Hermanus, UNESCO City of Gastronomy? An interview with Darryl David

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Darryl David talks to Naomi Meyer about the leading of a very special bid.   

Darryl, you are known for organising literary festivals. But, this time, here is something totally different. Please tell our readers your big news.

Hi, Naomi. As readers will discover, this time around I am leading a bid on behalf of Hermanus to become South Africa’s first Unesco City of Gastronomy. Food festivals, in the broadest sense of the word, are a dime a dozen. I felt a South African city needed a project of this magnitude to take its rightful place among the food capitals of the world. 

Picture provided by Darryl David

Why organise a culinary festival? And why in Hermanus?

Why Hermanus? Well, I thought the cities that could proudly claim to be gastronomic capitals of South Africa were those within the Stellenbosch Municipality, inclusive of Franschhoek, Paarl and Hermanus. Unesco doesn’t only want cities with fine restaurants; they also judge a region for its agricultural heritage. Hermanus is a city on the rise in terms of culinary heritage. Hermanus also seemed to grasp the magnitude of such a project with much more enthusiasm than elsewhere. In hindsight, I believe Unesco City of Gastronomy status in a smaller region would have far greater impact than in larger cities. The Book Town phenomenon has taught me: the smaller the town/city, the greater the impact. 

Picture provided by Darryl David

Chocolate, cheese, wine or a book? (You don’t have to choose, but do choose, if you will.)

Naomi, Naomi, Naomi. You really need to get to know me outside of the literary sphere. Curry, Naomi. I plan to bring the Western Cape’s first Bunny Chow Festival to Hermanus, should our bid be successful. We need to democratise the food scene here in the Cape. At least, Plaaskombuis Restaurant in Hermanus serves a bunny chow breakfast!

Picture provided by Darryl David

Practicalities: how much are the tickets? Or is this an ongoing festival? 

This is a bid for Unesco City of Gastronomy status, first and foremost. However, even if we are not successful, Cape Whale Coast, the tourism arm of greater Hermanus, has already indicated their interest in my planned Padstal Festival and the Hap ’n’ Stap Festival.

Greater Hermanus has some of the finest padstalle in South Africa. What better way to get to know the beauty of Hermanus, than by eating at such beautiful towns as Pringle Bay, Rooi-Els, Betty’s Bay, Stanford and Gansbaai? And then, there is the Hap ’n’ Stap Festival, set to take place along Hermanus’s world-famous cliff paths. The English name will be the Hermanus Walking Up An Appetite Festival. I don’t know how much tickets will cost, because I plan to be the official taster of everything on offer.

Picture provided by Darryl David

This is the second time you are putting South Africa on the world map with a Unesco event. Please elaborate.

I have not put Hermanus on the world map, yet. I am pleased to say we have reached the final round of judging. We will only hear from Unesco in November. But I fancy our chances.

Prior to this, I was director of Durban’s successful bid for Unesco City of Literature. If Hermanus is successful, it will join Durban as the first city on the African continent to join the Creative Cities Network for Gastronomy and Literature, respectively. South Africa needs some good news. If we are successful, we might have to rename the region Hang-Overberg the morning after the announcement. 

Picture provided by Darryl David


Press Release: Now we’re cooking! (Darryl Earl David dishes up an idea to savour!)

Hermanus bidding to become a Unesco City of Gastronomy

Hermanuspietersfontein is bidding to become South Africa’s first Unesco City of Gastronomy. Yes, you’ve read right. Hermanus is bidding to make history by becoming the first Unesco City of Gastronomy on the African continent.

I am sure people will be shocked that I am switching words on paper for food on Hermanus’s finest crockery. But, as early as 2017, after our successful bid for Durban as Unesco City of Literature, I had the dream of a gastronomy capital.

At the 2018 Adam Small Festival in Pniel, I spoke about the dream of a Unesco City of Gastronomy for South Africa. Sure, there are other contenders, like there were other contenders for Unesco City of Literature. But Hermanus has a few champions in their city. Every city needs movers and shakers to champion their bid. And Tracy Going, Tania Fourie and Frieda Lloyd represented the three-legged Trojan horse that took me within the cliff paths of their city to their mayor. Thankfully, Mayor Dudley is a person who is able to recognise a mouth-watering prospect when presented with one.

Moreover, people forget that book festivals and fine dining go hand in hand. And I have organised nearly 100 book festivals all over South Africa. From Fern Hill on the Midlands Meander to Die Tuishuise in Cradock to The Supper Klub in Book Town Richmond to the Montagu Hotel on the R62 to Boschendal on Helshoogte Pass just outside Pniel, my writers and family have dined at some of the finest restaurants in South Africa. As Lanzerac Estate waxes so eloquently on their website: nothing brings together the poets, philosophers and dreamers like a bottle of fine wine.

If Hermanus attains this honour, it will join such famous cities as Parma and Alba in Italy, San Antonio and Tucson in America, Phuket in Thailand, Bergen in Norway, and a slew of cities lesser known to South Africans, like Shunde and Chengdu in China, Östersund in Sweden, Jeonju in South Korea, Tsuruoka in Japan, and at least half a dozen other cities in Brazil, Turkey and Mexico, to name but a few. Hermanus in South Africa will not only correct the geographic imbalance in this network of Unesco Creative Cities, but will also serve as a gastronomic ambassador for South Africa. The rationale for the Unesco Creative Cities Network is the realisation that tourism and creativity have the potential to transform cities. Moreover, Unesco Cities of Gastronomy have the potential to address issues around sustainability, justice and equality. The city of Overstrand Hermanus has had the foresight to see the potential of tourism for their region. Whether it will have the capacity to address issues around food security, only time will tell. One thing, however, is absolutely certain: being a mere 100 kilometres from Cape Town, a Unesco City of Gastronomy designation would be one of the more mouth-watering options on any visitor’s itinerary for Cape Town.

But what is the gastronomic pedigree of Hermanus? The greater Hermanus region, including the villages of Stanford, Gansbaai, Kleinmond, Betty’s Bay, Pringle Bay and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, offer some of this country’s finest culinary experiences. Everyone has their favourites. Some rave about Lizette’s Kitchen and La Pentola. Others suggest Origins at the Marine or Burgundy Restaurant for their fine cuisine and equally sumptuous sea views. But, for me, Bientang’s Cave is special. It is one of the few restaurants where I will fork out R1 000 and never leave with buyer’s remorse. 

But if you are an evolved caveman, then maybe Kleinmond is your region. Underestimate this hamlet at your peril. Home to Arabella and Benguela Cove Estates and their award-winning restaurants, they offer fine dining for the evolved “caveman”. And, with my being a lover of South Africa’s underrated sweet wines, Benguela Cove is high on my to-do list. While I pride myself on having visited some of the greatest attractions in South Africa, sadly my capital does not match my intellectual capital. But if you are loaded, drive in the direction of Gansbaai and the Grootbos Nature Reserve. One day!

On the wine front, the region is also home to two wine routes, the Stanford Wine Route (10 wineries) and the Taste of Hermanus Wine Route (23 wineries). The latter incorporates the famed South African Pinot Noir haven, Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth). The region links to a further three wine routes, and, collectively, these are known as the Cape South Coast wine region, comprising 85 wineries. Creation Wines, on the Hermanus loop, is also an industry leader in wine tourism, and has won accolades in the Great Wine Capitals (GWC) Best of Wine Tourism Awards three times in five years. In 2017, Creation Wines won the category Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences. The GWC is a network of ten major global cities in both the northern and southern hemispheres which share a key economic and cultural asset: their internationally renowned wine regions. The annual Best of Wine Tourism Awards is an international competition designed to reward the wineries in member cities and wine regions that have distinguished themselves in terms of delivering quality experiences to the public. Creation has played a pioneering role in the field of wine and food pairing, and is one of many local wineries to extend their wine presentation to include music and art. Another pioneer in the Hemel-en-Aarde wine region is Hamilton Russell Vineyards, the first vineyard to be established on the most southerly site in South Africa – on an undeveloped 170-hectare property, in 1975 – and today producing a selection of noble varieties which are sought after the world over, and are sold out year after year. On the Hermanus Wine Route, there are six restaurants, two farm stalls and one country cookhouse. Springfontein, on the Stanford Wine Route, has the singular honour of having a Michelin star chef in charge of operations. The Overstrand City of Hermanus beverage economy includes three beer breweries, of which one has won gold at the National Beer Trophy Awards for the past two years.

Furthermore, Warwick’s Chef Training School was established in 1991 in Hermanus, and is a leading culinary training establishment. The school regularly participates in the National Youth Chefs Training Programme (hosted by the National Department of Tourism), which focuses on all the unique, local and award-winning products of the region. One such product is the local cheese made at Klein River Cheese. Klein River has been producing cheese for over 25 years, with only one cheese-maker, Jacko van Beulen. He has been with the business since day one, and has been the driving force behind the recent silver and bronze medals gained at the World Cheese Awards 2018–2019. And Warwick’s Chef Training School has the beautifully named restaurant, The Classroom. If ever my dean calls to find out my whereabouts, at least I can answer with a straight face: I’m in The Classroom!

Another unique product of the region is abalone. With a number of abalone farms in the area, this has become a popular inclusion on the itinerary of visitors, and Heart of Abalone offers a tour and tasting experience. More importantly, Heart of Abalone is the largest abalone farm in the world!

Furthermore, the calendar of events for the Cape Whale Coast, the tourism arm of Hermanus, includes a number of festivals centred on gastronomic experiences. The annual Hermanus Whale Festival marks the festival’s 28th anniversary this year, and the Hermanus FynArts Festival, now in its seventh year, incorporates an entertaining series of gastronomy-related demonstrations, curated by Garth Stroebel, arguably South Africa’s first celebrity chef. Lastly, the Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir Celebration celebrates a highly revered grape cultivar, together with celebrity chefs’ cuisine, every year during the last weekend of January.

But, if we win Unesco City of Gastronomy status for Hermanus, I have suggested we launch one of the most unique festivals in South Africa – the Overstrand Hermanus Padkos Festival. “Padkos” – what a beautifully South African word. (“Food for the road”, for those overseas readers.) The beauty of such a festival is that it will, in one fell swoop, introduce tourists to the foods of South Africa, as well as the beauty of Hermanus. But it will also help democratise the food festival circuit. After all, not everyone can afford a meal for 2 for R1 000. But padkos from farm stalls – that is a festival for the common family man. Stock up and take your family along to some of the greatest scenery South Africa has to offer. Never underestimate the power of landscape to enhance the culinary experience. Why do you think wine makers talk of terroir? That journey from Pringle Bay to Gordon’s Bay along Clarence Drive has been voted the most scenic drive in the world. Even if you can’t afford an expensive bottle of champagne or wine, roll your windows down, sip the champagne air and be intoxicated by the beauty of this region, called the Riviera of the south. The next morning, you’ll be “babalased” from beauty, as I like to say.

Speaking about democratising the gastronomy industry in South Africa: not only will Hermanus’s bid for Unesco City have an Indian as director of its bid. Did you know that the first black man to qualify with a degree in viticulture and oenology from the University of Stellenbosch is now director of viticulture and winemaker at Springfontein in Stanford? Yes, Tariro Masayiti has overseen over a decade of harvests at Springfontein, an estate that also boasts a former Michelin star chef in Jürgen Schneider. Not only that, but Tariro was also founding president of the Stanford Wine Route. Hopefully, our Unesco City of Gastronomy bid will also make committee members think about how we can include the foods of Zwelihle in the smorgasbord of offerings within Hermanus.

Finally, on the theme of trying to be benevolent to those less fortunate, I have already reached out to Faf du Plessis, our Proteas captain. Did you know that Faf is a foodie of note, with his own restaurant, on the wrong side of the mountain? But poor Faf is on the brink of being unemployed. The proceeds from his appearance will go towards designing broader bats for our top 6!

In conclusion, I once read that wine is the greatest lubricator of social (not sexual) intercourse. However, I want to bet that even a tour of Hermanus’s hop-on-hop-off wine tour bus will not loosen the tongues around dining tables and wine-tasting rooms, as much as news that humble Hermanus is bidding to become South Africa’s first Unesco City of Gastronomy. And, should this Overberg jewel succeed come November 2019, I, for one, am going to paint all the signs “Hang-Overberg” the morning after Hermanus hears the news that it is Africa’s first Unesco City of Gastronomy.

Readers are encouraged to email Darryl David at ddavid@uwc.ac.za or Frieda Lloyd at flloyd@overstrand.gov.za with suggestions and advice for this ground-breaking project


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