From 10-13 May, the fourth From Plate to Page food writing and photography workshop took place at the beautiful Decoy Country Cottages just outside Dublin Ireland. 11 participants and 4 instructors came (literally) from the four corners of the earth to attend, and this is the story of the weekend as told in the words and pictures of the four instructors: Meeta, Jamie, Ilva and Jeanne.
"One never knows how the dynamics and mechanics of a group will function. It’s an intricate matter bringing 12 people together, each from different parts of the world, with different personalities, characters and desires. The drive has to flow in positive directions and the synergy between the group must be cohesive and interactive. It is one of the things that keeps us, as instructors of the From Plate to Page workshop, always on our toes." - Meeta
"Having worked up an appetite, it was time for a buffet lunch provided by Earl's Kitchen, including some delightful fresh bread to enjoy with our delectably moreish Moorish Smoked Humous and Ed Hick's bacon jam. Lunch was followed by the handing out of the goodie bags! Soon everyone was oohing and aahing as they unpacked their Edgeware zesters and knife sharpeners; Ed Hick's bacon jam; Donegal rapeseed oil; Nino Franco aprons; Rococo chocolate bar; NoMU skinny hot chocolate and dukkah; copies of the Heartbreak Recovery Kitchen cookbook; and adorable Patron tequila miniatures. Later on in the weekend we also held a prize draw to give away the three NoMU recipe boxes that our lovely sponsor had sent us all the way from South Africa. These smart boxes come pre-loaded with 48 recipe cards filed under tabs for starters, mains, sides, desserts, treats and basics. Every three months, an expansion pack of 48 new cards will be released so that you can keep expanding your recipe collection." - Jeanne
"Plate to Page workshops are nothing if not exciting. We watch as our students give the best of themselves. Each arrives with his or her own baggage: different levels of experience and talent, different interests and goals. Friday morning, barely the time to claim a bed and have a snack and they are plunged into a world of words and images, stories to tell visually and verbally. The photographers cringe at the writing exercises, the writers worry about their photography skills, yet very quickly they are swept up in the challenge, begin to understand the reasons behind the program we offer and are energized!" - Jamie
"They are pushed to follow their instincts and find inspiration. They file their stories and pensively work on their exercises. I enjoy hearing their pieces of work; some make me laugh out loud while others move me emotionally. The progress each participant has made within a few days is fascinating. Even those self-proclaimed “non-writers” are producing some brilliant writing work". - Meeta
"Often working intensively with a small group, pushing them to the limit under a time constraint and watchful eyes of instructors can be challenging but I am convinced, as instructors, we work on a very positive level with our participants and while we offer critique, it is constructive and channels the participants in a more focused direction... As the day unfolds and exercises are tackled with success and the group merge into a cohesive team, there are cheers, laughter and even tears as the emotion of conquering fears is always a powerful one." - Meeta
"White against white, violet on charcoal, bounces repositioned, cutlery shifted. Fingers fiddle with settings, moods varying from romantic to brooding to country to elegant, light to dark, busy to stark. Meeta and Ilva explain, discuss, point out, move back to allow for personal interpretation, to each his or her own style." - Jamie
"After lunch participants were thrown headlong into freestyle writing and photography exercises that many found challenging. Muffled cries of "oh, but I can't write!" or "I'm not the photographer - she is!" flew around the table like panicky birds caught in a room. Shutters clicked; cameras were fumed at; fingers clicked on keyboards and then clicked even more rapidly as newly-written text was deleted; eyes were raised skywards as if to ask "why me?!". It is indeed a bit of a baptism by fire, and it was not without relief that we wrapped up for the day and headed back to the main cottage for some well-deserved Nino Franco Rustico prosecco. To accompany our Donald Russell moussaka and roast vegetables, we cracked open some Brancott Estate Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand." - Jeanne
"The following morning, our destination was Sage & Stone, a charming coffee shop in nearby Duleek that runs a regular farmers' market. There was no market scheduled for the day we were there, but when the organisers heard that a bunch of international foodie bloggers were in the neighbourhood, they very kindly agreed to run a market especially for our visit! We also met the lovely man himself from Man of Aran Fudge; the very charming Newgrange Gold rapeseed oil chap; the Bellingham blue cheese cheese lady who let us shelter under her awning during the rainstorm; the jolly couple selling their award-winning Pollock's Pickles, sauces and jams, positively beaming with pride; the fourth generation fishmonger from Fisherman's Catch; the cheeky chappie with an armful of fresh loaves at George's Patisserie; and our old friends Earl's Kitchen. Of course, Ireland also had to give us a taste of changeable Irish weather and a couple of times during our visit we all had to sprint for cover as the sunny day changed into a version of the Irish monsoon! But when we eventually departed, we left with bulging shopping baskets and happy memories of the truly welcoming vendors at Sage & Stone" - Jeanne
"By late afternoon, we were back in the training room where each group presented their assignment, and it was hard to believe that some of these talented writers and photographers were the very people who had told us a mere 24 hours ago that they were outside of their comfort zone and could not write, or were not photographers." - Jeanne
"On Sunday, Decoy Cottages and the grounds of this stunning location becomes the backdrop for photo sessions. Plates of food are arranged, props scrutinized and the set-up discussed. Heads huddled together as adjectives are bounced around, sentences re-arranged and ideas exchanged. It is exhilarating to watch the assignments come alive." - Meeta
"We also welcomed back another of our Plate to Page alumni - the talented David (Kitchen 72) who attended Plate to Page Weimar back in 2011 - to cater for us. While we conducted workshops, David worked tirelessly in the kitchen to produce quite the most amazing range of salads I have ever seen, including a raw and pickled salad with carrots, radish, fennel and fennel pollen; a kale salad packed full of sunflower seeds; and braised baby carrots with chard stems that totally blew me away. These were all made to accompany some perfect sides of Irish salmon which David barbecued for us and served with a rather spectacular beetroot sauce. But the show-stopper was without a doubt the dessert of grilled pears with beetroot cake crumble, sorrel granita and apple blossom leaves - not only gloriously colourful but a study in fresh flavour and textural contrasts. Dinner was equally impressive, with bowls of beetroot and giant couscous salad; roasted butternut and quinoa salad; roasted cauliflower with fresh herbs; and a gorgeous bowl of mixed leaves, flowers, grapes, seeds and nuts. But the piece d'resistance was without a doubt the glorious smoked racks of Irish bacon, kindly supplied by Bord Bia from Oliver Carty, one of the members of Bord Bia's Origin Green accreditation scheme." - Jeanne
A huge thank you once again to all our sponsors, but especially Bord Bia for their tireless support and enthusiasm. Thanks also to: Paula at Decoy Country Cottages who was an absolute pleasure to work with - nothing was too much trouble; to Sandra and the Earl's Kitchen team for their excellent catering; to David for his show-stopper meals on Sunday; and to the fantastic organisers and artisan producers at Sage & Stone market who opened especially for our group - we love you!
To stay up to date with what the Plate to Page team are up to, remember to keep an eye on the Plate to Page website, Plate to Page Facebook fan page, and our Twitter handle (@Plate2page)!