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Reinventing Myself as a Food Writer - Domenica Marchetti

posted Mar 30, 2012, 1:19 AM by M.I.J.J. Page

Domenica Marchetti is the author of four books on Italian cooking: The Glorious Pasta of ItalyThe Glorious Soups and Stews of ItalyWilliams-Sonoma Rustic Italian, and Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style. Her recipes and articles on Italian home cooking have been widely published, including in The Washington Post, Food and Wine, Fine Cooking, and online at Leite’s Culinaria, Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn, NPR’s Kitchen Window, and Oprah.com. Domenica is a graduate of Skidmore College and Columbia University School of Journalism and a former newspaper reporter. She was born in New York and raised in New Jersey. Growing up, she spent her summers in Abruzzo, Italy, where her mother is from, and traveling around the Italian peninsula. She returns to Italy often for research and fresh inspiration. Visit her website at www.domenicacooks.com, and connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Glorious Pasta_Maccheroni Alla Mulinara

I never imagined I would write a cookbook, let alone four (with a fifth in the works). I am a newspaper reporter by profession, and after earning my graduate degree in journalism at Columbia University I worked at several newspapers, in New Jersey, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. This was before food writing was considered a serious pursuit (except if you were a restaurant critic)—before Michael Pollan’s books, before food policy was routinely front-page news, and certainly before food blogging exploded onto the scene. So I wrote about everything but food, it seems, from school board elections to bizarre suburban murders. I had a stint as a health and fitness writer in which I wrote tangentially about food by writing about nutrition. For a few years I was a senior writer at a biweekly newspaper called The Chronicle of Philanthropy, in which I wrote about the nonprofit world and profiled wealthy philanthropists.

I loved my work, but when I got home at the end of the day I always found myself flipping through cookbooks and playing around at the stove. Over the years, collecting cookbooks had quietly turned into an obsession and my collection had
grown from a few during my college days into dozens, and then dozens more.

That I was so food-focused is no surprise. I grew up in an Italian family, and good food was as important as, say, a good education. My mom was born and raised in Chieti, in Italy’s beautiful, rugged Abruzzo region. My dad was born in the U.S. but both his parents were from small towns south of Rome. My mother had my sister and me shaping ravioli and cappelletti and other whimsical pasta shapes by the time we could see over the kitchen counter. We spent our summers in Rome and on the Adriatic coast of Abruzzo. My dad was a master at planning trips all around the Italian peninsula—and these trips always centered around finding great food and great wine. I still remember the first time I had ribollita in the Tuscan countryside, the first time I tasted inky-black cuttlefish noodles in Venice, the first time I ate handmade orecchiette in Puglia. These memories have stayed with me throughout the decades.

In 2001, when my kids were young, I left my fulltime job so I could be home for them. It was then that I decided, somewhat spontaneously and irrationally, to reinvent myself as a food writer. I had connections at various newspapers, friends and editors who knew my work, and so I pitched stories to them and began to get published. In 2004, after attending the inspiring Food Writers’ Symposium at the Greenbrier, I wrote my first cookbook proposal, for The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy. To my amazement (and delight), it was picked up by Chronicle Books, whose editor I had met at the symposium.

Writing cookbooks is my dream job, because it combines my love for research and writing with my love for Italian food, culture, and cooking. My biggest challenge as a writer of Italian cookbooks is finding something new and relevant to say about a subject that has already been extensively explored and written about. Think about it—people have been traveling to and writing about Italy for centuries: historians, artists, poets, archeologists, and of course, food lovers. When my publisher asked me to write a proposal for a book about pasta I was skeptical. Lord knows there’s been a lot written on that subject! But that’s the miraculous thing about Italy. This small peninsula has been trod upon by so many millions of people who have wound their way through the hilltop towns and ancient cities and up and down the coasts, and yet, there are still discoveries to be made, secrets and treasures to be unearthed.

Glorious Pasta COV

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: In 2009, when I was researching The Glorious Pasta of Italy, I returned to my mother’s native region of Abruzzo, and ended up in a small valley in a part of the region that I had not been to before. I
was befriended by a gentleman who is something of a food authority in the area. He introduced me to an extraordinary pasta called macccheroni alla molinara, named for the wives of the flour millers who once populated in the valley. It’s a
long, fat noodle that is hand-stretched and rolled into a loop that is 3 meters or more end-to-end. The stretched noodle is wrapped into a coil, cooked in a big pot of boiling water, and then dressed with meat sauce. My new friend took my family to a restaurant that specializes in this dish, and the chef kindly gave my daughter and me an impromptu lesson on how to make it. Incredibly, the original recipe dates back to the 13th Century and was a special dish prepared for royalty. In all my years of spending my summers in Abruzzo, I had never come across this kind of pasta before. It was eye opening, and inspiring.

I find that in writing my cookbooks I use my reporting skills every bit as much as I did when I was working at newspapers. It’s important to remember that the best food writing comes not from sitting in front of your computer screen waiting for
inspiration to strike, but by getting out there, by talking to people, by observing them in the kitchen, by letting them tell their stories.

In fact, I believe this is one reason why my books have found an audience. There are other Italian cookbook authors who have bigger name recognition than I do. So I have had to find a niche in a crowded market. I think I’ve managed to do it because my books are personal. I tell stories in my head notes (the text that accompanies each recipe). I want people to know why I am including a particular recipe in one of my books. Take that extraordinary noodle, maccheroni alla molinara. Think about how much a reader or a cook would be missing if he or she did not know the story behind that recipe. I love knowing a recipe’s back-story, and I know many others do as well.

domenica (1)

The world of cookbook writing and publishing has changed, even in the last six years since my first book was released. Publishers are making less money; there is a lot of competition and there are fewer deals to be had. Authors have to work harder than ever to publicize their work and to stand out in a crowded field. The changes are coming fast and there is a lot of uncertainty in the business. I keep hearing and reading about the “demise” of the print cookbook in the face of apps and iPads and e-books. At the same time, it seems to me more people than ever are seeking— and getting—those coveted book deals. Some people grumble that there are too many cookbooks, and indeed, now more than ever, anyone who wants to can self-publish a cookbook. But in my opinion, there is always room for a new voice, a fresh perspective, whether it’s in a book or on a blog. I know this sounds naïve, but if you have genuine passion for your subject, it will shine through.

Something I’ve learned: Writing cookbooks is NOT a good way to get rich, but it has made my life richer.

Photo credits:
Author photo is by Olga Berman
Book cover is by France Ruffenach
Maccheroni alla Molinara is by France Ruffenach

Domenica Marchetti: 

Now in bookstores: The Glorious Pasta of Italy. Author of The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy, and Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style, named one of the 25 best cookbooks of the year by the editors of Food and Wine.

A Revolution in Food Photography by Alessandro Guerani of Foodografia

posted Mar 23, 2012, 5:20 AM by M.I.J.J. Page   [ updated Mar 23, 2012, 6:24 AM ]

Up until very recently, food photography was a branch, and not one of great importance, of the still life genre. The images had mostly a "technical" or a "documentary" approach, but nonetheless the overall style was very realistic without many trills and frills. The food image was created strictly to provide in a straightforward way the result of a published recipe or the appearance of the advertised product.

Only in the last few years, food photography has been raised to its own specialized branch of imagery. This happened because food in the mind of the audience has shifted from a mere means of nourishment to something that provides inner satisfaction, emotions and also social status. Food photographers began applying the various techniques used for years by fashion photographers to create and provide images that inspire these concepts in the audience.

If you examine a good quality, modern, food image you should notice how its setting, lighting and composition became of paramount importance in conveying emotions to the viewer. It's not that realism or supply of information about the subject are no longer important, it's rather that they aren't considered sufficient nowadays for a food image to fulfill its scope.

Beauty is as essential as information today. There has been a revolution in food photography and as with every revolution this brought about a complete upheaval within the food photography style, with Australia leading the race. A complete change of the working methods and the rise of the importance of prop styling has added a completely new approach to food styling.

The end result is that the modern food image sells a lifestyle, not just a recipe or a product. We food photographers are compelled to produce imagery that "stands out" in a communication world that is every day  more and more visually based and driven (Pinterest anyone?). Technical prowess is no longer enough.Specialization is now the key, as is having a good team with whom to work. Be very open to genre contamination and acquire a good knowledge of other visual arts. 

All photography copyright Alessandro Guerani 

Eating & Drinking in Tuscany - a peek inside a Plate to Page assignment

posted Mar 7, 2012, 3:12 AM by M.I.J.J. Page   [ updated Mar 7, 2012, 3:25 AM ]

As we mentioned in our earlier post, we want to share with you some of the extraordinary work that our participants produce during the 2.5 days we are together for our workshops. Remember that our participants arrive at Plate to Page as total strangers from all over the world and from the very first afternoon they are thrown together to share living quarters, cooking duties and workshop assignments.  We feel that this is one of the most positive aspects of Plate to Page - the emphasis on collaborative learning and the wonderful synergy that can be produced when creative people from different backgrounds work together.  Rather than turning out little clones of the instructors, we hope that Plate to Page workshops produce alumni that have learnt not only from the instructors but also from working closely together with fellow-participants on assignments, and leave the weekend with a stronger idea of their own visual and written voice.  

Today we share a piece from Olivia Vasallo and Alexandra Asnaghi, two fabulously feisty Mediterranean ladies who attended  our Tuscany 2011 Workshop. The assignment was to write and photograph for an article titled "Eating in Tuscany" in the style of a high-end foodie magazine such as Saveur. They had to consider not only how the images would illustrate the article, but also the potential space for placement of text on the photos;  the tone of the magazine; and its target audience.  In doing so, they practically applied all that they had learnt about both writing and photography over the course of the weekend. 

We think they did a fantastic job - have a look and see what you think! 

If you are planning to visit Tuscany wait for Autumn: it’s time for chestnuts, porcini, truffles, freshly pressed olive oil and vino novello.

What fascinates me most about Tuscan food is its simplicity. Ingredients are picked directly from the earth and transformed, by the plump hands of Tuscan women, into dishes typical of this area. Whether its pasta, meat, or desserts Tuscan citizens have their secret recipe to produce simple and flavour some specialities!

Pici is an artisan type of pasta, characteristic of Tuscany. This is produced with a mixture of flour, water and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and worked into long pencil like strips of dough. Pici are generally served with a garlicky tomato sauce known as ‘sugo all’aglione’, but they surely also go well with wild boar or pheasant sauce.

October is chestnut season in Tuscany. Locals organise sagre to celebrate and pay tribute to the chestnut, this brown, oddly shaped, hard-skinned nut which is profusely used in the Tuscan kitchen. Chestnuts are also crushed into flour and in fact if you are in Tuscany insist to taste the castagnaccio - a cake made from chestnut flour, sweetened by raisins, enriched by pine nuts and spiced with needles of rosemary sprigs.

And then to liven your spirits don’t forget to enjoy a glass of vino novello! You can drink this wine young - however no research has proved that it will keep you so!

Does this sound like the kind of weekend course that your writing and photography skills would  benefit from?  Register now for the next Plate to Page workshop taking place in May 2012 in Somerset, England. 

Eating in Tuscany - a peek inside a Plate to Page assignment

posted Feb 16, 2012, 5:46 AM by M.I.J.J. Page   [ updated Feb 16, 2012, 6:07 AM by Jeanne Horak ]

As we mentioned in our earlier post, we want to share with you some of the extraordinary work that our participants produce  during the 2.5 days we are together for our workshops. Today we share a piece from Denise Kortlever and Hayley Harland, two energetic and lovely participants from our Tuscany 2011 Workshop. The assignment was to write and photograph for an article titled "Eating in Tuscany" in the style of a magazine about women's health. 

They had to consider not only how the images would illustrate the article, but also the placement of text on the photos;  the tone of the magazine; and its target audience.  In doing so, they practically applied all that they had learnt about both writing and photography over the course of the weekend. 

We hope you enjoy this piece as much as we did! 

Eating and Drinking in Tuscany
Nourish your body as well as your mind.

It’s early morning, the fertile and earthy Tuscan hills greet you from your window. You slip on your jogging shoes and step down the ancient stone stairs of Il Salicone, within seconds you’re running free between grape vines, swollen amethyst gems hanging in a luscious leafy backdrop.

Breakfast on the terrace is antioxidant rich pomegranate and fresh probiotic yoghurt. This is the perfect fuel to sustain you through the morning’s yoga lessons, set in a peaceful olive grove overlooking miles of flourishing landscape.
Breathe in the cool still air and forget about work, this time is only for you.

The menu for your entire stay is carefully planned by trained nutritionists to suit your needs, yet it keeps the traditions and values of the local cuisine. Dishes you could expect are porcini mushroom salad, the aromatic funghi picked from the
forest just that morning. Green petals fall away from lemon zested artichokes, dipped in that heart-friendly Mediterranean nectar, extra-virgin olive oil. Bistecca alla fiorentina, a steak dish so rooted in this area, is cooked crimson on the inside. Upon plunging your fork into it, a juicy gravy bursts forth. You would think that this moment on the lips would cost you on the hips but the wonderful thing about this dish is that it’s under 200 calories, the cut of meat thoughtfully selected from a nearby biodynamic farm.

Il Salicone is just one of the many retreats all over Tuscany opening their doors to people searching for a peaceful getaway. They all offer a range of packages from serene and silent meditation to the slightly more vigorous pilates. You
always come away feeling rested and restored. There are retreats like Villa Michaela near Lucca that also offer gentle cooking courses so you can take the healthy Meditteranean diet home with you. 

Denise Vivaldo - A Stylish Devotion to Food

posted Feb 8, 2012, 3:27 AM by M.I.J.J. Page

Denise Vivaldo, culinary consultant extraordinaire, was classically trained at the prestigious Ritz Escoffier, La Varenne and San Fransicso’s CCA and started her career as a caterer.  In 1988 Denise founded Food Fanatics, a catering, recipe-development, and food-styling firm based in Los Angeles, California and she is the author of 7 books including The Food Stylist’s Handbook.

Her illustrious 27-year career in the food industry comprises everything from catering events and parties for Hollywood and political stars to flying around the country teaching and leading workshops on food styling as well as styling food for TV, the movies, cookbooks and product packaging.  

We are proud to have Denise Vivaldo as our guest on Plate to Page as she takes the time to give us an inside look at her career as well as the world of food styling.

How did you get started? Didn't you start out as a caterer, adding on recipe development and then food styling? How did it all evolve?

Yes, I was a caterer that was obsessed with the presentation of food! At one of my parties, Aaron Spelling arrived, loved the buffet and put me to work on his TV show Dynasty literally the next day!   I was trained at the CCA in San Francisco and started writing recipes in school. Twenty-seven years later .... my career is still evolving!

How did you choose the field of Food Styling?

Food styling was the next step from being a chef and caterer. When you present food  to the camera - you are selling something! It can be the knife, the sauce, the recipe, the celebrity chef, a lifestyle - whatever! Food styling is about selling and supporting a brand.    

You also write books, teach and do consulting work - how do you do it all and how did you create such a fabulous, widespread business?

I do it all because I love working with food and I am very fond of making money!
For many years, few people knew that food stylists existed... until TV Food Network and with celebrity chefs everywhere our secret society emerged. Every celebrity chef I know has a team of people that help them with their media food.

From food styling to culinary producing - we create and document food trends. The internet has made food styling global. I teach anywhere they'll have me!

How did your book The Food Stylist's Handbook come about?

I had wanted to write a food styling handbook for newbies for years - it was so hard finding information early in my career  and i just thought that I could make it easier for others. And my agent made the connection with the publisher. The Food Stylist's Handbook is 20 years of tips all in one volume.

What has changed over the years in the profession and how is it continuing to change and evolve today?

The biggest change has been digital film. An experienced stylist and photographer can move twice as fast in a day as they used to. The computer image makes corrections and additions to an image, making it both easy to view and to photoshop. Like frosting on a cake.....even the smallest imperfections, a crack or a bubble, can just be retouched immediately!
No stylist struggling to fix it!

Also bloggers - as the home cook started photographing their food, they became aware that making the food look good is harder than it looks. There are a lot of ugly images on the net! Yikes! But bloggers have also brought more of a casual feel to styling....the public forgives a few cracks in the pie crust.

If an image is being produced for a client ...then it's the client's decision how the product will look.

What are one or two things you've learned along the way that are indispensable?

If the lighting is beautiful ....anything can look good! If lighting is flat and dull... the food suffers. The camera's eye can be very cruel BUT easily fooled.  

Enjoy the journey and develop a sense of humor about yourself and what the job is.
It's a gift to get paid to do what you love.

Do you have any advice for those wishing to become professional food stylists?

We teach workshops in the states and internationally - come join us at one!
We have food stylists at every level come attend our classes ...we discuss business,  styling techniques and how to market your services. We also do private instruction.

I've supported myself for 27 years and I'm happy to help others. If you have a little talent and want to work hard, it's a fabulous career.  

Denise’s culinary consultancy business can be found at www.denisevivaldo.com where you can find out more about what she can do for you and your business, including teaching, product consulting and culinary production.  To find out more about her classes on food styling, visit www.culinaryentreprenuership.com.

Together with partner Cindie Flannigan, Denise Vivaldo’s Food Fanatics business is devoted to media food styling including portfolio work production credits, books and book projects, etc.

To browse all of Denise’s books (including The Food Stylist’s Handbook), please visit her Amazon author page

(All food photos: Styling by Denise Vivaldo, photos by Jon Edwards)

Ciao Bella Contessa - a peek inside a Plate to Page assignment

posted Feb 1, 2012, 3:35 PM by M.I.J.J. Page

Our Plate to Page workshops are designed not for the instructors to impose their style on others, but to help participants hone their own skills. We believe that all who attend Plate to Page are talented in their own right, even if they are personally feeling uninspired or in a creative rut.  Often, inspiration is just waiting to be unleashed and all that is needed is the right environment, guidance, push and motivation. Our time together over the 3 workshop days is often very intensive and emotional, but as instructors the four of us are always amazed to see how our participants progress so rapidly, working in teams with strangers that they have only recently met and producing extraordinary work under pressure on the assignments they are given. We are so proud of each and every one of them!

To give you an idea of the fantastic work produced on the workshops, we would like to present some of these assignments to our readers. Hope you enjoy this wonderful piece, an excerpt from what was produced by Marta Majewska and Elizabeth Pizzinato when asked to produce a foodie article and pictures in the style of a gossip magazine like Hello!

Contessa Marchesa di Vescova – or Marissa as she insists I call her – has had a love affair with cookery since she was a child. “I used to beg to go in the kitchen and help the cook,” she says laughingly. “All I got for my troubles was a cookie and a gentle but firm push out the door.” That didn’t stop the Contessa from pursuing her passion. While studying economics at the University of Siena, she fell in love with her future husband, the Count di Vescova, over pizza at Il Pomodorino, the local student hangout. “The pizza was fantastic, and Vittorio would always say my scent reminded him of the freshly baked dough,” she recounts, blushing. “I knew I had to learn how to replicate it for us to enjoy at home.”

Plate to Page: The Tuscany Tales

posted Nov 24, 2011, 1:14 AM by M.I.J.J. Page

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
Marta and Kate from Belgium  
JudithRobin and Lynn from the USA
Elizabeth from Canada
Olivia from Malta 
Hayley and Valentina from the UK
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 Emporiaa gorgeous knife and apron from ZWILLING J.A. HENCKELSa jar of sweet piquanté peppers from Peppadewquick risotto kits from Riso Gallomatcha 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 challengeing 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

From Plate to Page Somerset

posted Nov 17, 2011, 6:01 AM by Jamie SCHLER   [ updated Nov 17, 2011, 8:22 AM by Jeanne Horak ]

“I think the format was great regarding size, location and length.

Small enough to be able to get feedback on everything.

Beautiful location and just enough with three working days.

I really liked the very practical approach to both photography and writing

and for me it was important that we used the time to work like we did.

You have designed the workshop in a very pedagogical way

and the constant shifting between doing exercises and getting feedback was excellent

...a very professional, educational and creative workshop."

From Heidi, professional writer, P2P Tuscany participant

From Plate to Page was born of a desire to move beyond the traditional food blogging conference and the need for an interactive, hands-on working experience and has grown into a weekend workshop offering food writers, photographers and bloggers the possibility to participate and ask questions, to stretch their limits and to truly take their skills and creativity a step higher and farther. The very first event for food bloggers that integrates food writing, styling and photography, From Plate to Page is unique in both format and content.

Working in very small groups - attendance is limited to 12 participants - the workshop allows valued one-on-one instruction and feedback. Through a series of comprehensive, in-depth exercises covering basic and advanced food stying and photography, writing skills and voice, participants are pushed to think outside of the box, work beyond their limits and understand how writing and photography can and do work together to complement and illustrate each other. The 2½-day workshop offers participants instruction in the basic technical skills of writing, styling and photography while inspiring, nurturing and developing creativity and confidence in finding their own voice and style.

Whether you are a writer or photographer by passion or instinct, Plate to Page’s novel approach challenges participants to reach outside their comfort zones:  writers are required to extend their photographic skills and vice versa, all while tackling the fundamentals of how to combine text and images synergistically to provide the basis for evocative, engaging content, whether in a food blog post or for professional writing and/or styling and photography assignments.

“… this Workshop and the entire experience was nothing short of brilliant.”

- From Ken of Hungry Rabbit NYC, P2P Weimar participant

The four instructors, each a passionate blogger as well as professional freelance food writer or photographer, teacher and speaker, share their knowledge, experience and know-how and offer constant one-on-one instruction in a relaxed and social atmosphere. Topics are presented in a practical and collective way where it is possible to ask questions, share ideas and practical experience in ways that traditional conferences do not allow. Quality time is dedicated to critique, discussion and analysis, helping participants understand, reflect upon and improve their work.

With two Plate to Page workshops under their belt, Ilva, Jeanne, Meeta and Jamie have the experience and know-how to understand and really focus on what the participants want and need. Two instructors in each domain allows not only plenty of quality, one-on-one time and attention, but offers an insight into a wide range of creative styles and approaches, thus helping participants to develop and hone their own voices.

“[the instructors] pushed us, challenged us, worked with us, helped us, critiqued us, laughed with us, shared with us, encouraged us, drank with us, cooked with us, inspired us ...”

Jenn of Jenn's Cuisine, P2P Weimar participant

“These gals are kick-ass teachers....

If you are ready to develop your writing skills/photography/food styling skills

then look no further.”

Mona of Wise Words, P2P Weimar participant

Somerset, England provides the gorgeous backdrop for the third From Plate to Page workshop in the spring of 2012. What better to inspire creativity than an authentic 17th century English manor house set on a working farm in the rolling green hills of the English countryside - and remember, it is Cheddar and apple cider country too! If you would like to join the Plate to Page team on an exhilarating and fully participative creative learning experience,  then you will be pleased to know that registrations for our Somerset workshop in May 2012 will open up on the Plate to Page website on Monday.  Demand for our workshops is usually high and competition for places intense.  To make sure you are among the first to hear when registrations open and avoid disappointment, make sure that you like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our RSS feed.  We hope you can join us for an experience of a lifetime.

“Experience of a lifetime! I never expected to have such a fantastic time.”

Simone of Junglefrog Cooking, P2P Weimar participant

“And if you are passionate about food and blogging, and you haven't heard of From Plate to Page,

get thee to their website.”

Elizabeth of Roast Duck and a Big Gooey Cake, P2P Tuscany participant

“A three day workshop where writing, talking, styling and photographing is centered on food. In the end you get much more than that.…a wonderfully put together and ran event and the best thing I have done in 2011.”

Valentina of Wee Bit of Sugar, P2P Tuscany participant

P2P Class of Weimar

P2P Class of Tuscany

Goodbye Plate to Page Tuscany, hello Plate to Page Somerset!

posted Nov 4, 2011, 1:19 AM by Jeanne Horak

So Plate top Page Tuscany is done and dusted. Sixteen people from around the globe descended on a villa in Tuscany for three electrifying days and created a private world of words and pictures and creative energy. The beautiful surroundings, the beautiful weather and the copious amounts of excellent Bisol prosecco had, it seemed, conspired to weave a particularly Tuscan kind of magic.  We arrived as strangers but left as friends.  In fact, as presenters, our only regret was that we could not share this wonderful Tuscan weekend with more of you.

But fear not!  If you missed out on attending both Plate to Page Weimar and Plate to Page Tuscany, hope is at hand.  Despite having been manically busy for the past few weeks finalising details and sponsors for Plate to Page Tuscany, we have not lost sight of the future and have recently managed to secure a wonderful venue for our next Plate to Page workshop in Spring 2011.  And where is this going to be, you might ask? Drum roll please... Ladies and gentlemen, the first Plate to Page of 2012 will be held in Somerset, England

Nestled in the heart of this beautiful county, near Taunton, is Somerset Spa, a manor house and two historic barns that have been loving restored to provide stylish traditional accommodation for a memorable weekend break.  We will be staying in Meare Court, a seventeenth century Grade II listed manor house. Many original features remain, including a rustic elm mediaeval   screen on the third floor and a beautiful Georgian panelled room. There six individually decorated bedrooms as well as original flagstone floors, exposed beams and a huge open fireplaces. Oh yes, and for our exclusive use there is a private hot-tub in a gazebo in the garden  :o)  The extensive 80-acre grounds and surrounding countryside provide the perfect setting to walk, think, or be inspired. 

The house is only an hour from Bristol International airport and two hours by train from London's Paddington station.  The Somerset countryside is full of places worth a visit, like the Cheddar Gorge caves and the Roman city of Bath. Nearby Taunton Country Market on a Satruday morning is foodie heaven, with locally made cakes, pies, cookies, jams, marmalades, chutneys and seasonal produce always available. The area is also dotted with artisanal brewers, cider-makers and smokehouses - and don't forget that this is Cheddar cheese country!  Bring a big suitcase :)

We are still taking care of some final details before we open up registrations for Plate to Page Somerset, but to be sure not to miss the announcement that registratrations have begun, make sure you subscribe to our RSS feed or our Facebook fan page, or follow us on Twitter

We hope to welcome you to Somerset in 2012!

Food Styling and Photography with Kelly Cline

posted Oct 24, 2011, 1:07 AM by Meeta K

Kelly is a self-taught photographer. Although she started shooting at around 13 and took a few photography classes, she has no formal education. Instead, she learned through experience, imitating images she liked from magazines and cookbooks and practiced repeatedly until she got the light and focus just right.
Kelly Cline’s images are colorful, contrasting and different. Kelly loves food and her unique ability to harness light to highlight food naturally without any artificial means becomes apparent when one sees her images. But Kelly is not just a photographer, she is also the food stylist, prop stylist and recipe author and working so closely with all the aspects of the process means she profoundly understands food and is able to bring that to life in her photos.

Kelly is a Seattle based food photographer and stylist and has been working with and shooting food professionally for over 10 years. Her photography has been seen all over the world in advertising and in magazines such as Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and Oxygen.

We are really excited to welcome Kelly to the Plate to Page blog as she shares some of her valuable tips and takes us through her career. Thank you Kelly for joining us!

How I got started?

I became interested in photography at a very young age.  My grandfather handed me an old Kodak Brownie, the gray kind with the flash bulbs you had to replace that were filled with steel wool.  He would take us up to Mt Rainier where we would take photos of nature landscapes.  My Uncle was also a factor, as he was a pilot and photographer during WWII, he taught me how to make a pinhole camera out of a Quaker Oats box and how to develop the film in the darkroom.  After that, photography was deeply seeded into my creative interests, which also included drawing, painting and sculpture.

Sometime in my 20s I saw a Gourmet Magazine cover with an Apple Tart on the cover.  The cover has an apple tart on it, the apples laid out in a spiraling pattern with a sprig of thyme laid across the top.  I came from a home of simple, but delicious, comfort food.  My idea of an apple pie was a crust on top and a crust on the bottom.  I had never seen apple slices laid out naked with no crust to cover them before, it threw me for a loop.  A wonderful loop that began my plunging headlong into a world of discovering everything that is wonderful about food.

I bought the magazine and began re-creating the recipes like crazy.  I started making monthly visits to "upscale" dining establishments, the kind of places where the food came to you as a plated work of art.  The artist inside of me was impressed by the fact that food could be made to look so pretty and still taste amazing.

So now I had a decent amount of what I would call "Amateur Gourmet" cooking under my belt.  I would entertain friends and use them as guinea pigs for my latest creations.  I would try my hand at re-creating my own versions of the sculpturesque foods that I had fallen in love with.  It was one evening over one of these dinner that a friend said to me "I can not eat this, it is too pretty.  You have to take a picture first!"
And so I did.

I began taking pictures of most everything that I cooked and ate from that point on... long before the internet and long, long, before blogs.  I mostly used my clunky old Polaroid, as digital cameras were not around at that time.  I also made use of my 35mm from time to time as well.  I did not pay so much attention to lighting, focus or the little details early on, as I was really just trying to chronicle my culinary explorations.

Then one day, after perusing some more food magazines I decided to try my hand at actually "staging" a shot.  It was a silly shot of an apple pie, one of the few old food photos I have left from so many years ago.  And that is how it began.

Why you choose this field?

After 9/11 there were a lot of businesses that were hit hard.  The high-end Lithographers that i had worked for had to roll up their doors and I was left unemployed.  I felt that I was standing at a crossroads.  I could take a left and get in the employment line and try to scratch out a living in a time when jobs were scarce or just not paying enough because everyone was in the same boat.  Or I could take a right, and give photography as a career a go. 

I chose based on my passions, food and photography.  I was a foodie long before the term was popularized.  I love food, I love cooking it, discovering new ingredients and most of all photographing it.  I live by the motto: Do what you love, Love what you do.

Set small realistic goals for yourself, prepare for adjustment to your goals and even a little disappointment here and there.  It's completely normal to experience a few set backs about our own expectations, but just stick to your goals and re-evaluate them on a regular basis making changes where necessary.  Also, understand that you have to spend some time doing it, it won't happen over night.  Just remember to give yourself and your goal time to catch up to your expectations.

What has changed over the years in your point of view?

I think television and the Internet has really revolutionized the food industry in general.  The topic of food is readily accessible to a much broader audience than it was back in the 80s and 90s.  The amount of content on the web available that focuses on food casts a long shadow on publications in the days of old.  More people are talking about food and more people are interested in food.  If all these people were interested in the 80s and 90s, we didn't really know because we had been disconnected from our fellow food loving populace.  With the internet and modern technology in photography, we have an actual community that shares, teaches, gives and enjoys food together. 

From a styling and photography point of view - REAL food.  Fake food and overly styled food are slowly dying off and making way for images and styling that showcase the beauty of food in its natural state.  And this is a good thing, because the viewing audience is wise to tricks of old and just about anyone can tell the difference between a real ice cream cone and one made with mashed potatoes or non-melting sugar lard.

How has your style changed or developed?

I have certainly embraced natural light over the years.  It suits my style best.   I would say that although I have always styled my food "green" and do not use inedible additives to my photos, I would definitely say that styling using this method really has made an impact on my photography.  All-natural food styling forces me to think on my feet, because food has a very small window where it looks fresh.  With every new ingredient, I learn about it's window of freshness and how best to capture it. 

I started out styling food this way because I didn't have a money tree growing in the back yard and could not afford to waste food by making it inedible.  It all goes back to shooting what you are passionate about. If I were shooting a stack of pancakes covered in motor oil, I would be hard pressed to be motivated to make it look appetizing and delicious.  I would KNOW what it REALLY is and I can not... no scratch that - I will not make my camera lie about food.

I am constantly learning new things every single day.  It's one of the things that I love about what I do, there is always something new to learn and I am constantly changing and developing as I go.

One or two things you learned along the way:

Shoot what you have a passion for.  If I were passionate about cars I would shoot cars.  My passion is food, I truly believe that if you lack passion for the subject you shoot it will show in your image.  You cannot fake an interest in something.  It has to be there and it has to be from the soul.

Learning to kill your darlings.  Not every shot you take is going to be a winner.  You need to step out of your own head and take an objective look at your own work and know when to cut your losses and move on.  It happens to everyone.  Don't waste time trying to fix a bad shot in post-processing.  Cut your losses, kill your darlings, learn from your mistake and create something better.

Props are important.  Linens, rustic pieces of silverware, glassware, plates and dishes.  But you must remember to keep props relative to what you are shooting.  A pair of boxing gloves, a hair brush and a kid's toy have no place being used as props in a photo of say, a plated Steak dinner photo.  Pay attention to your props, you don't garnish a stuffed Thanksgiving Turkey with Strawberries and Watermelon wedges, for instance. 

Biggest lesson learned:  Attention to detail.  Every little drip, splash, smudge, dust and hair will be seen by the camera.  Keeping paper towels,  cotton swabs and a bottle of glass cleaner on hand is a must.

Photography and Styling: Kelly Cline

Kelly Cline
Professional Food Stylist  |  Food & Lifestyle Photographer

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