spier secret festival and my secret dinner

Conferences are all about taking yourself away from your usual working environment, learning new things, and getting inspired. The Spier Secret Festival was a two-day food conference and food festival that was all of this and then a whole lot more.

Hannerie and her team from the President Design agency organized an absolutely incredible event that was not just about the keynote speakers, who are the obvious draw card, but about all the magical bits that happen in between.

And there were a lot of magical bits.

Throw around 100 creative food people together for a couple of days, get a few of them to create amazing things, collaborate with a few others, and do this all on a beautiful wine farm in Stellenbosch, and what you get is a festival that is quite extraordinary.

The Toffie Festival last year, which was the first of its kind, was equally inspiring for me. At the time I had started writing my cookbook and was experiencing a lot of anxiety over the project. I attended Eloise Alemany’s workshops on book publishing and felt that she was talking directly to my soul and I knew I was on the right path.

This year’s festival was held at Spier where I worked as part of the opening team many years ago, so it was special for me to come back to a place that I had a part in starting. It has changed so much since then, but there are still many familiar parts and memories. Walking around the Conference Centre where I spent over a year of my life, felt a little like coming home.

On top of all of this fabulousness, I was honoured to have been invited to host one of the secret dinners on the Saturday night and super excited that I got to do it in the exquisite Manor House on the estate.

This is what my table looked like.

The pressure mounted as the day loomed closer. What was I going to feed these foodie people that I had never met? what could I make in advance and execute effectively on my own in a kitchen with limited facilities? Sleepless nights, stress and worry all for nothing, because on the day the amazing staff at Spier were on hand to help where I needed and my charming friend Emile Joubert came to the party to help out with the guests, pouring wine and generally making sure things ran smoothly as I ran in and out of the kitchen. Three more of my lovely friends, Lauren, Georgie and Llewellyn joined the fun on the night. The more the merrier, right?

I decided to cook food that I like to eat, food that is familiar to me, and food that is all about Drizzle and Dip, the cookbook and the blog.

My menu:

‘Fish & chips’

Norwegian salmon tartare with a hint of pickled jalapeno, dill, ginger and lemon, served with potato crisps

Duck ragout with a gremolata crumb

with hand-made tagliatelle

Apple –  brandy – vanilla – caramel

rustic apple galette, apple & brandy compote, home-made vanilla bean ice cream and salted caramel sauce

Cheese and koeksisters

A selection on Simonsberg cheeses with koeksisters and biscuits

Each course was connected to me, and each course contained a good splash of one or other alcoholic ingredient which I so love to cook with.

I was also so lucky to have landed what I am convinced were the best dinner guests of all, a group of fabulous food professionals that I was too busy trying to get to know, that I didn’t get a chance to take many pictures. But I will say that the evening flowed brilliantly along with the Spier 21 Gables Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. There were loud laughs and ongoing conversation, extra helpings of dessert and I do remember seeing one guest scraping the last of the salted caramel sauce off her plate with her finger.

Due to all the work for Saturday night, I wasn’t able to attend any of the lectures on the day, but if you want to read about what went on, check out Pat’s Yumsy blog with a fabulous account of all the goings on at the Festival.

I did manage to take this one image, which captures the vibrance of the Saturday market and lunch.

Spier kindly put me up for the night in the hotel that I had never seen before and which wasn’t there in my era. The only downside of this being that I didn’t get nearly enough time to languish in my massive king-size bed and savour the luxury of it all.

This was followed by a presentation by the UK Jellymongers Bompas and Parr, who are making a few big wobbly waves with their spectacular jelly installations and awe-inspiring events around food. These guys are at the edge of some amazing future trends in food design

At the end of their talk, they led us into the cellar to witness a world first. They conducted a massive surge of electricity through a chandelier made up of pickled cucumbers and got the thing to light up. But seeing is believing so check this out:

Delicious Jelly by Bompas and Parr is made out of Chenin Blanc (with granadilla to give it a cheetah vibe).

The festival was rounded off with a lovely braai prepared by an array of awesome chefs, who cooked fabulous food on Big Green Eggs which we enjoyed under the oaks on the Terrace.

This is an event I never, ever want to miss.

final lunch

After my dizzyingly amazing weekend at Spier spent with amazing people and witnessing so much creativity, there was another final cherry on top. My book sold out at the bookshop on Sunday. Yipee.



  1. This makes me feel so homesick. I spent many happy days at Spier and an ex manager there was a close personal friend. Sigh !!!! :))

  2. thank you for not saying who it was that scraped the salted caramel…hmm sticky memories. I have to try making that dessert at home but you will have to bring the delicious vanilla ice-cream, you are the ice-cream queen.

  3. Hi Stephen, it is rather a special place isn’t it?

  4. Lauren, I thought Id leave that bit out. Thanks for being a part of the evening.

  5. Hi Sam….very special….and it holds several very special memories for me. Still sighing 🙂

  6. What a lovely summary of the Secret weekend, Sam! It looks like your guests went away with lasting memories of a very special evening. Looking forward to seeing you there again next year and many thanks for the links 🙂 Hopefully we’ll see each other much sooner than that though – I need a signed copy of your book too!

  7. Hi Sam, this is an amazing experiance for you, and you narrate the it beautifully, and now if i could only have you attend and style my “Diwali Dinner Table”–well hopefully sometime.

  8. Thanks Pat, it was all quite overwhelming but I loved it.

  9. Thanks Usha, I would so love to be at your Diwali dinner table, I have never been part of that.

  10. Thanks Sam, the Dinner was amazing – lovely memories 🙂

  11. Monya Kilian Palmer says:

    Sounds wonderful Sam…. Looking forward to coming home one day. And congrats on the new book xxxxxx

  12. Hi Monya, are you in the UK for a while?

  13. Thanks Thulisa, Such a fabulous evening with you girls. S x

  14. Monya Kilian Palmer says:

    Hi Sam, yeah indefinitely. Mark, the dogs and I are on a bit of an adventure and I am loving the new job. (working on Heston’s new book due Oct 2013) but I am extremely homesick as you can imagine, Cape Town simply is the most beautiful city in the world! But we still have our home in Hout Bay and will return one day for sure. I love following all the foodie happenings on Your Twitter and look forward to meeting you one day xxx

  15. Hi Sam

    Was sitting in the sun on Sunday thinking about that salted caramel and home made vanilla ice cream……. 🙁
    Can still remember stealing some of Neritas last dessert of her plate…..[CHUCKLES, HA HA HA :-)]
    Thank you for such fond memories, couldnt have asked for any better!!!!!!

    Best wishes

  16. Hi Amber, Thank you for being a part of my dinner, I loved having you guys.

  17. Hi Sam,

    I’m still chatting about that lovely evening with the most wonderfull bunch of people around a table full of deliciousness… thank you, Drizzle & Dib is simply fantastic!

    All the best

  18. Thanks Bongi, it was indeed a night I will never forget, so glad to have met you.

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