I could hardly believe it; I was in a car with Roger Stowell going to photograph a French market followed by a delicious meal cooked by Olia Hercules. This wasn’t happening just once, but for the next three days. This was day one of my food and photography weekend in France.
We’d gathered earlier in the morning for Roger to give us a chat about our cameras and for him to understand how much everyone knew. Despite very mixed abilities we all set off with a firm idea of what to look for and how to capture it.
“Produce a picture from our trip to the market today…not a close up of fruit and vegetables but something that conveys atmosphere. Think spontaneous and fluid or alternatively, very composed and still.”
Mr Glam, as a non participant, came along to enjoy the buzz of the market and to watch the world go by sitting in a café, as we paced and searched for our non food shots of the market. We often visit markets and food festivals together and glory in the produce, colours and variety that’s on offer. This time I was on my own, trying to resist the temptation of the shiny, dark oil slick purple plums or the intoxicatingly aromatic strawberries in a cascade of red and green.
We’d arrived at La Rochelle market much later than we’d intended, the stall holders were on their last sales and beginning to pack up, but despite that they were friendly and nonchalant about having their photos taken.
After a good lunch right on the harbour, with the yachts going by and the smell of the salt water, we returned to our shared villa. Whilst some of the group enjoyed the pool, a couple of us spent time with Roger going through our photos and learning about post production in Photoshop. Advice was kindly given and technical points well explained, at the end of three days my photography had moved on enormously.
Five o’clock came round fast and Olia Hercules began her Masterclass, this was very hands on and as a result I learnt a huge amount. She described the menu to us and which technique we could learn from each step/dish and we volunteered for the things that most interested us individually.
In Olia’s Cook Book Mamushka there’s quite a bit of balancing sour, sweet, salt and I wanted to master that. In this instance it was done without quantities, but just relying on taste. With gentle encouragement, Olia got me to add and taste, add and taste, at each step telling her what I thought the mix needed until it was perfectly balanced. The balance is amazing, that point at which none of the sweet, sour, salt senses overwhelms the other gives an astonishing flavour that can’t be achieved by simple measuring of ingredients it’s about how salty is the salt, how strong the garlic, how sour the vinegar. It was a revelation.
During all of this the beer and wine was flowing generously, especially as it was included in the cost of the weekend. The preparation of the dishes was done in the villa kitchen, but the main cooking was on the incredible wood fired set up in an open barn.
The steel plate of the plancha was ideal for grilling the thinly sliced aubergines until they were soft and full of smoky flavour, the wonderfully robust Argentinean grill with it’s chains and pulley system to raise and lower it over the heat of the fire allowed the steaks to sizzle and seal to perfection and the pizza oven cooked our whole Benito exquisitely.
This was my cooking paradise; It’s a dynamic and theatrical way to cook with wonderful results.
On our final day Olia cooked some small dishes, which we used as parts of a food styling set up with Roger who explained exposure, light, simplicity of set up, and the importance of the right lens. Despite attending other photography workshops, admittedly not as long as this one, Roger used both a visual and technical explanations, which certainly resonated for me.
I came away from this weekend fired up with recipes, planning a foray into Photoshop and a few new friends. Mr Glam had spent a relaxing weekend by the pool, in the market and enjoying very long meals. He left thoroughly rested, entertained and very well fed.
I booked this course with Big In France who are running various food and photography weekends as well as yoga retreats in the Vendee France. Check out cooking with John Torode or Jean Christophe Novelli or photography with Roger Stowell or Mark Benham. Make a long weekend in France an event.
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