The third annual Karoo Food Festival in Cradock managed to successfully and gracefully encapsulate and celebrate a rising international food trend that sees food-thoughtfull human beings going back to discovering what real food is.
Calling it a ‘trend’ seems almost insulting, because in the Karoo this is the way in which food has been thought about for generations – it hadn't changed with any new 'trend' much, really.
Now, however, other South Africans from outside Cradock and the Karoo – are realizing the value of this real food, and this is what the festival aims to celebrate and enhance.
It’s only fitting that this festival is held in Cradock, a town situated on the banks of the Great Fish River, as the farming community here – and food these farmers produce – is what gives life to Cradock in every sense of the word.
And even though these farmers are still slightly hesitant of this new fair-like event that has visitors flocking into their wide open spaces, and then disappearing like fog again after a week, these prominent town’s figures are starting to thaw and enjoy the Karoo Food Festival too.
The farmers' presence are growing by the year, which is a certain sign of progress if there ever was any.
The festival started, as any good food festival should, with food – glorious Karoo food. The grand, old English Victoria Manor Hotel hosted a traditional dinner buffet that felt something like a medieval meal served with all the silver, crystal glass and white linen cloth one’s medieval heart could desire.
The menu in the Manor set the benchmark for the rest of the festival. It was true Karoo. It was traditional. And it was big. On silver platters lay a rather complete representation of the Karoo Lamb…
But before the guests could feel squeamish about having to literally face their meal (think Skaapkop or smileys as they're sometimes called), and having the opportunity to dish both the head, tail and/or insides of the lamb, it must have dawned on them that this
was actually what celebrating food in ALL its guts and glory was about, because everyone ate and drank good wine until midnight.
I am exaggerating a bit of course, as everything at the Karoo Food Festival was not really all ‘guts and gory glory’, but this buffet gave some much-needed insight into the non-wasteful and respectful manner in which Karoo people go about dealing with their food.
The rest of the festival followed the same trend, yet admittedly more refined.
At the general festival ground people set up stalls that resembled a scene from a French market day out of a fairy tale. Ripe local-grown pomegranates lay broken open, rubies exposed, and market-goers could snatch them up for peanuts.
Biltong too was a major role-player, and everywhere you looked children and grown-ups, sandwiches and salads bore this proud Karoo product.
The other two evening events were equally as Karoo-inspired and inspiring as the Manor meal in the beginning, but more laid-back. There was a potjiekos competition (because what would a Karoo Food Festival be without one...) and on the final night guests celebrated the end of a successful week at the "Fees van die Baie Bokke".
At this festive meal, all of six types of meat was served to guests, with the idea of educating attendees on the diversity of flavours of venison, and showing them different cooking techniques with both game and farmed animals.
The one dimension, however, that set this festival apart from any other, was the opportunity for people to actually take something concrete away from Cradock.
With ‘concrete’, I do not mean something like a salami or a painting or a bottle of artisanal gin (yes, that was there too).
No. The Karoo Food Festival gave festival-goers an opportunity to gain generational knowledge at the Karoo food workshops, talks and demonstrations held.
National Karoo food heroes like Gordon Wright taught eager attendees of real food in classes were people tasted and participated in what it meant to eat real.
But these well-known chefs weren't the only bright stars.
The festival also made room for local Midlands food legends, like ‘boervrou’ Delene Lombard, for example, who hosted workshops teaching attendees to her class valuable skills that many have thought of an era passed.
If only 20 more people can now debone a chicken due to Delene, at least they can teach that almost extinct skill to their children, preserving another real food skill. And if only 20 people more now have a bit more insight into what 'respect for food' means, that's already reason for celebration.
It’s because of the platform created by the Karoo Food Festival that people, who might have never had the chance, are now able to pass on skills and knowledge to their children and loved ones.
This, at least, is what the festival organisers and people involved in this true Karoo Food Festival are hoping for. Thinking of heading to Cradock? Go to 'Cradock: a real South African dorpie' for an extensive list of accommodation options, restaurants and interesting info about this quaint Karoo town.
Next year's Karoo Food Festival will take place on 18 - 21 March 2016.
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