Hannerie Visser, Studio H And The Future Of Food

We get to know the brilliant founder of Studio H and get her insights into the trends that will be shaping, and changing, the future of food.

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Hannerie Visser, the founder of ‘culinary-minded design team’ Studio H, has changed the way many of us see and think about food. But more than just the end product, or meals-on-plates, Hannerie and her team are considering how the future of the whole production line might look and work.

So who is Hannerie, and how did she become one of this country’s most exciting food thinkers? We caught up with her after attending one of her fascinating food talks, where she released Studio H’s new Future Food Report and Flavour Index for 2020/1, to learn more about her story and the inspiring development of Studio H. Hannerie also sent us a collection of deliciously gorgeous illustrations, created by her team and included here. These collages give us a small glimpse into how Studio H envisions the future of food.

How did your food journey begin?

I grew up on a table grape farm. I was always in the kitchen from as early as I can remember, wanting to help my mother, Marieda, our housekeepers, Lea and Theresa, and my gran, Babs. I had a little stool by the stove that I stood on so I could reach the pots. One of my favourite games as a kid was running a 'mud cake factory' in which my brothers 'worked'. I designed all these different shaped mud cookies and we 'baked' rows and rows of them and dried them on wooden pallets in the sun. My brothers and I also planted our own veggie gardens, starting from before we even went to school, and would always have a competition to see whose crops had the highest yield. During the summer holidays we used to assist with the harvest. Our dad, Jakkie, farmed with table grapes which is very labour intensive, and we were very hands-on and involved. We learned to work really hard from a very young age and, when we went off to varsity, we all still worked on the farm during holidays. So we never really went on holidays, we always worked, which instilled a very strong work ethic in all of us.

ALSO READ: Experience A ‘Wijn’ Tasting Experience Like No Other

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Any particular memories of your relationship with food growing up, and with cooking?

Sunday family lunches were always a big deal growing up. We would normally drive to Hermanus for the day to spend it with my grandparents. My gran was an incredible cook and taught me a lot about cooking and the importance of sharing a meal with your loved ones. Her specialities included oxtail and she also made ground perlemoen, cooked in milk with nutmeg as a starter, every Sunday. To this day my favourite time to have friends over for a meal is on a Sunday for lunch. It is my favourite meal of the week and I love making a big deal of it.

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How would you describe your family's food rituals?

Whenever we’re together, whether it was on the farm back in the day, or when we’re on holiday or traveling, everything revolves around eating. We’re forever planning the next meal, creating menus for special celebrations or making lists of places where we still want to go eat. Since when we were little, everything - big news, joyous or sad - was always shared over a meal. We went to boarding school when we started high school, which was devastating because the food was so bad. We got fed lots of watery stews with sago to bulk it up and then sago pudding for dessert on top of that. To this day I cannot eat sago anything. But my parents would always take me and my brother, Frikkie, out to a nice big lunch before they dropped us off at boarding school again, which made up for the rather lacklustre offerings of the time at House McFarlane, Paarl Gynmasium’s boarding school.

From my gran, Ria, on my dad’s side, I learned everything I know about preserves. She would always make jams from everything she could lay her hands on and was famous for her kiwi jam and her prickly pear jam. We would also spend long afternoons watching her skilfully slice green beans that would later become preserved curried green beans.

ALSO READ: Recipe: Chicken Noodle Soup And Teeny Tiny Cheese Toasties
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We recently attended one of your fascinating food talks. For those who were not able to attend, where are we going with food, and how do you feel about it?

Something that I am very passionate about is our FOOD XX platform which we launched last year. FOOD XX is a network and awards platform that celebrates women in food in our country. It gives me so much joy that I have been able to create something that has the potential to make even just a small change in some of these amazing womens’ lives and to create a space where women in food can connect, support one another, and also share some of the challenges they face every day in this industry we all love so much.

One of the big trends that I am seeing is support for small-scale (often women) farmers, which stems from a global demand for more greens in our daily diets. The rise in vegan and vegetarian diets prompts innovative ways to meet the increasing demand for greens. To meet the demand for all those veggies, food systems need to scale up, increase productivity, and overcome supply chain challenges posed by big cities. We will see an increase in alternative methods and technologies in food production and in developing countries we will see a rise in support and incentives for small-scale farming, which in turn will put a spotlight on women farmers. We will see an even more radical divergence of female voices within the food industry. There will be even more emphasis on exploring issues from gender bias in division of labour and the workplace, and the underrepresentation of women of colour in leadership, the intersection of culture and food, and the evolution of food writing. We will see more books, gatherings and movements that illuminate the notable and varied women who make up the food world, with brands also adding to the conversation.

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At it’s core, what is Studio H?

Studio H is a culinary-minded design team. We run a full service concept-to-production studio, and our work is driven by the senses and defined by science and innovation. Our approach is deeply rooted in exploring a sustainable future. We’ve designed and produced projects and experiences for a number of clients including: Moët & Chandon, the V&A Waterfront, Woolworths and Nando's, alongside developing our own in-house projects, S/Zout – a water scarcity project, Chips! – an independent digital food magazine, Street Food Land and FOOD XX – a network dedicated to celebrating womxn in food, mentioned earlier.

So far this year we have been doing a lot of food trend reports, we have designed experiential brand and museum pop-ups and we are working with food product innovation teams to develop new products for brands.

ALSO READ: Rebrand: Fabrica Do Prego

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What's your dream for Studio H?

My dream for Studio H is to have a good balance of local and international clients, who all care about creating work that is rooted in a sustainable future. I would love to be able to support more women-owned businesses. It is written into our sustainability manifesto for this year. 

I find that clients are increasingly using us to do trend reporting throughout the year and we are doing a ton of new product development work at the moment, which I absolutely love. We are uniquely positioned in the industry in the sense that we are connected with the best chefs, farmers, food anthropologists and other food designers at the cutting edge. So we know and see the opportunities in the market, we know what products and flavours people are into now and will be into in two years, so we absolutely love working with clients (local and abroad) to inspire and develop new products.

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How would you explain something like ‘South African food’, and where is it going?

At the moment I am working with Andy Fenner on a very interesting food project for the V&A Waterfront where South African cuisine takes centre stage. We are the lead curators for the project and were very fortunate to assist in designing the manifesto for the concept. The main driver is that all tenants should be delivering authentic South African food. This is leading to daily (sometimes heated) conversation around what South African food is. The most important thing is that these conversations are taking place and I do hope that this project, A Food Emporium and Kitchen Incubator launching next to the Cape Town Cruise Terminal in September, will spearhead the important narrative around South African cuisine and what it is (and what it is NOT).

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Your hopes for the local food scene?

I am very excited about us celebrating our local food, ingredients and heritage unashamedly. We are finally in a place where cooks and chefs use and celebrate our delicious and very special local ingredients before looking at Europe and USA for inspiration. I would love for South African cuisine to become as popular and trendy as Mexican or Japanese cuisine.

Imagine an episode of Dave Chang’s Ugly Delicious dedicated to South African food!

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For more about Studio H, check out their website, and follow them on social media for more.

Studio H has also curated a list of womxn run food businesses to support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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