A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to do a hospitality shoot out Magalies way at Budmarsh Country Lodge. Shoots like this usually aren't terribly exciting, but this one was different. It's a 5-star venue, so that already tells you that things are top-class, but even though I was there to do work, myself and my wife were treated like royalty. The dates that I had free to do the shoot coincided with our 3rd wedding anniversary and so I took the opportunity to take my wife along for a suprise little getaway, and yeah, she was properly surprised. I scored quite a few brownie points.
Budmarsh is about an hour out of Jo'burg if you obey the speed limits and is pretty easy to get to. You do need a car with a normal ride height for the last short section on sand, but I expected that which is why my car was left at home and we travelled by Honda Jazz. The short sand road leads to a narrow gate as you'd find on most houses and it's actually pretty misleading. One you've signed in and you go through it, you can't help but wonder how a property that size lies behind it.
As we walked into the entrance we were greeted by Annatjie van Heerden, the general Manager of Budmarsh. I'm not sure she was ready for a photographer to be sporting quite so many tattoos, I always love that initial look I get. That said, I did look rather out of place at such an exclusive venue. She welcomed us and quickly got us booked in before giving me the rundown of what shots were needed. Cat (that's my wife), knew that I'd be working so that gave her the opportunity to head to our room for a well-deserved relax while I got stuck into shooting a few things like the library, some people and then the fine cuisine. I decided to leave the majority of the shots of the venue for the following day.
I've done some shoots on food before, but it was just your run-of-the-mill food, basic things from a normal restaurant and hotel. The food that I shot at Budmarsh was on a whole new level. The venue offers fine dining and the Executive Chef responsible for the food (I'd prefer to call him a culinary artist) is Chris Tustian, formerly of the United Kingdom. I'd read the website before we left home and saw that Chris trained under a number of master Michelin Star chefs and also cooked in France for a couple of years. This had me expecting to see some weird and wonderful dishes, but what I saw was better than my expectations. Everything that he and his team prepared was so bright and vibrant that I found myself really enjoying taking the photos. This is the first time I've come across photogenic food. Time flew, before I knew it nearly six hours had passed. While I was looking at and shooting the most amazing food I got to chatting to Annatjie and Chris who are just brilliant people. Besides running one of the most amazing places I've been to, they're super friendly and animal lovers too. Their Daschie popped by to say hi, and of course I had to snap a pic or two. If I'd been able to see their cats I would have done the same, I love paw people.
I could try tell you the names and ingredients of the dishes I was shooting, but I'd rather not for the simple reason that I'd mess it up royally. I'm a fussy eater most times, but every time a new dish was presented it looked so good that I think I would have tried it, and that's saying a lot. Dinner for guests of Budmarsh is a 6-course meal, and at first I thought the small portions were too small, but they're rather decieving as I was to find out later that night. The starters looked great, the mains even better and the desserts, well you'll can see for yourself.... My favourite new dessert is the Deconstructed Milk Tart which tastes like milk tart but looks nothing like it, it's completely re-imagined. Amazing!
With the food shoot done, I headed back to the room to get ready for dinner. We chose different meals so we could sample lots of the things on the menu and I'm so glad we did. Again, I won't try tell you what everything was, I just know that I opted for the beef mains and Cat had the vegetarian mains. Hers I remember because it sounded like that blonde kid from Harry Potter that you want to stab in the eye with his own wand, Malfoy. It's actually spelled Mille Feuille and it was a pastry dish that's so good, regular meat eaters often opt for it over the meat dishes.
The six small portions were brilliant, and I was completely satisfied after the meal, close on being stuffed, but not uncomfortably so. When desserts were a distant memory, an extra plate of little treats was brought through with a 'Happy Anniversary' message written on it in chocolate sauce. Yup, I was racking up the points, but I didn't know I was about to hit the jackpot. When we got back to the room, there were rose petals placed in the shape of a heart on the bed and there was a pair of champaigne glasses alongside a complimentary bottle of Pongracz that was chilling in an ice bucket. There was a note wishing us a happy anniversary from the Budmarsh team too. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I noticed the bathroom door was closed, we opened it to be greeted by a steaming hot jacuzzi bath with rose petals and candles scattered all over the place. These Budmarsh people are just brilliant! This is where I'll just fast forward to the next day when I shot the exterior, the rooms, the bar, the cellar, the lounge, the pool area, the conference rooms and the dining areas...
It's things like this that make me love what I do. Photography and travelling are two of the best things on the planet, and I've done my fair share of both. I've stayed in many hotels, lodges, camps and guest houses around the world over the last 15 years and I can confidently tell you that Budmarsh Country Lodge is one of the best there is. I worked my ass off and relaxed at the same time. I met great people, I got great shots and most importantly for me, had a great anniversary. I'd love to do more shoots like this. If you know anyone in need, I'd be greatful if you could pass on my details.
I want to send a huge thanks to Angelique, Annatjie, Chris and the rest of the Budmarsh team for allowing me this awesome opportunity.