Gradara, Italy Workshop Reflections

Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.com

In July, on my birthday (I turned 25, yay!), I boarded a flight. I don’t get nervous on flights, but when I boarded, tucked away my backpack full of gear, and clicked in my seatbelt, I felt a surge of excitement. I was flying to Italy, where I’d host my first international workshop with the talented ladies Valentina of Hortus Cuisine and Zaira of The Freaky Table. Butterflies came to life with excitement, and I could not wait to land in Bologna. Valentina and Zaira picked me up at the train station, and then shortly after, Saghar of Lab Noon joined us, and we spent the first day exploring a little bit, with Valentina showing us the castle, and then starting to prep. And then, it was a whirlwind of amazing attendees, questions, challenges, styling, photographing everything and everyone, and enjoying the Italian countryside. I can’t even put words to it. I dont’ even know if I can adequately describe it, but the feeling I got was pure joy. Nothing beats working alongside folks you admire and love, and doing what you love most: styling and photographing. I tried my best to impart what I know about photography and styling, and I also learned so much – from my cohosts as well as my attendees, as I always do in workshops. Attendees, you have inspired me more than you can know – thank you, sincerely, for being the best group of attendees!!!!

If you want join in on the next one, simply send me an email or sign up for the mailing list!!

Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.com

Day 1: welcome dinner in a castle

Valentina’s place is just beautiful. It was a joy shooting, prepping, and styling in her kitchen. I mean, just look at the light, and the fixtures!!! For gifts, we gave every attendee a traditional patterned apron, and two pieces of The Freaky Raku ceramics – perfect for starting off their prop collection!

Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.com

Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comWe started with peach prosecco cocktails in the Italian countryside, amidst olive trees and black pepper trees. Vibrant, chilled cocktails, and a fitting subject for our first styling demonstration!!! Valentina showed us one of her shooting spots, with really gorgeous light, and also showed us how she got that dark, shadowy background.
Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comAction shots and capturing bubbles, two ways: Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comAfter that, we headed to the castle of gradara, where we had a lovely, romantic meal.
Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.com


Day 2: photography and styling

The second day, we greeted our guests bright and early in the morning, armed with bountiful stone fruits and a selection of baked goods that Valentina and her mom made. I cannot wait for Valentina’s book to come out, because let me tell you firsthand: these were some of the best cakes I’ve ever tasted. Even the gluten-free one!!!! I had multiple servings of that chocolate cake, and I couldn’t resist sampling the others as well…

Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comOf course, I brought one of my favorite aprons from Shop Fog Linen over, and Saghar snapped this fun photo of me! Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comWe proceded then with photography and styling lessons, encouraging attendees to ask as many questions as they wished (and they did! yay!). Zaira styled a still life and it turned out like a beautiful painting – I mean, just look at it.

Gradara Workshop Day 3 | bettysliu-2-1.jpg Gradara Workshop Day 3 | bettysliu-2-2.jpg Gradara Workshop Day 3 | bettysliu-2.jpgWe had lunch in the open air, with fresh homestyle Italian food made with vegetables plucked from Valentina’s garden. Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.com


Day 3: pasta making, styling demos, and final dinner

This was our busiest day – we had breakfast again and then dove straight into pasta making. Valentina demonstrated the method of making tagliatelle and other pasta shapes by hand, while the rest of us practiced action shots. After that, what better than pasta to practice and demonstrate styling? We brought over a variety of backdrops and after initial demonstrations, had the attendees break up into pairs and style their own scenes. Let me tell you – these attendees are super talented!

Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.com

Lunch was a simple meal of seafood ravioli in a zucchini cream sauce. ZUCCHINI CREAM!!!!
Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Day 3 | bettysliu-24Gradara Day 3 | bettysliu-26Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.com

Our final dinner was outside, with the sun slowly dropping below the horizon, bidding us adieu. We set out citronella candles, and even though I was bitten probably… 5 times that night, it was the sweetest night ever. Valentina’s mom, a retired chef, made us the most delicious meal. I could not believe how simple yet delicious the meal was. Nothing I ever had in restaurants could compare to this meal!!!! We had piadini, local cheeses, and stuffed tomatos and peppers. I dream of this meal.
Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Day 3 | bettysliu-31Gradara Day 3 | bettysliu-33Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Day 3 | bettysliu-40Gradara Day 3 | bettysliu-42Magical evenings, good conversation, the Italian countryside – need I say more? I cannot thank my co-hosts, Valentina and Zaira, enough for making this a reality, and for being such inspirations! Many thanks to Saghar for being the BEST assistant. She was literally there without any asking and we did not hear a peep of complaint! She made us laugh with stories and also gave us spices to take home. I love this gal. I love all these gals.


I’ll finish with some photos of Gradara and the surrounding area.

Gradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.comGradara Italy Food Photography + Styling Workshop | bettysliu.com

Valentina took Zaira and I to Fiorenzuola, a gorgeous town near Gradara!
gradara Day 4 | bettysliu-10gradara Day 4 | bettysliu-13gradara Day 4 | bettysliu-14 copygradara Day 4 | bettysliu-16gradara Day 4 | bettysliu-17Ciao, my friends! Hope you enjoyed this super photo-heavy recap (although let’s be honest, when are they ever NOT photo heavy?). And as always, sign up for the mailing list if you want to be notified for future workshops!

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  • Haha, oh you know just a simple lunch of zucchini cream. Love it. These scenes are incredible Betty! Leaving me all sorts of happy and full of dreams about my next return to Italy. xxReplyCancel

    • Hahaha that’s literally what happened! Italy is such a great country. <3.ReplyCancel

  • Beautiful photos and what a wonderful experience! Thank you for sharing with us! <3ReplyCancel

  • Just when I’d started to recover… Now I miss it all over again! What a fantastic three days, I wish it had been three weeks! Betty you are a fantastic photographer, but also a really great teacher. Thank you for your enthusiasm, support and valuable tips. Hope to see you again soon!ReplyCancel

    • Oh Eleni, I miss you my dear! I wish it were three weeks too – lets keep in touch!ReplyCancel

  • I enjoyed this recap very much! Beautiful photos and it looks like you girls had an amazing time! xxReplyCancel

    • Thanks Ingrid! Something to look forward to in September right?!ReplyCancel

  • What a dream trip! And such gorgeous photography. So impressive. Happy Belated birthday! What an incredible birthday gift. It looks like you ate well and had such a great time. Thanks for sharing your incredible trip!ReplyCancel

  • I love the way you “homemade” the hell out this and created such a stunning table setting. And the pasta… you have awoken the sleeping giant. I can’t wait to see more. Please share recipes! Until we meet again, BlairReplyCancel

  • As always stunning pictures Betty! All the meals you described sound lovely too, esp. the stuffed peppers and tomatoes :)ReplyCancel

    • Thank you Joyce! Yes, those stuffed peppers and tomatoes were SO GOOD.ReplyCancel

  • Looks like you guys had a ton of fun and quite a bit of learning as well! Bologna is a magical place, a lot of my family lives out there and I could move there in a heartbeat. The orange/red colored buildings in your photos brings me back. Thanks for sharing!ReplyCancel

    • Thanks Maurizio! I didn’t know you had roots in Bologna – it’s such a wonderful region, and I wish I could’ve explored Bologna more!ReplyCancel

  • Amazing, ladies! The photos took me directly to Gradara and I hope there will be another workshop soon!

    NatašaReplyCancel

  • Girlfriend, these photos are unreal. Everything looks out of a food fairytale. I want in for the next workshop!!ReplyCancel

    • Thank you Sarah! hope you’re enjoying Detroit – will definitely let you know when the next one is!ReplyCancel

  • Ahh it just looks like the most phenomenal, dreamy few days Betty – and you have captured it so perfectly in these photos. One day I’ll make it to one of your workshops! xReplyCancel

  • These are really the type of photography and styling that I love so much. Countryside of Italy contributed great nuances too 😀ReplyCancel

    • Yes! We were so lucky to be in the countryside – full of mosquitos, but really added to that atmosphere, with all the olive trees, pepper trees, pear trees… so dreamy.ReplyCancel

  • Maurizia Manfredi

    what an amazing surprise was your wonderful blog, in which I enter casually,but the biggest surprise was your photos abt the Gradara workshop..!!
    I live 10 km from Gradara and my grandmother and my mother, from which my food passion comes, are both original from that beautiful country. I recognize our daily family kitchen style in the pictures of “Gradara dishes” expecially the “gratinati” how we call vegetables stuffed with bread crumbs and “piadina” The only missing photo from your report, is Gradara romantic castle, most famous for the love story between Paolo and Francesca..
    Congratulation for the high quality of your blog and your recipes !ReplyCancel

  • Oh Betty… what incredibly sweet words! I learned so much and had a great time with you girls. The magic of those days is so visible in your photos.
    Hope to have you back in Italy soon. :) <3ReplyCancel

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