15 June 2014

cooking by pixels


F O O D || how-to, some classics

Two weeks ago, I had the great opportunity to learn how to cook from the pros at Leiths cooking school but with a little twist. I was invited along with a few other food bloggers to take an evening class led by trained cookery tutor and food stylist Jessica MillsThe event #FoodiesOnTour was aimed at not only how to make great food but style it too so that we had great shots to remember our experience. I pretty much take snaps of everything I eat and am always up for learning something new so this seemed an offer I couldn't resist. Here's what we got up to...

PHOTOS || all photos taken using the Nokia Lumia.

learning time ||

On arrival, I was greeted by the lovely Nadine and immediately handed a new Nokia Lumia [1520 model I think] which would become my new best friend for the evening. Given the event was sponsored by Microsoft Devices, it only seemed right that I put away my usual lenses and find out what the Lumia was all about. Before the event, I had also received a personalised apron in the post [a really nice touch] which I quickly put on before we were briefed on what we would be doing.

Jessica quickly got our attention and talked us through the three course menu, the health & safety rules and a quick run down of her top tips for food styling. She went through a lot of detail for each course - what we would be using, tips for cooking and then tips on how to make it look great for when we came to photographing the dish. At the end, I was a little intimidated by the task [this really was the deep end then] so cannot tell you how relieved I was when she then said we would be forming teams and attacking one course each. PHEW [there were a few other sighs of relief!]. Either way, I knew this was going to be a challenge and I was a little nervous.

After Jessica's introduction, we were then shown how to properly prepare a rack of lamb [the most complex of the prep] by another talented tutor at Leith's. Jenny took us step by step through which bits to cut off, how to properly "clean" the bones and how to make the herb crust. Some people quickly knew they wanted to try out the lamb - my team mate Su-Lin [of Tamarind and Thyme] was one, so I ended up joining her and Rosana [of Hot & Chill] as I really wanted to attempt the dessert. Learning complete, we stationed ourselves at one of the kitchen islands...


the starter || by Rosana

on the menu: spinach and bacon salad with red chilli and mango

Rosana took on our starter and made a very colourful and fresh salad. I'm not the biggest sweet and savoury food fan but I thought the salad was well balanced and I enjoyed the dressing Rosana made to go with it. A tasty teaser for the main meal.

Once ready, Jessica showed Rosana how to style the salad using various dishes, pieces of cloth and cutlery. The key rules for styling : 1) pre-decide the angle and lighting you will be using for the final photo 2) think about the colour and texture combinations, both for the food itself and the props you'll use as you prep and plate & 3) make it interesting, add some height and use odd numbers to catch the eye.


the main || by Su-Lin

on the menu: rack of lamb with a mustard crust, accompanied by a tomato and mint salsa

From the start, Su-Lin really wanted to have a go at preparing the rack of lamb. It was a lot of work but sounded satisfying once she'd conquered it. A good classic skill to have in my opinion and one I'm looking forward to trying out one of these days [it's a little less daunting now I've seen how it's done!]. You'll notice that all three of us did two types of styling: 1) a dish for one & 2) a sharing platter. Both girls had a really good eye for presentation, whereas it took me a while to feel happy with my final dish. Su-Lin did say that she preferred sharing dishes because they were just easier to style for dinner parties!


the dessert || by me

on the menu: individual pavlovas with papaya, pomegranate and passion fruit

Finally, it was my turn to come up with the dessert. I'll admit that although I love all food, I do have a sweet tooth. Meringues are one of those things I've always wanted to try out and never had the confidence to attempt for the first time on my own. This therefore seemed like the best opportunity. With all my ingredients measured out [a massive perk of cooking school], all I had to do was whisk and chop. The meringues were actually really easy and I had lots of fun making the various shapes. I attempted quenelles, nests and [my favourite invention] the hedgehogs [see main picture at the very top] - I really liked the last shapes because they looked like the meringues had had a bad hair day, ha. I then had fun deseeding pomegranates [tip: tap and squish it before deseeding to loosen the pips] and passion fruits, before cutting my papaya six ways. I clearly had no vision of how I would style the end dish so it made sense in my head to make every shape possible so that the girls and I got a good choice!


final thoughts & thank yous ||

After all the cooking and styling, we got to sit down at a big table and enjoy each course with a glass of wine. The PR team also got to try our dishes and am sure had a good giggle watching us all attempt to cook and style throughout the evening. On the evening - I felt the dishes were complicated enough but still accessible for beginner cooks. Though styling was fun, I think I'll eat the lamb as soon as it comes out the oven next time - cold food is not the one, even if I want the prettiest dish and best picture. On the phone - I enjoyed using the Nokia Lumia and the photos turned out better than I expected. It's a great phone for people who want a good camera with a bigger viewing pane [though the short zoom annoyed me], but to be honest I missed the flexibility of my camera and couldn't see myself switching to smartphone-only photography.

Overall, it was a really fun evening - I definitely learnt some new skills [I still can't believe I made my first meringues!] and met some great bloggers [check them out below]. A huge thank you to the Microsoft Devices PR team for inviting me, to Jess, Jenny & the lovely team at Leith's and finally to Su-Lin & Rosana for making some pretty tasty dishes with me.

Su-Lin || Tamarind and Thyme
Rosana || Hot & Chilli
Andrew || Motley Spicer


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