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Thought for food

Sean Calitz


Do you ever feel a bit empty spending hundreds or even thousands of Randelas on fine dining while you know that kids struggle to get even basic, nutritious food?

Have you ever considered the terroir of beef, namely that the grass cattle eat reflects in the flavour of the steak on your plate?

Do you know if you are a second or third wave coffee consumer?

These were the kinds of questions raised on Day 1 of Convivium as chefs, producers, environmentalists and even an origami artist stood up to share ideas, spark debate and provoke change in the food industry. Whereas Day 2 is a collaborative cheffy feast for over 100 guests, Day 1 is by invitation only and there is space for only 50 attendees. It’s where things get TEDish. Chefs who have taken part in previous years get an automatic invitation, but everyone else has to apply to take part, with selection being ascertained through a motivational email.

Margot Janse got the ball rolling by making the uncomfortable yet salient point that while most of the Convivium attendees celebrate high-quality, ethically-sourced food, there are school kids who go to school on empty stomachs every day. “We’re too obsessed with our awards and our food, but is that what it’s really all about?”

Janse, who has won every accolade under the sun for her work at Le Quartier Francais decided to actually do something about this issue in her hometown of Franschhoek rather than stewing in useless guilt, so she started the Isabelo Project. It began with Janse designing (with the help of a dietician) a healthy muffin for local schoolkids.

“In the beginning when we made our muffin, it was so healthy they didn’t like it.” With the ideas of LQF customers and Dutch funders who came on board in a big way, they found themselves with some good ideas and a lot of money, but they needed NGO partners who were better equipped to handle the momentum. Janse heard about Kusasa who had set up a school feeding scheme in Franschhoek.

Sure, talk is cheap, but this is where movements begin.

“Kusasa realised how hungry the kids they were working with, were when they came to school - so hungry because they did not have dinner the night before. How can you learn when your stomach is empty? So they started a Breakfast Club to serve porridge in the mornings but then they ran out of money. And there we were with our millions, not sure what to do with it.”

The partnership was intuituve, and today the Isabelo Project funds the Kusasa Breakfast Club, which feeds over 1,300 children from two Franschhoek primary schools.

While Janse’s was perhaps the stand-out talk, the rest of the varied Convivium talks were similarly thought-provoking. Pavs Pillay from SASSI-WWF spoke about sustainable seafood and the successes they have had working with both restaurants and fishing communities. Kurt Ackermann of OCFM (Oranjezicht City Farm Market) spoke about the rise of their community market and their work with other communities across the Cape. Foraging expert Roushanna Grey passed around indigenous plant cuttings and explained the wealth of edible and medicinal plants right under our noses.

Adi Badenhorst took us through the revolution of Swartland wines and their star varietals. Jono le Feuvre of Rosetta Coffee gave us a humorous run-through of the depth, details and movements of coffee’s multi-stage evolution. Ross Symons, a former IT guy turned origami artist and Instagram star (with clients like Christian Dior and Pepsi queuing up to work with him) spoke about creativity and taking the leap to doing what you love. Lastly, Piet and Koot Prinsloo a father and son beef farming team from Queenstown in the Eastern Cape spoke about their Daybreaker beef farming operation, the grass on their farm, the process of rearing their cattle and the importance of quality meat. Considering that the meat in question was being butchered, smoked, braaied and served up raw backstage, you knew their confidence was justified.

While Convivium unashamedly celebrates food in a Bacchanalian feast like something off the last page of an Asterix story, attending Day 1 is well worth it. Sure, talk is cheap, but this is where movements begin - in the cerebral takeaways when this many passionate nutjobs gather in one place.

Read more about the Convivium gathering in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of House and Leisure.