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.
‘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.
I took a little wander around the estate on Sunday morning to look at all the venues and new developments since I had left and was quite blown away by the impressive new Wine Center, deli, and restaurants. The vast picnic area along the Eerste River is pretty and tranquil, and all you do is order your food or ready-made sandwiches a Eight To Go and enjoy it on the lawns.
The last day included an interesting talk by Arabeschi di Latte, Italian women designers who are passionate about the social power of food, and driving people to interact with it in new ways.
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 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.
After my dizzyingly amazing weekend at Spier spent with amazing people and witnessing so much creativity, there was another final cherry on the top. My book sold out at the book shop on Sunday. Yipee.