First-ever conference for people of colour in food

SAPOC At The Table, the first gathering of people of colour in the food and beverage industry, took place on 13 February 2019 in Cape Town. Cooks, chefs, sommeliers, stylists, activists, entrepreneurs, producers, media and allies all gathered together for an empowering day filled with panels, open discussion, inspirational stories and much more.

Legends - Dorah Sithole, Mogau Seshoene, Cass Abrahams and Zanele van Zyl

Food icons Dorah Sithole, Mogau Seshoene, Cass Abrahams and Zanele van Zyl. Photo by Linda Scarborough

Hosted by Ishay Govender-Ypma and Zayaan Khan at Soute, the Food Jams space in Salt River, the SA POC at the Table Conference was an all-day experience that included a bountiful breakfast sourced from guests and lunch made with ingredients donated by Upper Bloem’s chef Andre Hill. The day seemed to fly by, with each topic more interesting than the last.


The day kicked off with a welcome by food legend Dorah Sithole, who described where South Africa’s food journey begun, how far it has come and how much further there is to go. Panels that followed included discussions on the importance of focusing on the land and South Africa’s own produce (the ‘indigenous’ label is problematic for some); what success looks like in the food industry; the importance of intersectionality; and the marginalisation of black cookbook authors.

Speakers included chef Coco Reinarhz of Épicure, Yang Zhao of Beijing Pantry and Karen Dudley of The Kitchen. Inspirational stories were also shared by the venerable Cass Abrahams, The Commissary’s Katlego Mlambo and The Test Kitchen’s Tinashe Nyamudoka (winner of the 2016 Eat Out Wine Service Award). Writer Toni Stuart memorialised the historic occasion by using words from throughout the conference to write a poem that she read at the end of the day.

We loved listening to the stories that were shared by incredibly influential people who created a space for themselves in the industry. Their strength, talent and tenacity forged a path for others and created opportunities where before there were none. We also loved hearing from farmers and other producers, who provided a glimpse into the realities of sustainable sourcing, the needs of the land, and the effect of Apartheid on the produce currently widely available in South Africa.

Hearing about the obstructions these individuals faced and face in the industry was eye-opening, with challenges including the huge cost of fees for cooking schools, the lack of education about and pride in South African cuisine, and ignorance from publishing companies.

“The purpose of the SAPOC At The Table conference and movement,” says founder Ishay Govender-Ypma, “is to strengthen the network of our community of chefs, cooks, and people in beverage and related creative industries so that we can create opportunities for collaboration, exchange of culture and ideas, and of mentorship.” The conference is just the start. “We are focused on inclusivity and accessibility, so we are looking forward to continue gatherings of our community across South Africa, and hosting a national event, partnering with the right people who believe in the initiative.

“SAPOC At The Table is not about exclusion at all, it’s about strengthening community in the same vein as the Abantu Book Festival to create a safe and healing space that has never existed before, where we can work through similarities of experience, issues and challenges,” she concludes.

Watch this space for more stories on the speakers and topics sparked by the conference.

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