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Clinch-Hill Workshops

Food + Wine, Travel Tips

Jun
23
2010

June 23, 2010

Gascony, France

If Photography and eating well are two of your passions – and let’s face it, whose aren’t they? – then look no further for your next educational, vacation idea than the Natural Food & Photography workshops offered by Clinch-Hill in bucolic Camont, France.

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Internationally renowned photographer Tim Clinch (and the esteemed photographer for my third book, the upcoming, England’s Hideaways – Spring 2011) and writer, cook and food stylist Kate Hill have banded together, having already collaborated on a book on Spain, to create CLINCH-HILL, a photography and food styling school offering intimate workshops on how to get, “the most out of what is in front of your camera”.

Yum! Of course the photo is brilliant, as well!

Yum! Of course the photo is brilliant, as well!

Whether you are an aspiring food stylist or photographer, a foodie blogger or simply interested in bettering your photography skills while learning to cook and eating well in the heavenly scenery of Southern France (by that, I mean anyone!), the friendly tutelage offered by Tim and Kate at Clinch-Hill, not to mention the consistent, decadent meals, makes the concept of a learning holiday all-the-more appealing. Think of it as a simultaneous investment in your own skill-set and personal enjoyment!

How can you resist learning from people who nuzzle piglets?

How can you resist learning from people who nuzzle piglets?

Using only natural light, the Natural Light & Natural Food Workshop is a collaborative project in which Tim and Kate each share their well-honed approach to natural cooking, food styling and online poker business photography in 5-day and weekend workshop at Kate Hill’s Gascon Kitchen in her 17th century farmhouse in Camont, France (pictured below).

The 17th century farmhouse and guest rooms

The 17th century farmhouse and guest rooms

Focusing on the traditional and local cuisine of Gascony, the lessons will ensure you learn how to cook natural, fresh food and then photograph it beautifully, and naturally. Daily classes are quite comprehensive and cover everything from the basics to professional-grade information, such as the natural approach to food photography without artificial lights, natural French cooking and styling with both raw and cooked food, and how to behave on a photo shoot for a major publication, build your own portfolio content and create story development for future pitches. All camera work is digital and students will review and post their photographs daily to a dedicated online gallery. Cooking is done with only local ingredients (of which there are plenty!) while students work with their own cameras, no matter how basic. An external hard drive, computer and basic materials for classes (food, etc) are provided. Classes are 7 hours per day beginning at 9 and ending at 6 pm (including a 2 hour break for an elaborate, French lunch).

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For more information please click on the links above for the website or email Tim and Kate at info@clinch-hill.com.  Having yet to go myself, though knowing Tim quite well, all I can say, is I can’t wait to go with my husband (an ardent photographer) as soon as possible!

Posted in: Food + Wine, Travel Tips

Published by Meg, Wednesday, June 23, 2010 No Comments

Brussels for a Night

Hotel Reviews

Dec
09
2009

Brussels, Belgium

December 5, 2009

Now that I’m a registered resident of the EU, I figure it’s within my civic duty to visit as many neighboring capitals and charming spots as possible. Given my last-minute nature, the inaugural visit was bound to be close by and relatively short.  NB: I vow as I grow to a more mature European inhabitant to become more elaborate in my planning.

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Fortunately, Brussels, Belgium’s astoundingly beautiful capital city, was a first stop that did not disappoint! Our one-night adventure happened to fall upon the city’s annual Sinterklaas celebration – December 5th.

We caught the parade just as it was going by our hotel towards the Grand Place

We caught the parade just as it was going by our hotel towards the Grand Place

The guys walking on stilts were quite impressive!

The guys walking on stilts were quite impressive!

Without getting into too much detail (for fear of the ensuing debate and gasps the full explanation will cause), I’ll quickly explain that Sinterklaas is the Dutch and Flemish celebration of Saint Nicholas’ visit from Spain, on horseback and boat, to reward the good children with presents or – and this is where it gets weird – capture the bad ones with the aid of his black faced helpers, Zwarte Piet, and bring them back to Spain in burlap sacks. They also toss cookies and candies at the kids too. When I say toss I really mean chuck at their heads.

Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas

Zwarte Pieten

Zwarte Pieten

So, checking all bias towards odd cultural celebrations aside – I can state that both here in Amsterdam and in Brussels the crowd absolutely loves the Sinterklaas tradition and its hard not to follow along.  I was lucky enough to get to experience both locations since Sinterklaas came to Amterdam a few weeks early. I dutifully bought a zwarte piet purple cap and indulged in an Oliebol (fried dough ball).

Back to Brussels — Much to our delight, our hotel, the refurbished and elegantly appointed HOTEL AMIGO, part of the Rocco Forte collection, was smack in the middle of the action, just a stone’s throw from the Grand Place and a mere seven minute walk from the train station.

The classic facade

The classic facade of the Hotel Amigo

The gingerbread house hotel was quite a sight, even more so with Christmas wreaths and a massive tree in the foyer. The check-in and concierge were ever so helpful and kindly adapted to my vacillations between poor French, basic Dutch and fluent English without a raised eyebrow.

The affable doorman in the distance

The affable doorman in the distance

Our room, a Classic King, was no more than 400 square feet with a comfortable squishy bed and elegant linen coverlet.  The signature Olga Polizzi (Rocco Forte’s sister and constant decor guru behind each of his properties) touch was evident through the striped wool throw blanket, striped pillows and the curved headboard.

This room is bigger than ours

This room is bigger than ours but the fresh, clean-cut decor is the same

Alas our room looked right into the wall of another building so we kept our curtains closed and chose instead to focus on the beautiful marble bathroom and its wonderfully heated floors. Every time I experience heated bathroom floors I always marvel and how ingenius they are and how “someday, when I have money”….  I also drew a sumptuous bubble bath with the Rocco Forte bath products which bubbled quite tremendously and enjoyed my view of the bathrooms’ framed drawings and figurines of Belgian’s favorite comic star: TinTin.

The framed portraits in the bathroom

The framed portraits in the bathroom

The hotel could not have been more helpful with suggestions for my planned culinary tour of the city. My main objective of the trip was to verify that Belgian food was leagues above Dutch.  The concierge wisely steered us (and reserved us) at multiple spots, including brunch the following day at fancy spot called Lola, where the waiters were confident their spot was the best in town.  It is slightly more formal than we had wanted (we were feeling more brasserie style) but the food was excellent. I’d recommend it for dinner though rather than brunch.

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With our plans set, we headed off into the celebratory crowd of Sinterklaas revelers towards the throngs in the Grand Place and the various food and craft stands at the Christmas market.  Of course, our first stop – one we were advised by all who have been to Brussels before – was at a street waffle stand.

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We opted for a half chocolate and a half creme anglaise. It was perhaps the most delectable thing I have eaten since I have been in the low countries.

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My husband Friso devouring his chocolate half while I wait impatiently for my creamy one

Wow – I’m writing that about the waffles being the most delicious thing and realizing its the honest-to-G truth. I may have to head back sooner rather than later….

Happily giddy on sugar, we strolled towards Brussel’s famed GRAND PLACE which is the city ‘s main square with the city’s town hall. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  For Christmas, it is splendidly adorned with lights on all the elegant old buildings, a massive Christmas Tree and a life size manger.

Friso in front of the city hall and the blue-lit tree

Friso in front of the city hall and the blue-lit tree

Our favorite element though was the evening light show that splayed across the cathedral building timed to the music spun by the host of DJs underneath the eaves. It was quite spectacular.

It displayed all sorts of colors, shapes and even letters

It displayed all sorts of colors, shapes and even letters

The show began around 5pm and lasted until 11:30pm. We loved being able to watch it earlier and then return to it on our stroll home from our hours-long dining evening. We also made sure to hit the Christmas Market and indulge in some of its finer offerings – Bratwurst, beer and homemade soaps.

The crowds in the market

The crowds in the market

Overall, our less-than-24-hours trip to Brussels was a decadent success. We ate our way happily through the city with high points such as Oysters at the Cain Caillerie (which doesn’t seem to have a website) and chocolate mousse and tiramisu at Cafe Vaudeville. Luckily the Hotel Amgio also has a nice, fully equipped fitness room that was empty but for us on Sunday morning.

Posted in: Hotel Reviews

Published by Meg, Wednesday, December 9, 2009 No Comments

Restaurant Review: Christophe

Hotel Reviews

Oct
21
2009

Amsterdam

October 18th, 2009

My mom and her friend came to visit this past week and as a result, I was treated to a restaurant tour of my new, adopted city. Our first night was spent at Christophe, one of Amsterdam’s top spots and well lauded with one Michelin star. The cuisine is French and the decor is contemporary with a muted urban palette of grays and creams plus an elegant center chandelier.

The center chandelier strikes quite an imposing figure

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Most important – the food was excellent. The starter salads were deliciously fresh with endive and a mix of fresh mesclun. My pumpkin soup was served right inside a pumpkin with a mixture of nutmeg and hazlenuts and that ever tasty dash of cream. Entrees like beef with a foie gras topping and seasonal vegetables like haricot verts and a partridge with candied pears and a stuffing with beets and foie gras make for a memorable, if not fattening meal. We were all exclaiming like Sally in the diner. (Okay, not that loud). For desert we feigned demure by ordering ‘just cheese’. Now, for those who know me, this is hands down my favorite part of the meal. The cheese tray at Christophe did not disappoint. With a majority of french cheeses – there was one lone Dutch cheese which the waiter sold with pride –  the fragrant cheese trolley featured everything from blues to stinky creamy types to crumbly goats. We each selected three and then pretended to share.  It was indeed marvelous, complimented by an excellent full-bodied red, suggested by the restaurant’s somelier. We had originally requested a Margaux and she steered us to a southern French wine instead – clearly not motivated by the cost.

The only downfall of the night came at the end when I went to the bathroom. Tucked down a dimly-lit subterranean hallway, the tiny bathroom was not only cold due to the open window but downright grimy. The floor-length window was covered by a long curtain that did little to buffer the cool breeze nor improve the decor. Worst part though was that the bathroom stalls were so tight that I was forced to leave the door ajar. Sadly, the experience made for quite a blemish on an otherwise ideal evening dining out. I do hope to go back because the food was so darn good, but I will be sure to use the restroom beforehand.

They also have a “kookschool” which looks like a lot of fun. Click on the link above for more information.

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Posted in: Hotel Reviews

Published by Meg, Wednesday, October 21, 2009 No Comments

about meg

About Meg

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Meg is the founder of luxury travel consulting company, Friend of a Friend Consulting. Her three books, Italian Hideaways, Caribbean Hideaways and England's Hideaways are published by Rizzoli. Passionate about travel, hotels and wine, she continues to write freelance travel pieces and is currently pursuing a Masters in Wine through the WSET.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and do not reflect separate business relationships with the subject. Whenever posts are supported financially, they are designated as such.