for a wine. Then it was time for the killer openings, we needed to formulate three sentences which get readers to read the rest of the article. Being constrained with length is not a piece of cake.
The photography part on our last day dealt with post processing and use of programs like Lightroom for editing. We also spoke about setting the mood – a dark or light mood, the focus, composition, colours and patterns. This intensive session was followed by lunch – we needed some carbohydrates to feed our minds and delicious pizza it was!
Our main assignment for the rest of the day followed. We had to write an article about ‘Eating and Drinking in Tuscany’ for a magazine. Luckily I was assigned Saveur magazine – one of those food magazines I read regularly and with which I can identify my writing style. We worked to impress. With the assistance of my Italian team mate we created the setting for a photo of fresh pasta and another one featuring the Castagnaccio, a Tuscan dessert made from chestnut flour. I concentrated on the writing and produced an informative Saveur style piece of writing about the traditional pici pasta and the chestnut dessert.
In these three days I feel I have travelled far, not only distance wise, but technically. I got a good grasp of the basic photography concepts and requirements and understood the importance of creating a relationship between the images and the writing. Setting the mood and the style for the particular magazine or blog you are writing for is also essential.
The Plate to Page workshop boosted my writing and photography skills, got in me the energies and enthusiasm needed to get creative and write. It identified my strengths and weaknesses and set me in the mood to work hard to improve. I met people from all over the world who share my same passion for food and who want to put this passion on paper and capture it in illustrative photos. I had the opportunity to enjoy the instructions of 4 dedicated and enthusiastic tutors which worked hard to make this workshop an experience to treasure.
Read more about the Plate to Page Workshop: