I believe food needs to be celebrated. When I say food, I talk about an all encompassing concept of producers, creators and epicureans. Don’t you think it’s incredible how something so commonplace to a lot of us has the power to set strangers, acquaintances, enemies and friends around a table?
On Sunday the 1st of February, the inaugural Convivium festival was held. Drawing inspiration from MAD Symposium, Cook It Raw, Terra Madre, the event was conceptualized by Wesley Randles (head chef at The Pot Luck Club) and Andy Fenner (owner of Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants).
Hosted on Adi Badenhorst’s farm, Kalmoensfontein, of the most celebrated chefs in the country gathered to connect and inspire, from Luke Dale-Roberts, PJ Vadas, Markus Farbinger to Liam Tomlin and George Jardine. The day sounded pretty promising, don’t you think?
The aim of Convivium was to showcase food, chefs and producers in the most primal way possible. “The way to do this is to close the gap between the end product (a meal) and the starting point (the earth and the animal).” explains Fenner. “by stripping out the frills and unnecessary bullshit that sterile cooking environments can lead to, this is a stage for real collaboration, real inspiration and real connection.”
With the venue being an hour or so outside of Cape Town, guests met at FFMM for a quick cup of coffee and simit, supplied by my very own Simi, before being shuttled off to the Swartland. (May I add that it was rather incredible having chefs like Luke-Dale Roberts eat your bread!)
Driving into the start of the Swartland, you took a turn onto a dusty road, winding up into the hills towards the Badenhorst family farm – tranquility at it’s best. It’s difficult to put into words how beautiful it is out there.
Upon arrival, guests were spoilt for choice, from bubbly (Huis van Chevallerie Filia Chenin Blanc Brut Nature) to Rosetta Roastery’s finest brew. After an introductory speech and welcome, we were set to roam and discover all the surprises hidden in each corner of the farmstead.
The main dining area seamlessly flowed into each surrounding hub of activity, acting as a central meeting point where we would all end up enjoying an unforgettable feast! The minimal decor showcased nature at it’s finest, with edible plants and shrubbery suspended above beautiful wooden tables. I pretty much felt like I was in Pinterest for the day.
As we all explored the chefs over-saw cooking and were divided into groups to cook dishes to compliment pre-planned courses. They were encouraged to draw inspiration from the “pantry” – tables of herbs, baskets of fruit, Adi’s vegetable garden, a side of pork, a whole forequarter, sausage casings and grinders, fresh oysters, edible plants etc. which doubled up as a beautiful display for guests’ visual pleasure.
After sampling some fine Capertif you were able to move between the groups of chefs hard at work. Around each corner you’d find something different happening, like Marcus quietly making some Macadamia nut goodness while PJ carefully keeps an eye on The Hog.
There were four central topics that the day wished to shed some light on: sustainability, heritage, collaboration and celebration. These themes were addressed as the day progressed, for example by re-imagining our heritage through forgotten cuts of meat & age-old preparation techniques.
What was most noteworthy for me was how the day organically unfolded. The venue lent itself to you creating your own experience, whether you wanted to be part of the hype outside where the chefs were busying themselves, or if you preferred a quieter spot to sit and observe from.
(I just LOVED this photo with all the chefs in the background looking over to see what Marcus is up to! Best.)
Of all the happenings I was most captivated by how Marcus and PJ worked together (possibly because of my fascination with pastry at the moment but they really did make a great team). Either way, it was inspiring to see and their collaborative strudel definitely showed it! The collaborative theme that was envisioned for Convivium was experienced in every aspect of the day.
If you didn’t want Capertif there was wine. If you didn’t want wine, there was bubbly. If you didn’t want bubbly there was gin. Jorgensen Gin snow cones were made with scrapings from huge ice-block while you were given a full breakdown of what goes into that liquid goodness you’re about to drink. It was my favourite drink experience of the day – I just loved watching the whole process.
The theme of sustainability was highlighted by means of a large focus on edible plants and herbs. Over-consumption has led to serious issues like nutrition, overfishing, battery farming etc. as well as stunting the creative energy gained from being in touch with nature and seeing where our food comes from.
Besides the incredible food that abundantly filled the tables, born from a love of their craft, there was a deeper connection that was formed – the camaraderie and infectious inspiration amongst the chefs was evident.
Above all, I think the theme of celebration captured the spirit of the day most. From the chefs and producers to the guests, all inhibitions were released in honour of what brought us there: beautiful food and people to share it with.