I glance nervously, discreetly around the room and to tell you the honest truth it terrifies me. Expectant eyes boring into mine, waiting. Or, worse, blank stares, no expectations at all, or anticipation hidden and buried so deep one must dig down to find it. What are they waiting for? What must I offer them? How to guide and inspire? And is inspiration even achievable? The silence hangs heavy in the air and my doubts rise like a sour taste in my mouth, bubbling up to the surface and spilling over into my confidence.
I scan the faces gathered together in some chilly, impersonal space, huddled shoulder to shoulder around a table never quite big enough for all of the paraphernalia: the cameras, laptops, ipads, chargers, projector and even the old-fashioned accoutrements, the notebooks, pens and pencils; bottles of water or mugs of tea threaten to tumble onto the table and soak into paper. I shift in my seat, boot up my own laptop and reshuffle my notes – always notes so as not to wander off into unknown, unintelligible territory as I am wont to do – and, taking a deep breath, plunge one more time into the mysterious wilds of yet another From Plate to Page.
Words read aloud divulge the multicultural bent of this workshop, voices, words sung in an Indian rhythm, spoken in a British lilt, bursting forth in a German accent; Swiss, Egyptian, Swedish, we came from far and wide, a truly international gathering; French, German, Spanish, English chattering fill the void around us as we let down our guards, self-doubt and shyness melting into laughter and energy. Cameras click as the food appears, fingers flick and rush across keyboards pounding out descriptions, telling stories, souls spilling onto blank pages. Each assignment is greeted with a mixture of doubt and enthusiasm; attacked head on albeit with a dash of hesitation. And this group was like no other; in place of a dozen well-seasoned food bloggers, we found that this workshop extended far beyond familiar territory: here were a wedding photographer, a garden designer dabbling in interior design, a PR creative consultant, a craft blogger, a cooking instructor as well as at least one who had begun a blog yet still hadn’t quite figured out the focus. Several newbie and more experienced food bloggers made up the balance, and here we were, brought together by a common passion for food and the desire to learn, to better writing and photography skills. And once they got started, this once impersonal conference room was bursting with activity, barely large enough to contain all of the creative energy.
My nervousness and doubts wash away in this sea of excitement, conviction and eagerness. Yet another roomful of participants from all over the world comes together more than ready and willing to jump into the workshop feet first and give it all they’ve got! Let the fun begin!
Somerset was the ideal setting for Plate to Page; lush green countryside, cows lowing in the distance while roosters waddled contentedly across the courtyard cockadoodledooing to our immense amusement and pleasure. The perfect backdrop for creative inspiration and peaceful, thoughtful concentration, right out of an English novel (okay, minus the hen party – bachelorettes –lodged next door and their appearance in skin-tight, low-cut stewardess uniforms apparently on their way to celebrate at the local pub). The rambling old English Manor House, Meare Court, offered scattered bedrooms and an attic dormitory reminiscent of an old English boarding school. The spacious kitchen offered rustic elegance with room to cook, clean and shoot, an ancient, cream-colored Aga’s imposing presence like the Queen amid her court. Glasses clinking, corks popping, the laughter was infectious as the Bisol Prosecco and Orchard Pig cider was passed around all weekend, from morning to night, enlivening mealtimes and photo sessions, nourishing our imaginations and bonhomie.
The English rain played tag with the sunshine as we visited a fabulous Smokery – more to come – and a typical gastro pub fed our craving for a true British experience. The participants worked from morning to night, lessons, discussions, critique and feedback as well as special assignments pushed and pulled at their brains, every activity, adventure and excursion the basis for yet more exercises and assignments, pleasure and amusement all a part of the work. Piles of tender, nutty, chocolate-coated nougat, fragrant white-as-snow goat cheese or platters of deep, dark, decadent brownies played double duty: luscious snack and object of desire for many a still life and a battery of cameras.
What is From Plate to Page? Yes, you know that it is a hands-on, practical workshop for food writing, styling and photography and we have given it our all to make it the most effective and original of its kind. Yes, P2P is three days in which your skills and ideas are pushed and pulled, teased and challenged, in which you learn to look at yourself more objectively, learn to break down your own expectations and think out of the box, to trust your own instincts in order to find your way back to a place of comfort and creativity, a place of confidence and imagination. P2P is four instructors and 12 participants and a house full of inspiration, hard work and even more work!
But it is so much more than that. P2P is conviviality: mealtimes around rough-hewn wooden tables, eating elbow to elbow, platters of incredible food passed around from hand to hand; it is laughter: staying up late chatting, glasses of wine in hand, sharing confidences and advice, giggles and ABBA floating up the staircase and out into the starlit sky; it means friendship: bonds made with who, just hours or days earlier, were total strangers, friendships that last long after the workshop ends and we have all gone our separate ways. P2P is waking before dawn to be the first in the shower yet hearing the distant clatter of crockery only to realize that others are already up and about, emptying the dishwasher, making pots of coffee and spreading jam on toast, gathered like one close happy family in the warm kitchen anxious to start the day. P2P is a row of eyes wide with shock and amazement as the very first exercise is explained that Friday afternoon and eyes filled with delight and eager for more once the results of those first exercises are read aloud to clapping and laughter and expressions of appreciation! Plate to Page is the satisfaction of a weekend of hard work and the gratification of a job well done and the great pleasure felt in both inspiring others and being inspired. Plate to Page is a series of Aha! and Eureka! moments, the smug satisfaction of arriving at a place once thought impossible, of achieving things once imagined unattainable.
And as with Plate to Page Weimar and Plate to Page Tuscany, the weekend comes to a close much too quickly. Along with my three fellow instructors, I hold all of the keys, am the one expected to teach and inspire, motivate and offer knowledge and advice, yet I am always surprised – although I should no longer be by now – at how very much I carry home with me. I return to my family much more motivated and excited to get back to my own writing. Our students never cease to inspire me to better my own skills, my brain flooded with new ideas. And I wish that each Plate to Page workshop lasted just a few days longer.
The next exciting, inspirational From Plate to Page food writing, styling & photography workshop is already in the works! If you haven't yet had the chance to attend, it is never too early to register! Add your name to the list and be the first informed! Visit the Plate to Page website and read about past workshops, stay up to date on all news and read our guest posts by the best food writers, stylists and photographers in the business!
Thanks to my extremely talented colleagues Jeanne, Ilva and Meeta (especially my own writing partner Jeanne). Thanks to our P2P Somerset participants Nitin, Alexandra, Barbara, Juliane, Ruth, Francoise, Jo, Djanira, Spandana, Rim and Wendy! One helluva team!
And thanks to our incredible sponsors who not only allowed us to offer each participant a fabulous goodie bag but who also supplied us with food and drink for our workshop weekend, meals and snacks as well as objects for our exercises (which then were duly eaten): Donald Russel (legs of lamb, curries and fish pies), Bisol Prosecco, Orchard Pig cider, Edge of Belgravia (limited edition numbered ceramic knives), Taste of Home (cookbooks and aprons), Gourmelli Gourmet Foods, Sunchowder’s Emporia gourmet jams, Halen Môn smoked sea salt, Sally Williams nougat, Blue Basil Gourmet Brownies, The Garlic Farm (smoked garlic, fresh asparagus, relishes), Laithwaites Domaine of the Bee Wine, Capricorn Somerset Goats Cheese, Raw Love Life raw chocolates, Food Matters (Nielsen-Massey extracts, Riso Gallo rice & risotto), F & W Media (Brette Sember’s Muffin Tin Cookbook), and Kelly Moore camera bags. For more information and links to our fabulous, generous, delicious sponsors, please visit our Plate to Page Sponsor Page. More about our sponsors soon...