The fifth annual Spier Secret Festival is just around the corner and we can’t wait! The full day of workshops, talks, eating and drinking takes place at the Nando’s Central Kitchen in Jo’burg on Sunday, 6 November. This year’s event is all about exploring food heritage. The exciting lineup of speakers will be sharing their insights and thoughts around food as an intrinsic part of our cultural history and identity. As a fun way to introduce you to them, we’ve quizzed 6 of the speakers about their favourite culinary memories, taste obsessions, and the ways food shapes who they are.
Book your spot for the Spier Secret Festival here.
Where do you live? Jozi.
What do you do? Owner of Saint d’Ici – Limited Edition Natural Perfumes.
What’s your fondest or most significant food-related memory? Eating creamy aged camembert on baguette on my grandparents’ verandah in the south of France at age 3. My grandparents had to bring a few camembert’s with them every time they visited once we moved to South Africa.
How does food tie into your culture and identity? I’m a mixed bag of cultures but I identify most with Lebanese food. My father is from a small village in Lebanon. His family has a farm so when we visit it’s all fresh organic produce straight off the land, cold-pressed olive oil from their own trees, Za’atar and Sumac gathered from the nearest mountain once a year, grapes picked off the vines covering the driveway, rose and orange blossom water distilled by my aunt… It’s not just the quality of the food but the pride that goes into the cooking. Ask anyone in the village who makes the best Ma’amoul or the best Tabouleh and they will have a strong opinion on the matter!
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? Desiccated crickets. Not bad, considering.
Current favourite thing to eat or prepare? Home-made sorghum sourdough crackers. Sorghum is a very under-appreciated grain – it’s local, it’s really nutritious and currently entirely GM-free.
The flavour you can’t live without? Sour-sweet, like good old-fashioned organic oranges and Granny Smith apples.
What are you most excited for at the Spier Secret Festival? I look forward to hearing Mpho Tshukudu speak about a return to traditional South African ingredients.
Where do you live? Sterksel, the Netherlands (a small town near the city of Eindhoven).
What do you do? I changed my profession from ‘Industrial Design Engineering’ to ‘Change Design Engineering’. It involves a design method to propel novel cultural and technological systems that work with diversity (different to the industrial culture of mass production). I implement this method to contribute to a sustainable change in the culture of milk and dairy in the Netherlands. I use the terroir and heritage of milk as a starting point for innovation.
What’s your fondest or most significant food-related memory? Tasting elderflower syrup when I was 6. I was completely stunned by the taste and the idea that I was drinking flowers.
How does food tie into your culture and identity? I come from Limburg, the southernmost province of the Netherlands, known to have a very rich food culture – especially compared to the rest of the Netherlands. The food culture in the Netherlands is known to be not-so-well-refined. I believe the reason is that we needed all our time to fight the water and only had time to eat, to get energy for more water-fighting. Our watery land did not provide a very rich pallet of food. In Limburg though, the hilly landscape does provide more variety in food sources.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? Cow’s udder.
Current favourite thing to eat or prepare? I love the preparation of all kinds of dairy. It’s amazing that milk can be turned into all kinds of substances. Making paneer for example is a magical process. Or whipped cream, the process of change… For eating, I love to eat eggs – the way it is ‘packaged’ naturally, the ritual of opening it and the choreography of spooning the spheres and curves in the egg.
The flavour you can’t live without? Umami.
What are you most excited for at the Spier Secret Festival? Experiencing the food culture of South Africa, and especially the terroir and heritage of milk and dairy. Moreover I look forward to exchanging experiences and ideas about my work in the Netherlands compared to what happens in South Africa in the field of milk and dairy.
Where do you live? Hartbeespoort.
What do you do? Author and registered dietitian, with a special interest in African foods and culture.
What’s your fondest or most significant food-related memory? Mofokotso – fermented sorghum breakfast porridge.
How does food tie into your culture and identity? Food has a deep meaning in people’s lives. What, how, when and why people eat reveals their passions, knowledge, personalities and transitions over time. I am interested in these stories, as they give me a better understanding of others and myself. They have made me understand the similarities and differences between other cultures.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? Mopane worms. A friend prepared them and invited me for lunch. She said I should think about meat while chewing, I tried but all I could think of was a worm crawling on the tree (my grandmother had mopane trees and I was scared of them). I spit them out, I know it is rude – but it’s a worm. They are nutritious and a delicacy to some, but not me.
Current favourite thing to eat or prepare? My partner and I are making smoothies for dinner (weekdays only). The fun challenge is to make sure that half of the serving has to be non-starchy vegetables, and balance protein, fat and carbs. Neither of us have a sweet tooth, so the tastes are interesting.
The flavour you can’t live without? Aniseed. I add it to almost anything – especially smoothies and millet porridge. I love the subtle flavour and smell. I also love cheese – a lot. 18th month mature, strong flavours, made from raw milk. Goat milk makes the best cheese and butter.
What are you most excited for at the Spier Secret Festival? Interactions with the audience, especially on their cultural food memories.
Where do you live? Cape Town, South Africa.
What do you do? I’m a chef.
What’s your fondest or most significant food-related memory? Probably helping my mother with the Sunday roast every weekend.
How does food tie into your culture and identity? I suppose it ties in mostly with my mother’s British heritage.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? Wow. I eat a lot of weird stuff. Sea anemone. Bat. Horse. Any offal. Which are completely normal for some cultures and totally alien to others.
Current favourite thing to eat or prepare? I’m having fun experimenting with fish dishes at home, because my restaurant is really meat and vegetable driven. Currently coming up with the “perfect” ceviche dish.
The flavour you can’t live without? Right now, lime.
What are you most excited for at the Spier Secret Festival? I can’t wait to meet and interact with other like-minded people and talk about all things food-related.
Where do you live? London, UK.
What do you do? Cook – street food and pop-ups. Marketing/PR at Lyle’s restaurant.
What’s your fondest or most significant food-related memory? The first time I ever ate kimchi. I was on a plane from Amsterdam to Sydney via Seoul, on Asiana Airlines, and the inflight meal was bibimbap. It was the first time I ate anything Korean, the first time I tried gojuchang, and my first taste of kimchi. I instantly fell in love with it and decided I wanted to try and make it myself.
How does food tie into your culture and identity? I grew up in Holland and food wasn’t a huge part of my upbringing. I was a very fussy eater as a kid. The food I grew up on wasn’t really varied, or that exciting, but it all changed when I moved to London and had my first Szechuan meal, proper Thai food, Vietnamese – all these cuisines I’d never been exposed to before. Whenever I visit her my mum still thinks it’s hilarious that I’m so into food.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? Ant egg tacos in Mexico City.
Current favourite thing to eat or prepare? Dan Dan Noodles. It’s my ultimate comfort food and after making it about 30 times, I’ve come to a recipe I’m really pleased with.
The flavour you can’t live without? Umami.
What are you most excited for at the Spier Secret Festival? I’m really excited to check out the Jo’burg food scene. My dad lives there and he’s been sending me nuggets of info over email, people making their own beer, new food markets etc. I’m also really looking forward to eating some game.
Where do you live? Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
What do you do? Artist and member of Cateringa & Kompanen. I make many things.
What’s your fondest or most significant food-related memory? Oef. Many. One that shoots to mind: When I turned vegetarian at 15 years old I had to tell my grandmother I would not eat her delicious onion gravy anymore. It’s a traditional Dutch recipe she would make for all of her children in frozen year-sized-family-packets and deliver them throughout the country. Like her famous red apple sauce, bitter orange marmalade and chicken soup… We would find jars of marmalade for years after she passed away. After much postponing I mentioned that her grandson had specific dietary wishes now. She looked at me like I’d said something completely irrelevant. She was around 80 at the time and survived some bad episodes. From the next year onwards, she created separate batches of full-on vegetarian gravy like she never did anything else and never mentioned it again. This is a blend of food, love and open-mindedness that I cherish.
How does food tie into your culture and identity? Food is part of our artwork as a material that is loaded with more context, meaning and associations than paint itself. As a consumer, you can use food to communicate, discover and keep a healthy mind and body. You can make statements, join communities and much much more.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? Ehm… I would say that’s part of the job. Amongst other things, we’ve tried making our own edible lubes during an experimental video evening. The edible tobacco lube smelled amazingly like bergamot and tasted like very very bitter horror.
Current favourite thing to eat or prepare? Root celery. Ask me again tomorrow.
The flavour you can’t live without? Salt.
What are you most excited for at the Spier Secret Festival? I often feel very Dutch in our approach to food without clinging to one specific tradition. It’s always fascinating how people with a background in other countries judge/value our work. Even within Europe this surprises me, so I’m very curious about the people in South Africa.
Illustrations by Jonny Smith.