My Food Story from Gascony

Beautiful French tomatoes, Nérac Market

“So what’s the itineray?”

It seems like such a stupid question in retrospect, but it was one of the first things I asked Tim Clinch and Kate Hill when I met them in Gascony this summer. I was there at Kate’s Kitchen at Camont for their Natural Light Natural Food photography workshop, with little clue as to what we’d be doing for our three days together, only that Tim’s the photographer and Kate’s the writer and I was there to learn some stuff.

Kate and Tim didn’t have an answer to my itinerary question, and now having been there, I see why. An “itinerary” is just so not Gascony (and so not Kate and Tim, for that matter). Here is a place where meals are dictated by what’s at the market, the mood of the day and sometimes, when lucky, Kate’s amazing pickles. Furthermore, the whole atmosphere that Kate and Tim bring to the workshop is one of spontaneity. An itinerary just wasn’t on the cards.

Kate and Tim
Me and my homies

So what was on the cards? Here I find myself trying to tell a story, but it’s hard to set the scene. The cast was photographer Tim, writer Kate, and their astute students, me and Mardi from Eat Live Travel Write.

Mardi

The setting: Kate’s canal-side 18th century French cottage, a photographer’s wet dream.

Kate's beautiful pickles

The plot: Well, here my mind becomes scattered as I reminisce on some terrifically wonderful memories: morning walks along the canal with the black-and-white dogs; getting over my insecurities about being a tourist and taking pictures with abandon at Nérac market; long al fresco lunches in Kate’s garden; going to Vianne night market and dancing to dudes singing French covers of American songs (including “YMCA” and “Oh What a Night”); singing 80’s music in the car on the ride home; Kate’s pickles and homemade Worcestershire sauce; sleeping in a cozy cool retro caravan; beautiful food, and beautiful places to photograph them; ugly food, but immensely satisfying, particularly when eaten out of plastic containers (calamari) or off of napkins (the apricot tart); staying up way past my bed time; drinking lots and lots of rosé and armangac; feeling totally at home; having fun.

photo.JPG

Of course, this is not to undermine the real reason we were there: to learn to take better pictures. And were it not for the photography lessons from Tim, all that laughing, dancing, singing, eating and drinking wouldn’t have been as memorable as they were.

Telling Stories

The whole premise behind Tim’s and Kate’s approach to photography and Gascony is telling stories. And so, our photography wasn’t constrained to ingredients and plates of food. We also sought out the people, producers and places from where the food came, as well as the process of turning these ingredients into beautiful things. For example, we spent a whole morning taking pictures of apricots, and then an afternoon photographing Kate turning them into an apricot and goats cheese tart.

Apricot Tart

We photographed at Nérac market, in the Gascony countryside, in the villages, in Kate’s kitchen and in her garden.

Bread I want to eat, Nérac Market

Nerac Market

Dominique Chapolard, at his charcuterie stall in Nérac market

Bread and Cheese

Tim also managed to blow my mind by showing me some amazingly cool tricks in Lightroom. Indeed, post-processing is a key part of the Natural Light Natural Food workshop, and Tim readily admits that all of his photographs have been processed in some way before they’ve been published. It’s the digital way, and it’s amazing what you can do with a little crop and a few adjustments.

Before and After

Before and After

Before and After

Before and After

Rad Peeps

When you spend three days living and working with someone, you get to know them pretty well. And at the end of all this I feel smitten. The work Kate and Tim are doing to bring attention to Gascony is tremendous: it’s a beautiful part of France with a fantastic food culture and without that cloying sensation of being there just for tourists. People actually live and work in Gascony. This is the real France.

And like I said to Kate and Tim, they’re “rad peeps”, who like me, are in search of the dream. And maybe this is why I like them so much. Mardi and I kept telling Kate, “I want your life!” Kate’s response: “get your own!” Point being: the dream is different for everybody, but the important thing is to never stop looking for it.

In light of “the dream”, I somehow feel that Tim’s parting tips on taking better photos are equally are equally applicable to life: “Slow down, think, fill the frame, get in close.”

Here is how I summed up my experience in a testimonial for Kate and Tim:

The photography workshop at Camont was a life-changing experience, and it goes way way beyond photography. Yes, we learned how to take better photos, but those lessons also translated to wider lessons in living that could only be taught by Kate and Tim’s combined creativity and the phenomenal people and places they work with in Gascony. Through them, I learned life lessons in patience, living the dream and taking opportunities, interwoven with a great travel experience in beautiful Gascony, not to mention the fantastic food that Kate created from the region’s exceptional ingredients. As a result of the workshop, I now find myself taking notice of the stories that are happening all around me, and how photography – both taking the picture and processing them on a computer – can be used to create dramatic images that capture those stories in a visual way.

A New Venture

So for all these reasons and more, I’m psyched to bits to be helping Kate and Tim out with their newest project to turn their Gascony mojo into a viable business. Introducing: Food Stories from Gascony, a publishing project that will soon see the release of a recurring series of online “magazines” about the food of Gascony. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Rad Peeps

Kate, Mardi and Me at the Vianne night market

I’m still processing the hundreds of photos I took on my trip, but I’ve started uploading them to these photosets on Flickr: France, July 2012 and Natural Light Natural Food.

Some other links you should visit:

8 thoughts on “My Food Story from Gascony

  1. Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.)

    Monica what a great way to wake up for me this morning. What beautiful memories in both words and pictures you have here in this post. You, my friend, “get it”. And you’re a rad peep too! That weekend certainly changed the way I think about my photography and instead of freaking me out like other photog workshops I have done have tended to do, this was liberating and freeing. Sending big hugs to you and Rocky! #nightfêtefriendsforever

    Reply
    1. Monica Post author

      Mardi, thanks for the comment and the compliments. You never know how people will “gel” when they meet and person but I felt like we had a diamond foursome going on. It’s also cool to watch your subsequent blog posts and see how the weekend affected your photography. Rocky and I send our hugs back to ya! #NFFF

      Reply
  2. kate hill

    I agree with Mardi- what a lovely way to wake up reliving that good weekend of work & play! It has been an honor to work with Sr. Clinch for many years, now it is a great pleasure to share our work on the ground here at Camont and over the airwaves at Food Stories from Gascony. Welcome to Team Camont Monica (& Rocky).

    Reply
    1. Monica Post author

      Thank you for welcoming me into the family. I feel super honoured. Rocky, of course, is not surprised. But then again, he thinks the world revolves around him! (Though I must say, he hasn’t been the same since he left Bacon – I think he misses his B&W buddy.)

      Reply
  3. Tim Clinch

    Monica! Thank you so much for your lovely write up! And thank you Mardi for your lovely comments…we love you both…
    No itinerary? Well…Kate and I sat down before you arrived and pretty much planned it to the hour! I’m flattered that you guys didn’t notice, but these things don’t happen by accident!
    And by the way…loving all your pictures…both of you!
    TC

    Reply
    1. Monica Post author

      Yep, you had me totally fooled. I guess the thing is, no matter the itinerary, you’re always going to have a solid dose of the unexpected. Be it light, weather, food, or dogs. It all kind of overrides the itinerary, at least that’s how I experienced it. But no complaints!

      Reply
  4. Jes

    After following your tweets & Instagrams, it’s great to see a little something more comprehensive about Natural Light & your time in Gascony! I’ve been swooning over their workshops after seeing the pictures you have posted and I can’t wait to see more, especially through your new project. I also dearly need to get Lightroom & figure that out. Holy crap, the difference on some of those photos! I’ve already added the workshops to my wish list, just hope I can make it over that way & meet Tim & Kate (with you of course)!

    Reply

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