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Curating Jo’burg’s FoodWineDesign Fair

Over 100 exhibitors are currently showing their fine creations and delicious products at this year's Sanlam Investments FoodWineDesign Fair in Hyde Park. The Mail & Guardian's Matthew Krouse spoke to curator Roberta Coci about the journey to bring the country's rare fair to Johannesburg.

Tell us about yourself
I am a South African, a Jo'burger who grew up in Houghton, of Italian origin, who has just come back from living in Spain for two years.

The FoodWineDesign Fair takes place on the rooftop of the Hyde Park Corner shopping mall. Is the event bigger this year than previous years, or is it more streamlined and more tightly curated?
Half of the exhibitors are devoted to design and then there are about 30 food and 20 wine exhibitors. We cannot grow the event on the Hyde Park rooftop. We are very limited by space, which I think is a good thing because it has now gotten to the stage where people are approaching us [to exhibit their work]. 

This gives us a much bigger playing field to start with and then we pare it down. So I think that the quality is improving every year.

How did you perform your function as FoodWineDesign curator? What have you had to do practically to get to this point?
I need to be aware of what's going on around us, which is why my previous job was so useful. I was assistant editor of House and Leisure magazine. I think that's one of the reasons why the company that runs the fair approached me. They said they used to scour House and Leisure
magazine to find out what was going on.

So I'm kind of still doing the job that I used to do, keeping up to date. And you'll be amazed at how much content you find on Instagram and Twitter. I have seen new products there and then I start Googling, find contact details and go out and meet people. 

Generally what are the features of this year's FoodWineDesign event?
As the name implies, it is bringing the top food, wine and design to the rooftop of Hyde Park. Every year we try to change it a bit by organising some special projects. So one of the special projects that I am really excited about what we are doing on the north part of the roof.

We generally don't use that space because the marquee ends at a certain point, and it has got the best view overlooking the whole of Magaliesburg. So this year we decided to use it.

We have 100 square metres that weren't being used so we have got some really good braaing exhibitors there. We are calling it "The Cook Out" and just giving a nice American rooftop party feel to it. So we've got chicken, braaied prawns with Paella, we have got really good burgers. 

Tell me about the Route 62 initiative.
Route 62 is the inland road from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, through the Karoo. It came about when Ross Douglas [the Artlogic director] was there. He went to stay with a friend and by just visiting two towns he was blown away by the product there. 

The Barrydale brandy, called Joseph Barry brandy officially, was voted best brandy in the world at two different festivals, one in Austria and one in London. The best brandy in the world coming out of this little town in the Karoo.

The area is very dry and it's a similar climate to the Spanish. So they are beginning to plant Spanish and Portuguese grapes there. So beautiful port and Spanish varietals are made there.

So in May this year I went to Cape Town to scout for stuff there and then I did the Route 62 for three nights.

I was supposed to be hosted by somebody who left me in the lurch. It was the best thing that happened because I ended up at crazy and eccentric people's houses for dinner each night, and I ended up getting to know the locals and not sitting alone in restaurants.        

My impression when I got there is that there are a lot of Jo'burgers or big city dwellers who wanted to escape the city. They have gone there and they are big ideas people. They are not just sitting on their farms, but they are doing some really interesting stuff.

Then there's the Barrydale Hand Weavers. This group is one of my favourites. We have done a Meet the Maker video about it. Carol Morris [runs the group] and she has these proper old wooden looms. She has a team there and they hand weave.

They are incredible textiles and they are so affordable. If you go elsewhere to buy a baby blanket you will spend R300 to R400 and it will be made in China. These are hand-woven blankets and they are half the price. It is stuff we don't have access to in Jo'burg.

We have asked two locals from Route 62 to curate a stall and they are bringing in about 10 products.

Then [wine expert] Neil Pendock is coming through. He knows the area well and is bringing in ostrich products and a few of the good wines. Wine-maker Graham Beck has a presence in Robertson so he will be there with Duncan Doherty who will be cooking quail.

What other projects has the fair initiated?
One of the great things about working in a small team of only four people is that when one comes up with an idea there is a [willingness] to run with it. 

The sock project started sometime this year. We wanted something interactive and through Twitter. I discovered this amazing company called Feat Sock Co. They are these really young girls in Cape Town who came up to Jo'burg to meet me. They are doing beautiful sock design and I was looking at their socks thinking, "I really like that one, but I prefer the colour in that one," and I thought, "why don't we design our own socks?"

We wanted something interactive that included bloggers and people on Facebook to get the word out about the fair. So we commissioned three designers and asked the public to send in their own designs and the fourth one we did was a public entry.

There is a focus on meat on the menu at the fair, could you tell us more about it?
On Sunday there will be what's called the Ultimate Beef Challenge. Research among our visitors has shown that they really like to be educated at the fair. This particular event involves a whole lot of beef farmers. For the last few months they have been rearing one of their animals in the same place. It's been fed the same things. They have been killed on the same date and in the same way and the meat has been aged in the same way.

You have 16 different animals from 16 different farms. Arnold Tanzer will host the event and the meat will be cooked in the same way and the public can taste it and vote for their best. A panel of judges will vote for their best also.

There will be some education about the meat, from farm to table.

Personally, what are your pet hates in design?
When [useful] things are designed to look like people or animals. Yesterday I went to buy a cheese knife and found one shaped like a mouse. 

I have two 18th century antique bedside tables from my great-grandmother, which out of place would look terrible. But next to a sleek Scandinavian bed there is no overkill.

What do you love?
I love colour. I think that that love developed when I lived in Barcelona. Everything is so colourful.

When it comes to local design what are your favourites?
My new house is being designed by Georg van Gass of the brand Goet furniture. He designed the layout of the fair. His approach is sleek and simple, without excess. His materials are very African. If I see a Jacaranda that has been cut down I call him and tell him, and I think he will use it.

The Sanlam Investments FoodWineDesign Fair takes place on the rooftop of Hyde Park Corner in Johannesburg until November 10.

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Matthew Krouse
Guest Author

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