It really has been quite some time since I did a proper recap of a photography workshop here. Not due to the fact that there weren’t any last year but more due to the fact that things were on a constant move in 2017. I was chasing and realizing goals, dreams and basically reassessing many things in my life. Not to say that my photography and styling workshops and retreats aren’t part of my goals. They most certainly are. Nowhere else am I challenged to think out of the box and to be creative while planning such a workshop or retreat. Nowhere else do I meet incredibly talented and creative people who strive to go after their own goals and find inspiration when they sign up for these events. Nowhere else do I get to work and partner with brilliant and extraordinary people who fall in step with me to provide the best possible experience for all who take part.
Dubai has been on my mind for several weeks and if you see the many (many, many) photos below you might just get the idea of why. The “Destination DXB 2017” workshop was vibrant, fun, creative, fast paced yet relaxing, enlightening and full of laughter. I teamed up with the ever lovely and my super talented friend Roya to host the annual workshop in this booming city. Together we began planning the rough details in late 2016 as I was looking to revamp a larger part of the concept. Joining us again, the extremely cooperative and awesome team at SCAFA (School of Culinary and Finishing Arts) led by our sincere and treasured friend Alisha, we had a strong foundation to begin composing a fantastic experience for our participants.
No Dubai workshop team is complete for me without the uplifting input of Russell Impiazzi of Lafayette Gourmet. We’ve partnered with each other on these workshops since the first workshop we held in Dubai back in 2012.
There are always challenges when putting together a workshop of this kind. With each workshop that I give I try to raise the bar, even if it is by a tiny scale, for myself. When there is a strong team behind you who also value the same high standards, visualizing and realizing the ideas becomes an achievable task, despite the challenges. Alisha, Roya and I tweaked, scrapped, remodeled and generally gave the 2-day experience a bit of an extensive face-lift. It was fun, crazy and an expereince I would not want to have missed out on with these two dedicated ladies! THANK YOU!
Now in the aftermath when I look at the images I feel a tingle just knowing that many things happen for a reason and it was worth it!
At SCAFA we always take on an extra session a few days in advance of the actual 2-day workshop – a challenging task – with the professional students of the culinary school. We ask them look at the world of food from an entirely different angle away from the kitchen and over their plates – through the lens taking the aspect of styling a little further than the typical plating they often learn to do. It’s always a very eye-opening session for the students but also for me as I hear so many different stories and learn how to approach new ideas and concepts.
Even the most skeptical budding chef in the end opens up to our ideas and warms up to the importance of creating a portfolio without having to become a photographer. And even the most hesitant young talent takes a step forward pulls out the smartphone and begins styling and shooting!
We kicked-off the first day of the workshop over baklava, morning tea and coffee and getting to know a little about each other. One of my favorite parts of a workshop as many participants are surprisingly open about their difficulties, their wishes to improve their skills and the goals they want to achieve. It’s not always easy to delve deeply into oneself to a bunch of, what in the first hours truly are a bunch of strangers.
We explored some of the theory of photography discussing several techniques and fundamentals and then moving onto practical hands-on exercises. The theory of it often works with many people, but it is interesting to see how each one transfers the theory into practice. Some are frustrated, some are intimidated, some are hectic, some get stuck in the rut. As these exercises progress however, Roya and I go around offering our feedback and showing how to capture and harness the techniques, the mood takes a very pronounced swing in the opposite direction. There was a lightness of finding the groove, smiles and aha! moments for the participants.
After the first photography block it was time to nourish ourselves and Russell, as always, enchanted everyone with his incredibly beautiful lunch. We started with a truly captivating plant based buffet to celebrate the “Love of Plants.” Russell’s approach to food is special, his passion visible through everything he does. Working on our sixth workshop together Russell just knows how to get foodie hearts to beat more passionately!
Our main course consisted of an ever so succulent truffle brushed heritage beef tenderloin, braised short rib ‘croquette’ with roasted butternut, heirloom carrots! Followed by the most impressive passion fruit, mango, white chocolate soufflé.
Satiated with lunch we moved onto tackling the food styling aspect of a food photo. It’s often one of the more intimidating aspect for a few participants. I can often see why – finding the right color, working with textures, looking for the best composition and placement can seem like a quantum task to achieve. However, I try to break things down in simple bite size pieces to make each aspect more comprehensible. Finally, bringing it all together – the photography and the styling – in one image is the mega reward when everything just comes into place. Having Roya there every step of the way to impart some of her experience and ideas was valuable as she not only is a SCAFA alumni chef but also an alumni of my workshops series. She has the viewpoint from different sides and is able to offer some great details.
As if working with food and eating a luxurious lunch was not enough, we headed out to the exquisite Carnival by Tresind in Downtown Dubai. Alisha had organized a multiple course dinner with the exceptional team, who took care of our every wish and were not shaken with having 12 to 14 cameras clicking away continuously! The philosophy behind the cuisine is to go beyond the typical modern Indian cuisine but staying firmly grounded to Indian food culture. Each dish is a celebration of ancient Indian cooking method and has been carefully put together by the team who are inspired by their own memories. The meal promised to take us on an exceptional journey of emotions and desires. We were delighted by the theatrics surrounding many of the dishes that were prepared at our table. For a group of photographers, even the most terrible light did not hinder from taking hundreds of pictures. With dishes like Kebab mein haddi – small lamb seekh kebabs on the bone with a mint reduction, or the show of the Vada Pav service – a classic vegetarian snack of the Mumbai mill workers or the preparation of the pressed sandwich, a cheese & ham toasty pressed using an old iron press or the incredible cheesy masala mac and cheese each dish thrilled us more than the last. We ended the meal in 3 – yes three desserts! I am not sure my images do justice to the evening but the pictures I carry with me in my memories are special.
Eating throughout a day was obviously not enough – we all met up at the metro station the next day to head out on a foodie tour of old Dubai. We met up with the vivacious Vibha who was going to be our guide for the morning. Already at 9 am the October sun of Dubai pounded down on us but I am proud of all our participants who did not allow the heat to spoil their fun! Vibha is a freelance tour guide in Dubai, specializing in food and walking tours. She describes herself as a “gypsy at heart, always on a lookout for a new experience, love trying out different cuisines, attempt to understand the world from other people’s perspective – it is tough but not impossible.” She was a bubbly and very patient guide always making sure we got our share of photos from each stop we made. We had asked Vibha to create a tailor-made tour for our workshop participants to include some cultural highlights of Dubai, allowing us all to see the heritage of this city, paired with the food and beverages that characterize Dubai. We hit the streets of Dubai and started off with a taste of Indian Street Food. We walked further into the heart of “Heritage Dubai” to the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood and experienced the Bastakiya, which dates back to the 1890s. The tall windtowers provided some shade for us as we took pictures. We headed to the coffee museum for a special coffee tasting in a cozy and relaxed atmospher, where we experienced blends of Ethiopian coffee.
At the Majlis Gallery, located in an old wind-tower house on the edge of Al Fahidi Historic District, we marveled at the beautiful designs, sculptors and colors and were able to get a glimpse of a few classes they gave here. Walking through the bustling souk of Bur Dubai and then into the “Hindu Lane” is as always, when I am in Dubai, an interesting experience. Hawkers shouting out their wares in the souk compared to quiet and cool tiny lane where religious paraphernalia is sold for Hindu and Sikh worshipers.
Crossing the Creek on the Abra is another great adventure in Dubai and even those living in Dubai forget what a special experience it is. It was time to cool off with a new specialty treat offered in Dubai – camel milk ice cream! Creamy and rich and certainly not as intense as I expected it to be – I think we were all pleasantly surprised by the treat. The Spice Souk is – even though a touristy spot – a highlight for me. Spices from door to door are piled in bags – the colors and aromas are dizzying and you will be asked to test and buy at every shop – but don’t as the souk does not always offer the best value for price. But with Vibha giving us some historic facts and with the camera in our hands we all experienced the spice souk differently.
Completing our tour of old Dubai was a magnificent light lunch of typical Arabic Mezze, which always pleases people regardless where they come from. My highlight was the fine papery thin crepe with cream cheese and egg – a simple yet divine dish and probably a favorite because watching the beautiful lady hand-make the dish and having the opportunity to capture her radiant smile on my camera has branded my memories for ever.
As the day ended and the participants prepared their final images, it was hard to believe another workshop in this booming city has come to an end. Bittersweet as always but this time I stood together with Roya and Alisha looking at the achievements of our Team Dubai 2017 in a matter of just two days was amazing.
We were thrilled that BOSCH Middle East partnered with us and that our favorite long-term partner Balqees Raw Honey sweetened things up for our participants again. Having the faith and trust of such partners is a valuable aspect for me as not only does it add a diverse and unique aspect for the participants but during the course of the planning sometimes awesome connections are made with some great people. Together with BOSCH we offered a photography competition that probably made some of our participants sweat. However, this was a great exercise for each one as it put them in the role of how a photography job would work when on assignment. Our 3 judges, Ishita Saha, a friend and the editor of foodemagdxb, the wonderful Ulrike Kolb from BOSCH and Stephen O’Donovan, Managing Director of Dining Out Dubai intensively contemplated, discussed and finally 2 winners, Zainub and Omar were picked and announced. A massive thank you to the SCAFA Team – especially Chef Eduardo and Chef Luther for being our gorgeous models during the sessions, especially the photo competition!
This year the young finishing team under the guidance of Chef Emilly prepared the finale menu for us a spectacular 7-course meal highlighting the different levels of the young chefs learning skills at the culinary school. Chef Emilly is a wonderfully focused and vibrant lady always pushing her students to go a little further. It was a true pleasure to have our parents and family also be a part of the dinner as they support us in so many ways throughout the year.
Looking at the images I cannot wait for the next one this year. I know I have a grand team behind me who will go the mile with me every time. Thank you Roya and Alisha for believing in me and for being a part of these workshops with me. It would certainly not be as fun, colorful and hilarious as it is with you both.
Also huge thanks to Russell – not enough words describe how he always moves me and leaves me speechless each and every time with his creativity and his all around fabulousness. I look forward to the next one with you!
Massive thanks to our awesome participants: Trupti, Diana G., Zainab, Omar, Hajar, Diana Z., Tamam and Sashela who literally came not only from Europe and the Middle East to attend this workshop. I am glad to have met you and thank you for allowing me to guide you through your passion!
If we have gotten you curious and itching to join one of the next photography workshops / retreats then check out my workshop page for the upcoming schedule. I am currently putting the final dates together with my awesome partners and soon dates in May, September and October will be announced. You can also sign up for the newsletter. Subscribers all get priority registrations to all workshops and regular tips and tutorials on photography. Hope to see you at the next workshop!
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