Photography: Nino Franco Photo Contest

... and the winner is ...

Photography: Heather Gill

A Chef, A Photographer. A Storyteller.

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A Comforting Italian Trifle

Photography: Stuart Ovenden

"It's all about the details!"

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Welcome to From Plate to Page

Are you:

  • a food blogger who has been blogging for a while and feels stuck in a creative rut?

  • happy with your writing but feel your photography needs work - or vice versa?

  • tired of attending traditional format conferences where you are one of dozens of bloggers simply listening and taking notes ?

If so, then From Plate to Page is what you need!

Monday, 31 January 2011

Lael Hazan: A Writer's Journey

I’m honored that Jamie asked me to participate in the From Plate to Page blog. It has only been quite recently that I’ve started to think of myself as a food writer with a voice of my own. As many of you who read my blog know, I married into culinary royalty. My husband is Giuliano Hazan, a rather renowned Italian cookbook author and educator who regularly appears on national TV in the USA, and my mother-in-law is Marcella Hazan, considered the doyenne of Italian cuisine. For most of my married life I remained backstage in the food world. After all, what did this California girl know about authentic Italian cooking? I first had to learn that risotto was made out of rice rather than pasta.

The Hazan Family:
front row left to right
: Marcella Hazan, Gabriella Hazan, Jacquelynne Caplan

back row left to right: Victor Hazan, Lael Hazan, Michela Hazan, Giuliano Hazan

Although my circumstances might have been different, my many concerns were common. The refrain that raced through my head for much of my early years, wasn’t terribly original, it was “What if I am not good enough?” I’ve been fortunate to meet so many great writers and thinkers, how could I consider myself their equal? In addition to my own mind - numbing angst, I was born dyslexic. I was very lucky that my parents caught it early; however, the entire time I was in school, I never turned in a paper that hadn’t been proof-read. Even now, I plan to create a T-shirt with the statement, I don’t spell; I spell check.

I was fortunate to grow up in Sacramento, California to a family that was committed to the printed word. My mother was an administrator in the school district and my father was an antiquarian book dealer. Although it took me until second grade to begin to read, I began devouring books almost immediately. One of my father’s close friends was Darrell Corti, who is considered the “Foodies Foodie” who inspired a Facebook group site called Darrell Corti will always know more than you about Food and Wine. Listening to him, as well as, since the age of 6, attending meals of many cuisines with my parents and their friends in the late 70’s and early 80’s opened my eyes – and stomach – to an entire world of food.


Marriage to Giuliano has been an exhilarating gastronomic experience. I learned about buying the freshest products and the careful preparation of even the simplest meal. With him, I have been fortunate to meet some of the great Italian food artisans. Soon after we married, Giuliano was able to fulfill one of his life long dreams of opening a cooking school in Italy. Although I had helped research the sites where we take our students, it took a few years, and many people continually asking me questions, for me to realize I did have something to offer.




Villa Giona, the site of the Hazans' cooking school in Italy

My undergraduate work is in Renaissance History and this was a great foundation for our cooking school. In college I remember trying to figure out a recipe of Cicero’s in Latin, and an exhaustive but delicious research expedition into the history of Tiramisù. So after a few years, I began teaching the historical component during our courses. I soon added myth and legends and our students suggested that I write them down.


Honestly, it took me until I was 40 to get over myself. I had what social workers sometimes diagnose as the “worried well” disease. There will always be those who have the ability to write more lyrically than I; however, not all of them will choose to write. At the same time, one wonders at some of the work that receives writing accolades. The same is true for expertise. No, I did not go to culinary school. Neither did many of the foremost food writers and editors. So why shouldn’t I, who has now had years of experience in the field, write? I would highly recommend to food writers that they learn about their subject. If you don’t know about an ingredient, research it! If you can, travel to the place where it is made. Also, you must test your recipes. As contributing editor for Saveur.com, I reviewed hundreds of recipes on blogs everyday, and some dishes were impossible to reproduce.



A few years ago, I decided “enough” with putting limits on myself. I had learned about blogging but wasn’t yet doing it. Although I wrote some short press releases and articles for the agencies where I worked or for our school in Italy, I wasn’t yet doing it for myself. I found our community’s weekly paper online and asked if I could write for them. They were delighted to get a person who would work for free. Since I wasn’t getting paid, it gave me the freedom to explore various writing styles and submit as often as my time would allow. I also took some continuing education classes in writing, and realized (again) it was mostly about self-confidence.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, 10,000 hours of experience is what it takes to be an expert. And most writing instructors agree that practice increases your fluency and ability in writing. After writing for the weekly, I started submitting my work to other magazines and newspapers. I came to the attention of the online editor for Saveur Magazine and had a wonderful few months as contributing online editor. Unfortunately, like most periodicals, they restructured, and I was restructured out of a job. However, it gave me the chance to virtually meet amazing bloggers and writers. There is a wealth of talent out there, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more. Recently I’ve been writing for Sarasota Magazine, Huffington Post, Edible Sarasota and our own blog, Educated Palate: Lael & Giuliano Hazan’s Blog.


I think most of us are in a rut and are often frightened of life. Clinical Psychologist and Parenting expert Dr. Wendy Mogel recently reported that it wasn’t the best schools or highest grades that made the most successful people, it was those who were flexible and had a positive outlook on life. As you know, that is easier said than done. I recently published an article online where I misspelled the name of an organization. OOPS! I did link to the organizations website. I was called on the carpet and told that if I were to mention them in the future the organization would need to check any reference of them for spelling. Yuck! Obviously, I’m not going to write about that organization again. Previously, that would have been a devastating experience. Now, I have much more important things in my life and… I get to write this post about the experience. Yes, it’s important not to let the little things get you down.


Our family straddles the bridge between new media and old. Years ago, I was fortunate to be at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival with Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, Marcella Hazan, and other greats. They were accessible people who loved talking about their passion. This past year, I met some of the bloggers with the largest followings: Jaden Hair, Elise Bauer, David Leite, Shauna Ahern, and Ree Drummond; they too spoke about their passion. I find it amusing that the net bewilders many of the well-known cookbook authors…they know they should “be out there” but are intimidated. They are very concerned that their book sales are declining and see social media as the only salvation. On the other hand, I have yet to meet a food blogger who doesn’t secretly harbor the idea of a book deal. Many have published, but only a few of the blogger books have been truly successful. Is it because they are truly two separate worlds? Is it because bloggers don’t buy books when they can get it free on the net? There are a few successful straddlers, however, they are grappling with whether to ever publish a hard copy again. Book deals and getting paid for writing is the subject of most of the conferences I’ve attended and are often the topics of many blogs.


For me the key has been overcoming myself. No, I’m not making tons of money, but I’m certainly enjoying myself. I get to meet wonderful people and enjoy delicious food. Those writers who get into this as a way to make money will probably be disappointed. However, those who wake up in the morning thinking about the discovery of some new ingredient or testing a new recipe and writing about their experience have a chance to go far.



What is my advice to a newbie? Do it out of love! Start blogging for fun and see if you can keep it up consistently. Network through social media and find like-minded souls. If you discover that this is your passion and want to expand your base, offer to write for others. This is a great community, participate! Then, begin keeping a record of the work you are most proud of… limit it to five articles. If there is a magazine, journal, or webzine that you have an idea for, write out a coherent, proofread, one-paragraph synopsis with attachments to your pieces and send a cover letter. If you have a loved one or close friend who is willing to review your work, please let them, you don’t have to take all of their suggestions, but another pair of eyes always is beneficial. The Internet makes it easy to find whom to submit to, but PLEASE, do your homework and make sure your idea fits with the concept of the magazine. It is your responsibility to do your homework. Also, don’t expect an answer right away, it may take awhile. Yes, a follow up e-mail after at least a week is fine, and a phone call to make sure they’ve got it is OK too. Your work may go into the black hole, but through perseverance and resubmission you may find success. Also, this is an INCREDIBLY generous community of people who may help you make the right connections. Just remember when you are rich and famous to share as well.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Writing My World, Then and Now

New year is always a time of partying and celebration with friends and family. But on a personal and professional level it is also a time of reflection and evaluation; of planning and regrouping; of refreshment and renewed inspiration. And it is in this reflective spirit that we have decided to ask each one of the four Plate to Page workshop presenters to look back at 2010 to tell us what they feel they have achieved; as well as forward at 2011 to share with us some of their goals for the coming year. Today we hear from Jamie, whose evocative writing and unique storytelling can be found at Life's a Feast as well as The Huffington Post. The other posts in the series are from Meeta of What's For Lunch, Honey? and Meeta K. Wolff Photography, Jeanne of CookSister! and Ilva of Lucullian Delights and Ilva Beretta Photography.


No one ever told us that being parents would be so difficult. Each day is a clash of emotions, the joy and the doubts, the pleasures and the worries, a constant questioning of oneself, never knowing, never being in the position to judge just how we are doing. Nights fraught with worry as we lie in bed, eyes riveted to the ceiling, images of disaster floating in the darkness keeping us awake until we jump up, peek our head around the corner and hear, once again, the gentle rhythm of their breathing or the faint click of the front door closing and, as we finally fade into sleep, we realize that at least for tonight they are once again safe.

My husband and I stand and watch in wonder and amazement the young men our two sons have turned out to be: smart, funny, vibrant, generous, and we ask ourselves if all the worry, all the pushing and the screaming, arms flailing, accusations flying, were worth it. We ask ourselves if our judging them against their classmates, our disappointment in their place on the grade curve, our berating them to dress correctly, study more, eat breakfast, work harder had any effect at all. And we ask ourselves if our trying so hard, expending so much negative energy in trying to mold them into what our or, worse, others’ expectations were of where they should be heading made any difference at all or alter the natural course of things? Did it bring them to a different place in the world than exactly where they find themselves today or change their destiny one iota? Did it offer anything at all to us except our own bouts of guilt and anger, our own doubts eating away inside ourselves?

And at the end of the day, we see two responsible, handsome, kind young men, two people appreciated and loved for who they are. We look back over the past year and see all that they have accomplished, one a brilliant student and businessman, the other giving his time and offering his heart in helping others. We understand that it was not ours to judge them, compare them against others, placing society’s expectations on their young shoulders, but rather the simple, every day act of nourishing them, both body and soul, working hard alongside of them, setting our own goals, our own visions together regardless of those around us, having confidence in them as individuals as well as in ourselves, setting an example through our own beliefs, our own values, that seems to have helped them find their rightful and right place in the world. And that is the true sign of success as a parent.



As I sat for days pondering this blog post, a few short paragraphs meant to swiftly glide through my accomplishments as a writer, all I have done these past twelve months and the projects, plans and dreams I have for 2011, I was finally struck by the parallel between being a parent and being a writer and blogger. Although the stakes are not at all the same, I do feel as if my blog and my career as a professional writer are my children, to be cared for and nourished, to be handled gently and thoughtfully, to be guided through life, infused with my own values and ideals and then to be sent out into the world, hopefully earning the respect of others, being loved and appreciated and finding their rightful and just place. This past year has indeed been wrought with worry and self-doubt. I have spent an inordinate amount of time beating my chest and pulling at my hair as I compare my stats or my pace, my “successes” against how others appear to be progressing, wondering over and over again what I am doing wrong or if I should be handling things differently. Yet, little by little, as I gain confidence in my work as a writer, as I find my own style, my own unique voice, as the exhilaration sweeps through my body as the words flow from brain to fingertips to paper just as I imagine them, with each encouraging word from someone I respect, I come to realize that comparing myself and my work to others is futile. I want to be my own voice and pave my own path, not let others dictate my blog design, my recipe choices, my writing style or my goals. As we have so often told our sons, just be yourself, work hard and honestly, follow and nurture your passions and believe in yourself and all will fall into place.

My style finally settled down and found its home in 2010. With a mixture of confidence and humility, I marched boldly into the year and decided that it was time to take risks both on my blog and beyond the blog. I have accepted that my blog Life's a Feast is unique in that, unlike most, it focuses neither on the recipe nor stunning food photography but rather on my stories, often long and winding and pulling the reader into a parallel world. Although I often doubt if it is what others expect from a food blog, I love what I do, I cherish my own space where I can express myself just as I feel and I have been blessed (a word I hate using but there you go) with a readership who respects my writing and who are touched by my words, inspired to add their own thoughts and stories at the end of each post. I honed my networking skills and reached out, not without some hesitation and self-questioning, and was offered the chance to write for the prestigious Huffington Post on their newly-created Food page. This experience offered me the opportunity and challenge to shift my writing away from the strictly personal, posts written as if for friends sitting around my kitchen table, to a wider audience less interested in hearing stories than food for thought.


I was published this year in Foodista’s Best of the Blogs Cookbook, featuring my emotional story about my dear old dad, Man in the Moon, as well as two recipes. My review of Joan Nathan’s wonderful cookbook was republished in its entirety on her own website!


After having spoken at Food Blogger Connect in both 2009 and 2010 on the topic Writing Style/Finding Your Voice, I joined up with Jeanne, Ilva and Meeta, three great friends and tremendous talents, to create the From Plate to Page Workshop, delighted to be able to share our vision, passion and experience with other food bloggers. I am so proud to say that bloggers now turn to me for advice on writing, which is the true sign of respect and recognition for all my hard work and passion, and I greatly appreciate it. I have also recently been requested to speak at one other food blogger conference and have been proposed as a speaker at a third, neither of which is in Europe. I feel that I have finally come into my own as a writer and am making a name for myself.



And as for 2011, I have several projects that have already been set in motion as we speak, submissions awaiting a response, proposals and plans being worked on. Although it is really too early to speak of any one of them, each and every one is a sign of the confidence I now have in myself. I am satisfied that I have worked long and hard to bring my writing to a level that I feel is worthy of being called professional. My husband and I recently discussed our plans, his own, mine and ours together and we came to one conclusion: this is the year that we will make it happen. All of it.


What have I learned in 2010 and try to put into practice every single day?
Patience: I have given myself the time to hone my skills. I have worked hard to understand myself, my true passions and my strengths. I have learned the art of networking; there is a fine line between assertive and aggressive and crossing over that line there is always the risk of burning bridges. I believe that if I am truly talented, I will be noticed without being loud.
Confidence: I strive to have confidence in myself and my talents. I have come to measure myself only against myself; to compare my goals only to my own.
Humility: I never assume that I am the best. I also understand that although many love my style, many will not; it is all a matter of taste. I have come to accept that no matter how good and talented I believe myself to be, there is always room for improvement, growth, change.
Individuality: While I allow others to inspire me I refuse to copy anyone’s style. I seek out my strengths and nurture them. I have learned to trust myself and my instincts and to follow them, while gratefully accepting guidance, advice and encouragement from those whom I respect.

My wish for each and every one of you is to gather all the treasures around you, no matter how small, look for the best inside of you and put them together to create something that is all yours, something exceptional! I so look forward to continuing this discussion, these reflections all throughout 2011 with you and am thrilled to have the chance to do just that at our two From Plate to Page workshops scheduled for this year. I'm already packing my bags for the first one being held in May in Weimar, I am so excited about it!



Just a word on food photography: although my words paint a pretty picture, tell a story, create an emotional, often sentimental space, the same style does not work for my photography. I dress my images as I dress myself: bold and stark, dark against utter white, sharp and focused. This is what reflects my own personal style and personality best. I could attempt to copy other bloggers’ styles, I have sat at the knee of the best of them (Ilva, Meeta, Jeanne) but in the search to find my own style, my own voice, I have found what works best for me not only in my writing but my photography as well.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Past, Present and Future Tense

New year is always a time of partying and celebration with friends and family. But on a personal and professional level it is also a time of reflection and evaluation; of planning and regrouping; of refreshment and renewed inspiration. And it is in this reflective spirit that we have decided to ask each one of the four Plate to Page workshop presenters to look back at 2010 to tell us what they feel they have achieved; as well as forward at 2011 to share with us some of their goals for the coming year. Today we hear from Meeta, the skilled photographer with a powerful and distinct style behind What's For Lunch, Honey? and Meeta K. Wolff Photography. The other posts in the series so far are from Jeanne of CookSister! and Ilva Beretta of Lucullian Delights and Ilva Beretta Photography. Stay tuned for the last of the posts in the series this week.


Hotel Chocolat_0027-CR
Here we are standing on the cusp of a new year, getting ready to paint a new picture on a clean white canvas. When I look at the untouched canvas in front of me, it fills me with excitement, but it makes me nervous at the same time. I have no idea what my picture will look like when it is completed. One never does, but I see the vivid and wonderful colors in front of me and it fills me with hope, inspiration and motivation to paint a picture better than the last one.
I look back at the picture that was 2010. My biggest goal for the year was to showcase and promote my photography more professionally. There was much to tackle and a lot to take into consideration, but with tiny steps, I was able to inch my way towards that goal. The first thing on my to do list was to create a professional-looking portfolio and once Meeta K. Wolff Photography went live, I knew my work had only just started. The steps I generally take are small but, I hope, well thought out and with a purpose. My aim is not to reach the peak in record time but to use the road that I am travelling as an important learning experience, collecting as much information and learning as many lessons along the way as I can.
PavlovaChoc_Empty_0016-1-2
2010 was an incredible year in that respect. Besides confronting the challenges as well as the processes of putting a photography portfolio together, I learnt (and am still learning) how to market my portfolio selectively and systematically to prospective clients.
Being stagnant is not my thing. It has always been a part of my nature to move forward and even if I am not taking huge leaps forward, I have to know I am moving in that direction. My mind needs to be occupied with new things and it needs its stimulation.
“Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard
Photography and writing are two vital components in my life that nourish and stimulate me creatively. I took my photography down a different route in 2010. While staying true to my style, I focused on the individual elements involved in taking a photo and experimented out of my comfort zone. Light, for example, is in my opinion one of the most important aspect of taking a good photo. In 2009 I experimented with artificial light, trying to grasp the different elements and characteristics to take into consideration when shooting with studio lighting. In 2010 I went back to natural light but with the purpose of discovering the darker side.
OssobucoFusion_0009
Moody and temperamental images were my aim and the way I wanted to tackle that was using light and filtering it into my shots to evoke the desired atmosphere. I experimented on many different levels, running around the house with plates of food at different times of the day;  and using scrims, colored reflectors and camera filters to see how the light changed and affected my image. It was fun, frustrating and involved a lot of running around! However, once I began building up a process and found attributes that worked well together, I liked the final results. After all the experimenting and honing my skills further, the biggest gratification is being able to add this new genre to my photography repertoire.
Blueberry2010_0015-1-2
Resolutions are not really my forte - instead I like weaving plans and setting goals. 2011 is going to be a good year: I can feel it. And I have a few plans and projects that I would like to realize in this new year. From Plate to Page is just one of the spectacular colors in my palette with which I plan to paint my canvas in 2011.
With this I would like to wish you all brilliant and vivid colors for your own canvas in the coming year. Paint 2011 like you would never have dared. Step out of your comfort zone and dare to try something you have always wanted to do.
My motto in life: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you’ll land amongst the stars.” ~ Les Brown
Happy New Year!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Looking back, looking forward

New year is always a time of partying and celebration with friends and family. But on a personal and professional level it is also a time of reflection and evaluation; of planning and regrouping; of refreshment and renewed inspiration. And it is in this reflective spirit that we have decided to ask each one of the four Plate to Page workshop presenters to look back at 2010 to tell us what they feel they have achieved; as well as forward at 2011 to share with us some of their goals for the coming year. Today we hear from Jeanne, the accomplished writer behind CookSister! The other post in the series so far is from Ilva Beretta of Lucullian Delights and Ilva Beretta Photography. Stay tuned for two more posts in the series this week.



As every cat knows, a doorway is a most magical thing. It provides not only a means of passing through what appeared to be an impenetrable wall; but also provides you with a viewpoint from where you can observe not only the room you have just left, but also the room you are about to enter. For some of my friends, new year celebrations provide a perfect reason to let their hair down and party as if there is no tomorrow. For others, new year symbolises an ending and as they gaze back at the past year with its disappointments and wasted opportunities, as spent as a popped balloon, they see no reason to celebrate at all. But I am on the side of the cat. For me, new year celebrations provide a doorway between the year that was and the year yet to be; a means of breaking through past obstacles into a brighter future; and a unique moment when you are encouraged not only to look backwards but also forwards to the year yet to come, as filled with promise as a blank page and a new fountain pen.



FigHalloumiSalad


Standing here on the doorstep of 2011, if I look back at my older posts, I marvel firstly at where I found the time to write such epic pieces; and then I cringe at the sheer volume of stuff I tried to cram into each post. For goodness sake - in one post a while back I covered FOUR barbecues and their recipes in one post! I think if I can pinpoint one thing that I have improved on over the past year, it is the fine art of editing. I have pruned posts down to tell one story at a time, and have worked on suppressing my natural inclination to verbosity. As a writer, I have always found it really hard to self-edit. Once I have written something, it is like having a child - and by extension, deleting those written words feels like killing my children. But I feel that over the past year I have made great strides in being stricter with editing and keeping my pieces tighter, a habit which proved to be invaluable when I was writing a number of pieces for publication in magazines and books this year. I would dare to say that any writer looking to improve their writing could benefit from making a more conscious effort at editing more ruthlessly and tightening up their prose.



BluebasilBrownies by CookSister



The achievements of which I was proudest in 2010 were my published pieces that appeared in two coffee table books from National Geographic as well as a cookbook and a book of food writing essays. I was also thrilled to have magazine pieces published online as well as in print magazines in the UK and South Africa. On the visual side, I also saw my own photographs featured in print (p20-21) for the first time and it finally felt as if the extra effort that I have been putting into my food photography is paying dividends.



PumpkinSoup by CookSister


And looking forward to 2011? I am bad at making proper resolutions and even worse at sticking to them. But I have found that formulating some goals and, more crucially, writing them down focuses my mind and helps me to achieve what I set out to do. Not wishy washy goals like “be a better writer” but specific ones that actually have measurable outcomes. In 2011 I am hoping to devise a writing/posting schedule that I can actually stick to for more than a week or two. And off the blog in the "real" world, I am aiming to get more of my writing published in magazines over the next year. I want to stop doubting myself and learn to trust in my own abilities and take some risks - if you're careful all the time then what's it worth? But most of all I am looking forward to sharing the writing and blogging tips that I have learnt over six years with those of you who have signed up for our two Plate to Page workshops in Spring and Autumn 2011. Happy new year!


Chocolates by CookSister