October 11, 2012

Kathleen Kent's Guest Blog From Southwestern France

Kathleen Kent, copy chief of Martha Stewart Living, shares her experiences at a food styling and photography workshop in southwestern France.

Last winter, while reading The Martha Blog, I came across a link to Cannelle et Vanille, the blog of Aran Goyoaga, announcing a food styling and photography workshop she was teaching in the Dordogne in September.  As a major Francophile and an aspiring food photographer, I thought this sounded like the perfect opportunity.  As I settled in on the plane to Paris, I opened up the latest issue of Whole Living and discovered to my great surprise a feature story all about Aran and her cooking.  I took it as a sign that I had made the right choice when I decided to go.  There were just eight participants, but we were a diverse group, coming from the United States, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, and Jordan, with backgrounds as varied as food blogging, wedding and interiors photography, and investment banking.  And we all quickly became friends.  We also got to spend quite a bit of time getting to know Aran and her co-organizers, Stephanie Brubacker of Stephmodo and Nadia Dole of La Porte Rouge, all three of whom are talented in so many ways.

The workshop was based in the Manoir de la Malartrie, a magnificent French manor house turned B&B.  The Manoir is located in La Roque-Gageac, classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France.   Aran guided us in cooking the foods we were to photograph, using her own gluten-free recipes.  We were mesmerized watching her work, selecting the right dish, placing the foods on the plate with care and adding garnishes just so, situating props, and then working with the light and camera angle to get the perfect shot.  She also showed us her postproduction techniques and provided valuable feedback on our photos.  Though the workshop was demanding, in such a setting it never felt like work.  And we had plenty of opportunities to explore the region.  On our first day, we visited the Jardins de Marqueyssac, a huge garden in Vézac renowned for its intricately carved boxwoods.  It provided an ideal backdrop for photographing the desserts we had prepared.  We also took a break to enjoy delicious local ice creams in such unusual flavors as daffodil and poppy flower.  Though I was unaware that daffodils—or jonquilles as they’re known in French—are edible, I loved the ice cream, which was sublime and floral.  On our second day, we picnicked and photographed in the walnut grove at the Ecomusée de la Noix, in Castelnaud, where we learned about how the region’s famous walnuts are grown and processed into walnut oil.  Geese, chickens, and a dog graced us with their presence and had us all chasing after them with our cameras.  We spent another morning at the farmers’ market in the charming town of Sarlat.  The selection varied widely, with such tempting treats as walnut tarts, foie gras, sausages of all kinds, cheeses - both pungent and mild, the freshest fruits and veggies, and crusty breads.  On the last day of the workshop, we toured the Château de Beynac, which has been featured in several films, including Ever After and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, and strolled along a nearby road that was used in the movie Chocolat. And we had lunch en plein air: quiche, creamy yogurt, salad, and chocolate.  Below are some of my photos from the classes and activities that were part of the workshop.

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