05 July, 2009

G-Twon’s pots boil over for Fest!

By Anele Ngwenya and Lwando Helesi

Politicians may falter and prices will always change but the 35th National Arts Festival has not neglected its obligation to good cuisine and artistic inspiration. The Long Table restaurant has certainly maintained its promise to feed the diverse crowds during festival.

Although Grahamstown has a dearth of restaurants, the Long Table Restaurant, now in its 15th year, is a well recognised provider of food and art during the festival. “It’s more of a creative venture whereby artists make gatherings and the ‘undiscovered’ can meet their aspired mentors,” says owner, Michele Kloppers. Fixed in a quiet town alley on New Street, one can find the Long Table by just following the sweet smell of Moroccan Chicken Tagine.

Unlike the ‘eat and go’ restaurants, The Long Table combines both art and food good enough to make one feel close to home, with art pieces by locals masking the tall walls of the old hall area. The restaurant only comes around once a year during Festival and has become an unchallenged. “I’ve been coming here for so long, although the prices have gone higher, none of us can stay away,” says Haidee Crowe, an actress from Cape Town. Kloppers also emphasises equality among the crowds, “everyone sits together. There is no diversity between actors and normal festival goers”.

Although the town is awake with festival goers, Grahamstown does not leave much room for competition amongst restaurants. “Grahamstown is hungry for more restaurants and we don’t mind feeding the masses”, says Kloppers. Travis Masters, manager of Red Café, sings the same tune, saying that their loyal festival customers still come to the café and nothing changes in terms of income although the different festival customers inspire menu changes. “We add soup and serve bottled wine and we close the restaurant later,” Masters adds.

Street vendors at the village Green Fair also participate. “The town is really small and hosts too many people so all of us get a good profit”, explains BJ Odendaal, a first time ‘street food vendor’ from Pretoria. The off-on-and-on-again relocation of the Village Green Fair to the Rhodes Great Fields has slightly affected business for some of the vendors. Al Else has been a food vendor at the festival for the past 13 years and thinks “now it’s harder for many people to walk this far for the food but it’s just a small change”.

A string of young festival visitors has also found their spot in night-clubs and although food does not really feature here, hosting famous DJs and celebrities has boosted income.

Cindy Radebe, who tend a bar waitress at a local night-club says that students from all over the country never miss a night out after watching a good show.

But it’s The Long Table Restaurant that attracts even young people in search of a quiet space to eat.

Ngwenya and Helesi are Journalism students at Rhodes and Fort Hare respectively. They’re currently participating in the Future Journalist Programme (FJP) Winter School at Rhodes University.

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