What does family mean to you?
Perhaps it is the classic nuclear family idea of mom dad and 2.4 kids. Perhaps it is a huge Christmas card list of every person that you can track down who shares your surname and your DNA. Or perhaps it is a collection of people that share your interests and attitudes; who understand what you are trying to say even as you still struggle to verbalise it; and with whom you feel safe in the knowledge that they will nurture and encourage you in all that you do, rather than mock or criticise you. If the true definition is the third one, then I think it is fair to say we recently spent a weekend with family at the second Plate to Page food writing & photography workshop in Tuscany. Sixteen people arrived as strangers but left as family. Here are a few impressions of the weekend, in words and pictures.
To read what people are saying about the Tuscany workshop click over to our Workshop Reviews page.
After fearing grey damp weather, the first day set the tone of the weather for the whole workshop when it dawned clear and sunny. Our home for the weekend was to be Il Salicone, an Italian villa et among the vines, cypresses and golden autumn colours of Tuscany. After the instructors (Meeta, Jamie, Jeanne and Ilva) had fully explored the villa and gardens like excited kids, discovering hidden bedrooms, frescoes, chandeliers and friendly Tuscan felines, they went about welcoming the 12 workshop participants from all over the world:
Denise from the Netherlands
Heidi from Norway
Alex from Italy
The first order of business was getting to know each other via a 5 minute presentation by each participant that revealed the diverse and surprisingly emotional reasons why we blog. For lunch, we gathered in the villa's old kitchen around a long table for out first Tuscan meal of fussili Arrabiata. Already, barriers were breaking down and bonds were beginning to form. Soon we were back in our chandeliered classroom to discuss good and bad food photography before splitting into smaller groups of six for some pretty intense writing and photography exercises. Soon, all you could hear was the scratching of pens on paper and the tapping of fingers on keyboards - and the snapping of camera shutters!
Shortly before dinner that night, the Plate to Page goodie bags were handed round, filled this time with goodies such as a home baking book and stylish apron from Taste of Home; a fantastic pack of four spices (black salt, tasmanian pepper, chipotle chile and saffron salt) from Smaromi; a deliciously pink block of Himalayan salt from Gourmelli (other bags also contained chocolates, mustards or vegetarian caviar from them); various kitchen tools from the Oxo Good Grips range; Jams from Sunchowder's Emporia; a gorgeous knife and apron from ZWILLING J.A. HENCKELS; a jar of sweet piquanté peppers from Peppadew; quick risotto kits from Riso Gallo; matcha powder from Matcha Factory; an adorable travel-size bottle of Tabasco; flavoured extracts (either vanilla or orange) from Nielsen-Massey. And although they weren't in the goodie bags, there were numerous bottles of Bisol prosecco consumed throughout the weekend to keep proceedings flowing smoothly. Dinner consisted of platters groaning with Italian antipasti, followed by steaming bowls of chicken cacciatore and a cheese board to follow (washed down with numerous bottles of Bisol Jeio prosecco!), before a last post-dinner presentation on photography closed the day.
Saturday got off to a brisk start with another set of writing exercises encouraging participants to find their creativity and to think carefully about the language they use. Having convered the verbal part of the morning, it was the turn of the photographers to take charge and we all decamped to our gorgeous photography "studio" - tons of natural light... and frescoes. Ilva and Meeta both worked on creating a mood and helped participants not only with their camera settings but also provided food for thought in terms of fresh angles and compositions. Intriguing vegetarian caviar from sponsors Gourmelli, fresh-flavoured jams from Sunchowder's Emporia and addictive sweet piquanté peppers from Peppadew made the perfect photographic models.
Lunchtime provided us with the perfect opportunity to stroll down the road to Il Salicone's own winery, through the golden vineyards. Once we were seated contentedly in the sun at two tables in the garden, Nicoletta and her team proceeded to serve us with a feast: platters of intensely flavoured nutty prosciutto; cheese with local honey, golden frittatas. We were so busy snapping away to get the perfect shot of drizzling honey and glistening olive oil that we scarcely noticed the arrival of a loaf of bread the size of a your average pillow and a cheerful orange tureen of ribollita - but we certainly wasted not time photographing them once we had noted their presence! For dessert, we had beautiful crostata and cantucci to be dipped into the robust, fruity glasses of Il Salicone's Sangiovese wine. After a tour of the cellar by Nicoletta, we headed back to the villa where participants had a couple of hours on their own to work on a project. Late afternoon was spent listening to and giving feedback on the participants excellent work in teams on a written piece complemented by appropriate photographs before heading to the kitchen to prepare a dinner of risotto using the carnaroli rice our sponsors Riso Gallo had generously provided, dressed in out smart Zwilling J. A. HENCKELS aprons from our goodie bags. Dinner was once again a convival affair with rather a lot of excellent Bisol Crede prosecco and talking around the table till late into the night.
Sunday was yet another perfect sunny Autumn day and after breakfast, participants once more gathered at the table for some of the most challenging exercises: writing to a really tight word count. Following that, the photography team took over again for presentations on workflow, post-processing, and the challenges of magazine photography. Having explained the final assignment to everybody, we headed downstairs where the lovely Paola and her team had already started covering the table in lunch - excellent charcuterie and crostini featuring the colourful vegetarian caviar from Caviart (sponsored by Gourmelli). This was followed by pizza, groaning under its toppings of buffalo mozzarella, capers and olives. Participants spent the afternoon paired off and working on their assignment, finding quiet, sunny corners of the garden to photograph and write in a perfect setting. For the last time, we gathered in the lecture room and as each pair shared their final assignment: a magazine article with photos. The weekend's work certainly ended on a high note, for participants as well as speakers. Conversation around the dinner table that night was more relaxed and the Bisol Cartizze (an absolutely superb example of prosecco full of complex apple and pear flavours) flowed freely. A first course of fried polenta topped with baccala in a tomato sauce and Peppadews; and pasta fritta filled with ham and cheese (absolutely, 100% addictive!). This was followed by ribs, spiced and cooked Tuscan style. And the grand finale was a selection of little jam tarts filled with our sponsor Sunchowder's Emporia's outstanding jams.
The next morning after breakfast there was a flurry of hugs and goodbyes and "see you on Twitter" as people caught taxis and packed cars to leave. We had come from far-flung corners of the globe, a collection of four instructors and twelve particpants who had never met. Bags had been packed, presentations had been prepared and camera batteries had been charged. We had greeted each other cautiously and then thrown ourselves headlong into the weekend. Heads were scratched, pencils were chewed and assignments were completed; props were moved, light was reflected and camera settings were pondered. Meals were prepared and eaten around a long table, alive with the sound of conversation and laughter. Wine was drunk, songs were sung and friendships were forged. And then just like that it was all over and we all went our separate ways, with only the photos and our tweets to prove we had ever been there. But the lessons learnt and friendships forged will stay with us all forever.
Photo courtesy of Marta