Sunday, June 24, 2012

Feasts & Affairs | La Tartine Gourmande food workshop

For the past couple years, since Four Tines was founded, I've been on the lookout for a food photography class/workshop so that I can work on my photography skills when it comes to food. I had come across one class at the Institute of Culinary Education, which had quite a hefty price tag at $525 and required a three-day time commitment -- something that wasn't super feasible for me at the time. Then, as luck would have it, food photographer/stylist/blogger, Béatrice Peltre, announced she'd be in the New York City area over one weekend in June -- for a two-day collaboration of events (including a full-day food photography/styling workshop and a cooking class dinner) with food stylist/photographer, Karen Mordechai of Sunday Suppers in Williamsburg. So before I knew it, I took a leap of faith and signed up for the workshop in a matter of minutes. I found out shortly after registering that the twelve coveted spots for this intimate workshop became sold out in less than two hours. I felt so lucky to have been able to sign up in time and to finally have the opportunity not only to meet Béa in person but to interact and learn from her. I had also been trying to make it to a Sunday Suppers loft dinner for the past couple years, so that was also a big win, too! The workshop included materials, produce at the market, as well as lunch.

At 10 AM on Saturday, the class met up first at Union Square Greenmarket, where Béa wanted to walk the entire class through the season's best produce and pick up the necessary ingredients for the full-day workshop (which would go until 5 PM) before heading back to the Sunday Suppers loft.

Some of my shots captured through our meticulous stroll through the farmers' market: {1} fresh bunches of lavender / {2} a wide array of (heirloom) tomatoes / {3} multi-colored radishes / {4} baskets of red and white cherries / {5} barrels of squash / {6} crates of radishes / {7} berries in green dry-pint farm baskets / {8} bouquets of sunflowers

Prior to this weekend, I had never really been to the USGM, especially on Saturdays when it is certainly the busiest, and what a treat it was! I still can't believe what I'd been missing out on for the past year of living in the city -- I will definitely have to make it back more frequently this summer as the season's bounty is so alluringly delicious.

Something I've never seen before -- rainbow carrots!

Béa, picking up all kinds of colored carrots.

One of our favorite stops that morning was this stand (I need to find out the name!) that offered all of these micro greens -- perfect for our food styling and plate dressing later that afternoon. Though be wary -- a quarter pound of these assorted greens is for sale at a whopping $12! Heavy hands at this stand can be dangerous! :P

Another vegetable/herb stand.

Once we finished up at the farmers' market, we all took the L over to Williamsburg in order to begin our workshop at the Sunday Suppers loft run by Karen. Karen founded Sunday Suppers as "class-cooking-dining experiences, pairing friends and food." Its space is located in a waterfront loft in Brooklyn, and classes are taught by local/visiting chefs. The food is always "market fresh, local, and organic" where "the approach is to create seasonal and fresh meals together."

Upon entering, the entire class was left speechless at how open, beautiful, clean, and lit-up the space was. It was every food photographer's dream - - a space with such an open floor plan in the city is so hard to come by, and we'd be the lucky ones today to play around with food, kitchenware, and our lenses.

The assistants at Sunday Suppers were unpacking our gathered loot in the kitchen, while the workshop members settled in with some exploring, rehydration, and shutter-clicking.

The workshop allowed all of us to prepare, prop, and style food for our cameras, learning how to best use natural light to create photographs that reflect our own styles. Whilst doing all of this, Béa would be our resource, guiding us through understanding the composition details behind creating a good photograph.

{1} All the goodies available at Sunday Suppers' arsenal of fun kitchen/table props, which {2} Béa snuck some shots of once we arrived!

As everyone was getting settled in, cameras were pretty immediately taken out to begin our survey of the space.

While we were waiting for lunch, the twelve of us went around, introducing ourselves and expressing what we were hoping to learn and improve during the workshop. Here are some of the topics we discussed, as an introduction to the rest of the afternoon:
  • In the industry, food-styling and food photography are professions that are usually separate -- but at the same time, they are very dependent on each other. Awesomely enough, Béa has been able to fuse the two together in her career.
  • There are many specializations in the field of food-styling (e.g., chocolate, cheese, etc.).
  • Béa is self-taught and has relied a lot on her intuition over the years. Growing up in France, she has found the importance of food culture there has influenced her life and career quite a bit.
  • Different bloggers/magazines/etc. use different styles of photography/food styling (e.g., light vs. dark).
  • Always consider STYLE and COMPOSITION when styling and photographing food.
  • Béa always starts styling/shooting with a minimalist approach, followed by whatever choices made aesthetically in the frame.
  • Think about what kind of light you desire and consider what's available.
  • Easiest to start close to a window with natural light.
  • Many times, you'll only get one good shot from hundreds of initial shots.
  • Sometimes less is more -- too much in the frame can overcrowd the food. Given how much you may love a prop/item/ingredient, sometimes it might be best to not to use it for a given shot.
  • Fresh herbs are key -- can be an easy-fix for brightening up some shots.
  • Don't forget you can always crop items in a given photograph/shot for composition.
  • Must be really detail-oriented in all aspects of food photography/styling.
  • Playing with texture with props in a frame can add another dimension to a shot.

Shortly after, lunch was served, and they were all made at the kitchen at Sunday Suppers!

Loved this vase with wildflowers.

Roasted asparagus!

Red and golden beet salad with hazelnuts -- loved this combination!

Onion frittata!

Béa took some shots for lunch, too.

Lunch was absolutely delicious, and it was nice to just get to know everyone before the workshop shooting began.

On the island in the kitchen, the staff at Sunday Suppers laid out all of the ingredients for the three of Béa's recipes we'd be assembling, styling, propping, and shooting: two tartines (smoked salmon with ricotta, spring vegetables, and basil oil; prosciutto with tarragon-flavored slow-roasted cherry tomatoes and goat cheese) and strawberry tiramisu en verrine (i.e., in a jar). We split into four teams of three -- two groups were assigned to the dessert, and the remaining two did each of the tartines.

Some of the ingredients laid out: {1} rainbow carrots / {2} tarragon-flavored slow-roasted cherry tomatoes / {3}pistachios, eggs, and sugar in the raw / {3} thick-sliced prosciutto / {4} artisan breads including Italian loaves and baguettes / {5} some yellow micro greens / {6} fresh strawberries and baking tools / {7} multi-colored radishes

My fellow workshoppers split up in teams gathering ingredients for their assigned recipes.

Team Tiramisu assembling their desserts in glasses/jars.

I was on Team Tartine Prosciutto, so I gathered a slice from the Italian loaf, two slices of prosciutto, and three slow-roasted cherry tomatoes. I started with spreading some goat cheese on the slice of bread then laying out the prosciutto like folded ribbons and lastly topping it with the three juicy tomatoes.

The next few shots show my evolution of styling with my tartine first. My first few shots were shot on the Aperture and the "Food" scene setting. I didn't know much about manual mode until later in the afternoon, when I realized my camera's "Manual" mode had its meter set all the way to the left, where its shutter speed was on a slow setting, washing all of my photographs out. Luckily, I had some amazing tips and advice from my fellow class members and Béa to improve my camera settings.

I added some basil leaves and some yellow micro greens for some eye-popping color. I added an orange tomato on the side for good measure.

An aerial shot, sans tripod. I didn't get a chance to use one of the tripods in the workshop (now wishing I had), but now I'm very much thinking about investing in one very soon!

I found this white plate on the prop table, thinking the white would make all of the elements of the tartine pop. I also added some more yellow micro greens in a kinda "quotation mark" format, just to see.

Side view -- I like that you can see the crinkly-ness of the tomatoes here!

I also tried putting a glass filled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar next to the tartine on the plate. Wish I had moved the glass over a little more to the right, so there'd be a more definitive gap between the two plated items.

Here's a view of the entire plate with the oil glass. Definitely would've looked so much better if I had used a tripod.

Just the tartine and fork on the side. I like the clean look of this.

I saw someone whip out this brown paper bag of wooden utentils, and I loved how it looked on the table, ripped open like that. Really played against the wooden table nicely.

I was going through some of the drawers in the kitchen, coming across this bronze-tinted spoon. Thought it'd go well with the organic wood of the table and pop against the white of the plate.

I even tried to add a little artistic, culinary flair to the plate by spooning some balsalmic vinegary oil in a curve on the plate. You have no idea how many attempts I had to do in order for the oil to take shape like this -- one of my favorite shots of the day!

A shot after I discovered how to use "Manual" mode properly.

Béa saw me struggling a bit on how to change my composition, so she suggested that the white plate might have been a little restrictive, which then led her to suggest putting the tartine directly onto the table, with my glass behind it. I liked this approach very much.

I changed up the backdrop a little by moving over to a drawer on wheels that happen to have wooden cutting boards for slicing bread. Loved the crumbs and the checkered cloth I added for color. I ever moved the tartine to a new plate that I had filled with the raw ingredients I had used earlier to create the tartine.

Béa assisting a workshopper with shooting.

I stole a shot of one of the tartines styled by one of my fellow workshoppers -- certainly one of my favorites that I had seen all afternoon, especially with the raw radish cut that way!

Most of the strawberry tiramisus had already been plated, so I just took whatever ones were unused and experimented on my own.

I especially liked this one because I just placed the glass of tiramisu over a cutting board used to chop the pistachios, strawberries, and ladyfingers. The resulting crumbs, nut shells, and other bits were totally natural.

Another dish styled by a workshopper that I really admired.

Béa helping another workshopper on the tripod with a cakestand shot.

Another lovely creation by a fellow workshopper.

Someone's styling station -- really great colors!

Watching the Sunday Suppers staff work!

Found this already styled on the table! Aren't those baby strawberries so adorable?!

Takin' a break and talking to Béa whilst snacking on some cherries.

Black raspberries -- very ripe and sweet!

I placed some mixed cherries in a ceramic farmer's basket -- love this look!

After a couple hours of shooting, Béa gathered us all around her laptop and had everyone submit a photo or two for a friendly group critique. She walked us through some basic features of Adobe Lightroom (now officially on my wishlist!) and how she would normally use it to touch up her photographs.

Béa demonstrating how letting crumbs/shells/herbs fall naturally onto a styled/propped shot can look a lot better than if it's too deliberately styled.

After critiques, we cleaned up a bit, and everyone was getting ready to head out.

The Sunday Supper staff with Karen, tidying up.

Before I left, I was able to have Béa sign my copy of her new book, La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life. Normally, this would be the extent of my interaction with a food icon like her, so it was so spectacular to be able to spend virtually the entire day with her, learning loads about photography and food styling. So awesome!

Findings: I had such an AMAZING time at this Sunday Suppers food photography/styling workshop, especially as it was headed by Béatrice Peltre and organized by Karen Mordechai. It was such a treat to learn from the best in the industry, as her work, especially through her blog and cookbook, certainly illustrates that she has a keen eye for capturing the most dynamic and liveliest of moments even from the literally stationary plated/styled dishes and props. There couldn't have been a more perfect spot like the loft of Sunday Suppers to put these styling/photography skills to the test with our group of twelve workshoppers. I really went into it with no expectations (mainly because I didn't really know what to expect other than delicious and quality ingredients with a well-renowned stylist), and I left, enlightened with so much yet with so much more to learn on my own. I sometimes forget how powerful digital SLRs are (especially when equipped with the right knowledge and know-how), and I was certainly reminded of this on Saturday afternoon. We had so much talent in the room -- from amateur hobbyists, experienced stylists, and professional photographers -- that everyone had something to share and to learn. It was such a pleasure to be in the company of such talented individuals -- it was both inspiring and motivating.

What I really admired is how incredibly friendly Béa is -- she is so warm, welcoming, and so very patient. She is so knowledgeable, yet she is not pretentious at all, and I felt comfortable with asking questions, even when mine were the most basic of them. I now look through my viewfinder with a little more confidence and with a little more technical competence that I think I'll be able to frame some better shots and moments of my adventures with food here at Four Tines. It was definitely the best money I've spent all year.

Lastly, I want to thank Béa for being such a great teacher and Karen for being such a lovely host. I'm so happy that you two were able to collaborate this wonderful workshop. Looking forward to more events at Sunday Suppers!

Price point: $350 per person for a 12-person food photography and styling class with stylist Béatrice Peltre.

--June 23, 2012

Union Square Greenmarket
north and west sides of Union Square Park
open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 8 AM to 6 PM

Sunday Suppers
Brooklyn, NY
check website and follow Sunday Suppers on Twitter for details on future events/dinners

La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life
Béatrice Peltre
available here at
read more about Béa and her recipes over at her blog, La Tartine Gourmande


  1. What a fabulous day you had! I love that you captured it all of those of us who cannot attend to enjoy! Thank you for putting this together. I loved reading every bit of it and seeing how it all came together.

  2. What a fabulous post Stefie!! I love all of your images - you really documented the workshop perfectly. Wasn't it fantastic? It was worth almost not getting home yesterday because of the tropical storm!! I really enjoyed meeting you and let's please stay in touch :)

  3. Thanks, Sarah! Glad I could share it with you :)

  4. Thanks so much, Stacey! It was so much fun and a pleasure to meet you! Glad you made it back to Florida in one piece :) looking forward to chatting some more!



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