Last week I spent 48 hours in the beautiful town of Stellenbosch immersed in the annual Spier Secret Festival and it was fabulous.
I took a wander through town on my first day to check out the vibe and see my friend Ilse’s Demo Kitchen, which is a must-visit place for anyone interested in cooking classes and great food. Then a stop into De Warenmarkt where I enjoyed a top class waffle and a stroll around the streets lined with bustling pavement cafes and beautiful buildings. I was reminded that I need to be visiting Stellenbosch more often. If you need any more convincing you can check out the #VisitStellenbosch hashtag across social media to see what visitors are posting all the time.
The Spier Secret Festival is a one day conference held on the farm but various add on events happen around the day. Like the Movie Nights and the Market. I kicked off my experience with the Thursday food Movie night which was a screening of The 100 Foot Journey on an outdoor screen. An interactive tasting dinner linked to what the characters in the film were eating was available for us to unpack from our picnic boxes and I found this all quite magical. We sat on blankets and sipped the delicious Spier Creative Block 5 and nibbled on our meal.
The conference on Friday started with us being trucked to the pastures where Angus raises his chicken and cattle. We gathered eggs amongst the happiest free range chickens I have ever seen and enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast put together by Frederik Bille Brahe in the field.
The highlight of the meal was his poached eggs on raw greens which was inspired and delicious. I plan to explore this concept a little further. A walk back to the farm followed where we all took respite from the heat under an oak tree and found refreshments such as Cove Coffee co cold brew iced coffee, wild food cordials, kombucha and Farmer Angus’s bone broth.
The group was divided into four and we alternated through the different speakers for the day. I loved our first one which was a cheese workshop and tasting with Luke Williams from Culture Club Cheese and a wine tasting and braaibroodtjie pairing with Spier winemaker Frans Smit. It was then onto the international talks in the wine Cellar which I found a little underwhelming. Jackson Boxer spoke about sourcing local farm ingredients and cultivating his now produce which was hardly anything new. Any chef worth his salt these days is already doing it and has been doing this for years. It’s the norm. Something & Son presented a few projects they had been working on – some not at all food related, and were interesting but I didn’t find particularly ground breaking. Frederik spoke about his vegetarian cafe-restaurant Atelier September in Copenhagen where vegetables are the main ingredient on his menu and as a vegivore I would love to visit. I guess I was hoping to hear about new ideas that were way out the box.
The next speaker was the highlight of the conference for me. Mariana Esterhuizen spoke with such passion about her love of gardening form a very young age and how the menu in her award-winning restaurant in Stanford is fed directly from her organic garden. Such a close connection to what is seasonal and growing to the barest level. She spoke about the art of pickling and preserving everything that can’t be consumed and selling any excess over and above that one. I have enjoyed a few outstanding meals at Marianas so felt inspired beyond by this talk.
Zayaan Khan spoke about changing ideas for our local food system and looking towards insects as a source, raising some interesting points. Our final talk for the day was Janice Wang (PhD) from Oxford University who briefly spoke about her research in cross model correspondence between sound and flavour which was interesting but perhaps taking food to a whole new cerebral level. Basically auditory stimuli can affect the way we perceive (taste) food & drink. We were guided through a short flavour exhibition and I was pleased to discover that I was one of 25% of the world’s population that is a super taster. I’ve always hated brussels sprouts with a deep passion and I don’t drink coffee, so it was affirming to know that my sensitivity towards the bitter taste profile is actually physiological and has the positive spin-off of being able to taste food in general in a heightened way.
The day ended off with a waste lunch by P J Vadas of the newly-launched Hoghouse Bakery and Cafe at Spier (in the old Jonkerhuis) and was enjoyed under the shady oaks. The breads were insanely good and his smoker was fired up to do some of the taste making work. The roasted whole pigs head was delicious – well the bits I tasted of it, but I will definitely be going back to experience more of what this restaurant has to offer.
on Friday night I was invited to dinner by Woolworths (one of the main sponsors of the event) to a dinner in the Manor house prepared by Abigail Donnely. It was a special flavour journey featuring chipotle, maple, sriracha, salted caramel, whole roasted vegetables, sticky ribs that left my taste buds extremely happy.
Spier Werf Market:
I ended off my stay in Stellenbosch with a visit to the first Spier Market which takes place on the new restored Werf on the farm. It was filled with food stands selling delicious prepared food and drinks as well as a few grocery items. A highlight for me was tasting the Craft Soda cucumber drink which was so innovative and refreshing without being too sweet. I loved the Hoghouse bakery table that had amazing breads and baked treats on display. The pasties de nada is not to be missed. The beers flow from taps, there is a gin bar, a bubbly table, nut milks, organic vegetables straight from the farm, cheese and charcuterie and so much more. Lots for kids to do and run around on the farm, and I can highly recommend this new food market which will be open every Saturday in summer.
I loved my two day immersion into the food world and catching up with so many like minded friends. I feel inspired and rejuvenated and can’t wait to visit Spier again which has such a special place in my heart. To read about my last Spier Secret Festival experience in 2012 – you can click here.
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