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Sharing secrets

April 12, 2012

Sushi at NasimiWhen I was looking for a venue to hold a food photography and styling workshop with Meeta K Wolff, one item was at the top of my list. Light. I saw my fair share of places, usually conference rooms, but nothing inspired me.  The problem in the Emirates is that we have too much sunlight so buildings are designed to keep it out, with overhanging porches and tinted windows.  The room often seems remote from the view, however dramatic.  Where would I find an environment which had a range of well-lit places, inspiring vistas, photo-worthy backdrops and great food? Oh yes, and add in a projector screen, room and power for 12 laptops, cameras and other paraphernalia.

Atlantis The Palm, Dubai

Nasimi beach at Atlantis The Palm. Really? Isn’t that the place where they hold massive club nights?  I wasn’t sure what to expect at all.  I discovered a secluded part of the resort, with an informal restaurant opening out onto shady terraces and a white sand beach.  White furniture punctuated with vivid splashes of colour is designed for lounging by hotel guests or day visitors.  Two bars lubricate the loungers through mid-morning coolers, to sunset cocktails, to late evening nightcaps when the lighting changes to blue and a DJ fuels the mood with ambient music.  While I have visited many of the hotel’s restaurants such as SeaFire, Ronda Locatelli, Nobu, Saffron and enjoyed a tour of several others, Nasimi was like a secret discovery.

Nasimi and lunch

This was home for two days for ten delegates (nine ladies and one brave man!) who had come from as near as Dubai Marina to as far afield as Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt.  Food blogging, cook book writing, TV producing, photography and food styling – the backgrounds, experience and skills brought to the table were diverse, brought together by Meeta  who shared her own perspective on food photography and food styling.

We started to get to know each other over a breakfast of pastries, fruit and juices and then spent the day in our ‘classroom’ – part of the restaurant specially prepared for our group, overlooking the beach on one side and a part of the terrace set aside for our private use on the other.

Photographing lunch

Shoot lunch, then eat

Lunch was bruschetta, salads and a fabulous array of sushi.  It was very difficult to stop myself from diving straight in, but assignments were set and this meant anything edible had the potential for a lens being pointed at it.

Meeta is animated, voluble and candid.  She covered many principles of food photography and styling and the secret of her own success as a now professional photographer and stylist.  Questions punctuated every slide and our brains were buzzing by the end of the day.  Cocktails at Nasimi

Were we ready for a cocktail demonstration at the beach bar in the dwindling dusk light?  You bet we were.  Some of us were then content to sit with our drinks and relax in the chic surroundings.  My mocktail was sipped directly from the pineapple shell with a straw – deliciously exotic.  Others were inspired to take their cocktails and assignment further afield.  I watched a life guard wander down to the end of the jetty to make sure the girls who were horizontal at the end of it were alright.  More inspiration was found in the lush undergrowth of the gardens, the textures of the sand, the rainbow colours of the drinks and the maritime inspired pinnacles of the coral pink Atlantis hotel building that seemed to glow as the sun lowered.

Taking the assignment to the jetty

One of my favourite pics – going to new lengths for a the perfect image

We meandered through the hotel via the ‘pop-up’ Easter shop (including an egg made of 115kg of dark and white chocolate which you could stand up in) via the elegant shisha terrace – an Arabic-style curved balcony overlooking the resort – to an outside terrace at Levantine.  Chef Ali was on holiday but had come in specially to oversee the banquet that was prepared for us including a sneak preview of many dishes that will be served during Ramadan including a slow roast whole shoulder of spicily, scented lamb.  I am a fan of Lebanese wines and so delighted that Chateau Keffraya Blanc de Blanc and Chateau Keffraya Rouge were served during the meal.  Meeta’s family joined us and her young son’s eyes were on stalks when the belly dancer appeared.

Chef Russell with Minna and Meeta

Chef Russell with Minna and Meeta

Our rendezvous in the morning was at Lafayette Gourmet.  Coffee, fresh juices and pastries awaited us and we were led on an extensive tour by Chef Russell Impiazzi.  The great thing about Russell is that he is so passionate about every ingredient that he thrives on the multitude of in-depth questions  fired at him by a bunch of foodies.  As well as finding more inspiration for the assignment (challenging under artificial and daylight from different angles) including pizza baking in the wood fire oven and an action shot of pasta making (capturing the egg being cracked into the flour) our group discovered many hard to find cuts of meat and other ingredients not available elsewhere in Dubai.  It really is like a well-kept secret Aladdin’s cave for gourmets (and gourmands).  It was almost impossible to extricate ourselves as more food kept appearing including freshly cooked paella from the new tapas area and seared wagyu.  We charged back to Atlantis to meet on the lawn for a cookery demonstration by Chef Hany.

Chef Hany makes smoked kofta

He showed us how to make two types of kofta including one using meat smoked with herbs before grilling.  Meeta styled the dish which was wilting fast in suddenly raised temperatures of the day, the efficient staff also whisked away several of the ingredients, but she kept her cool.   A lot of chatting went on over a  three course lunch of prawn and avocado salad, sea bass and hazelnut Pavlova before the delegates got cracking with the next step of their assignment.  The chefs from Nasimi presented a range of dishes from their menu plus some of the key ingredients so that the pairs could style, prop and shoot them.

Some of the workshop group at Atlantis

Most of the workshop group at Nasimi: image taken on Meeta’s camera

We ended the day reviewing everyone’s assignments which was fascinating.  So many different views of a multitude of subjects.  Meeta and I waved everyone off laden with goodies from some really generous sponsors including Finer Things, Jones the Grocer, Lafayette Gourmet, Lindt, Toffee Princess, Weber and, of course, Atlantis The Palm.

As the co-organiser of the workshop, I won’t comment on the merits of the course.  I will say that as a previous food blogger conference attendee myself, I was hyper-aware of what I would expect and eager to get everything spot on. Atlantis was a brilliant event sponsor and the staff couldn’t have been nicer.    The group of delegates was so diverse and everyone had very different aims from the course; I think it’s safe to say we all went away with new inspiration, myself included, not just from the course but from each other as well.

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We parted, all promising to keep in touch; Meeta dished out some homework to a couple of people.  In fact we met up a few nights later in Dubai including a couple of the delegates who work with Chef Osama on Dubai TV.  Then Meeta joined them on the show; she expected just to see the studio but was suddenly asked to style some of the dishes live on air.  I know it meant a lot to her when some of the course members tweeted their support.

So I’d like to say a massive thanks to Meeta, who I can now say is a firm friend as well as an inspiration, to every single one of the delegates – a hugely talented bunch of people – who it was a real pleasure to meet.  Nothing would have been possible without our wonderful sponsors too – a massive round of applause to the incredible team from Nasimi and Atlantis The Palm who pulled out all the stops for us.  The location and food were fantastic but what really made the difference were the staff, from the security guard who told me how much it meant to him to work there, to the lovely guys at the Nasimi bar, to jazz lover Chef Philippe, Chef Ali and Hany for their care and attention, to Chef Grant who oversees the whole enormous food and drink operation of Atlantis, to Alison whose enthusiasm lit up our days.    Our reception at Lafayette Gourmet was fitting for royalty (especially royals obsessed with fine foods). And last but not least the goodie bag sponsors – please visit their links and give them some support; all provide top quality culinary goods and equipment in the UAE.

Goodie bag sponsors

The finest single estate tea from Jones the Grocer, irresistible Lindt Lindor stracciatella and Carre’s chocolates, superb knives from Weber (barbecue specialists), unique deli items from Finer Things, freshly made crumbly tablet in four fabulous flavours from Toffee Princess, Locadeli extra-virgin olive oil and beach bag from Atlantis, goodies including melt-in-the-mouth macarons from Lafayette Gourmet.

One thing is for sure, this is another step on a fascinating journey…

  1. April 12, 2012 10:47 am

    Sounds like an absolutely fascinating day….can you replicate the same in London please?! Although I can’t promise the weather would behave quite so wonderfully… 🙂

    • April 21, 2012 9:09 pm

      We were breathing a sigh of relief actually; we had two weeks of squally sand storms prior to this.

  2. April 12, 2012 11:02 am

    What a wonderful recap of the course, Sally! I especially love your shot of all of the empty coffee cups. It was nice to meet you and the course not only met but exceeded my expectations!

    • April 21, 2012 9:10 pm

      Really glad to hear that Alyssa – and appreciate the distance you came to attend. I like the coffee cups too!

  3. April 12, 2012 11:09 am

    It looks like yiu had a wonderful time, and such a beautiful setting too!
    Wish I could attend next time!
    Great write-up

    • April 21, 2012 9:11 pm

      It would be such fun to have you with us Regula – you’d bring your own brand of style to the occasion.

  4. April 12, 2012 12:19 pm

    Fascinating, Sally. Really wish I could attend your next course. Glad it went so well!

    • April 21, 2012 9:11 pm

      I hope you can too Laura – thanks.

  5. Holly permalink
    April 12, 2012 12:33 pm

    Sally, what a wonderful write-up. You captured the event beautifully. If you won’t comment on the merits of the course, I will: Totally worthwhile!! The workshorp was the perfect combination of learning new skills while getting pampered in a gorgeous setting. Thank you for organizing this. I can’t say it enough.
    Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the next workshop!!
    Thanks again, Holly

    • April 21, 2012 9:13 pm

      So great to meet you finally and I’m getting to know your beautiful blog better too. Can’t wait to see how it evolves – such an excellent concept.

  6. April 12, 2012 1:01 pm

    An awesome location and wonderful workshop! Lucky you. ;-P

    Thanks for sharing your impressions with us.



    • April 21, 2012 9:14 pm

      Actually Rosa, you’re right, we are lucky. Dubai gets a lot of bashing and it’s much more multi-faceted than people realise. The wonderful mix of people of different backgrounds and nationalities as shown by our delegates enriches our life here.

  7. April 12, 2012 2:40 pm

    I demand to see the rest of the photos! I’m itching with curiosity, showmeshowmeSHOWME the photos you took!!

    • April 21, 2012 9:15 pm

      We’ll have to meet up – I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours….of Malaysia!

  8. April 12, 2012 2:40 pm

    Busy lady well done! Can we have one on i-phone restaurant photography next time pretty please?! Much thanks for the link. x

    • April 21, 2012 9:16 pm

      And you are so right about that topic…food for thought.

  9. April 12, 2012 2:52 pm

    Wow, it sounds like a wonderful and informative workshop and I loooooove the food!!

    • April 21, 2012 9:17 pm

      The chefs at Nasimi and Levantine spoiled us rotten 🙂

  10. April 12, 2012 3:17 pm

    Wow! I missed some great fun!
    Well done for planning such a big event!

    • April 21, 2012 9:17 pm

      And we missed you. Thanks for the nice thought.

  11. April 12, 2012 8:04 pm

    What a fantastic event! Well done to you 🙂

  12. April 12, 2012 8:35 pm

    Sounds like a great event and your photos are great too!

    • April 21, 2012 9:18 pm

      Wow – comment from such an accomplished photographer greatly appreciated.

  13. April 13, 2012 1:05 am

    You clearly put a lot of thought and planning into this event. Congratulations it sounds like a fantastic event.

  14. flavorsofthesun permalink
    April 13, 2012 2:11 am

    Looks like a fantastic event. I look forward to hearing more about it!

    • April 21, 2012 9:19 pm

      Domestic Executive and Flavors of the sun – really value your comments.

  15. April 13, 2012 9:35 am

    I am glad everything worked out so smoothly and looking forward to all the follow-up posts from the participants.

    • April 21, 2012 9:20 pm

      Such a lovely bunch too. Looking forward to reading about your trip too.

  16. April 13, 2012 5:06 pm

    Oh that looks so much fun!! Many congratulations Sally on such a successfully event!

  17. April 14, 2012 8:57 am

    sounds like you’ll had super fun. The setting, the location, the food, the participants – everything and everybody looks so radiant.

    • April 15, 2012 12:14 pm

      What a lovely observation. It’s amazing how people bond in just a couple of days – especially in a lovely location.

  18. April 16, 2012 12:04 pm

    Thank you Sally – for so much but most of all for being a great, supportive and caring friend! Yes we have come away as firm friends and I cannot imagine organizing and pulling off an event like this with anyone but you. The problem now is – I miss you more! It was so great meeting such fantastic like minded people and seeing the energy surge throughout the 2 days. I look forward to the next one ;o)

    • April 21, 2012 9:21 pm

      Woo hoo! And me my friend. What can I say to such a lovely comment…..massive thanks.

  19. foodbridge permalink
    April 16, 2012 1:15 pm

    Kudos to you and Meeta for organizing such a fantastic event! The perfect combination of food and sun, wish I could have been there.

    • April 21, 2012 9:21 pm

      Now that would have been fun.

  20. April 16, 2012 5:39 pm

    Beautiful write-up. Have been missing your posts as I had been travelling. Are these worksops open to amateurs or are they loaded with pros only?

    • April 17, 2012 8:06 am

      This was our first workshop here in Dubai Ishita, and our delegates were a lovely mixture of people. Some bloggers, some professional, some with other goals. To keep informed of future Food photography and styling workshops in the UAE, sign up here

      • April 17, 2012 8:28 am

        Thanks very much Sally! I have just signed up. Let’s hope that I can actually attend some. I’ve also sent my request to join in Fooderati Arabia – the more I’m seeing and reading the more obsessed and inspired I’m getting to better myself. I’m really loving it. And loving the fact that my blog too is evolving (though very slowly) with the vision I want it to reflect…

  21. April 16, 2012 7:17 pm

    It’s hard to imagine a location with ‘too much light’ – how amazing for those of us scrabbling for sun in the UK. It sounds like a spectacular couple of days. Congratulations.

    • April 17, 2012 8:08 am

      I miss the subtle light of the UK although the flowers seem to glow here in the early morning and just before the sun goes down.

  22. April 18, 2012 2:29 pm

    Such a fabulous workshop and so much good company Sally. This has been a wonderful read, both here and at Meetas. I loved seeing the workshop through both your eyes. Beautifully done!

    • April 21, 2012 9:22 pm

      Thanks Deeba – really thoughtful comment.

  23. April 18, 2012 5:06 pm

    Oh how envious I am! Both of the fantastic venue (was too hot to spend much time outdoors when I was there in August!) and the company 🙂 Glad that it was such a roaring success.

    • April 21, 2012 9:23 pm

      Such a pleasure to meet your ‘sister from another mother’ – it would have been great to have you there too.

  24. April 19, 2012 7:33 pm

    Oh WOW! This whole experience looks incredible (I followed on Holly’s blog as well)! I especially love your photo of all the empty coffee mugs on the table and the one of the boat dock. Really great!

    • April 21, 2012 9:04 pm

      Thanks – that coffee cup shot is a favourite of mine too! Glad you hopped over to Arabic Zeal too – great writing about a huge range of topics incl. food of course.

  25. April 20, 2012 11:18 pm

    I meant to come back and read this post properly. I’m glad I did. Looks like you had such a wonderful day. What amazing food too. So envious. You are taking me here when I come to Dubai!

    • April 21, 2012 9:02 pm

      I’m glad you did too Urvashi – thanks for the lovely comment. You can count on that – a firm commitment to drink cocktails at Nasimi as soon as your feet touch these shores.

      • April 22, 2012 4:37 pm

        Fab! We have friends who have just moved out to Dubai and I really need some intense heat in my bones. It’s been a wet and miserable winter here

  26. May 3, 2012 5:02 pm

    Sally, well done! This looks like it was an amazing event and a great opportunity for people to attend, make friends and learn. The food and drink look spectacular too.


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