FOODIES from all over South Africa flocked to the flood-ravaged Eastern Cape to eat, drink and be merry with six of the country's top chefs at the Bathurst Country Affair.
Thousands of people who made all sorts of plans to get to Bathurst were not disappointed by the warm weather – and even warmer welcome from the villagers, who had spent days painting and cleaning away the flood damage in preparation for the mother of all parties.
The normally quiet village was transformed into a hive of activity as people slurped their way through vats of wine, organic absinthe, chilli vodka and other alcoholic concoctions – between mouthfuls of samp and beans, and salmon specially shipped in on ice by couriers who spent hours dodging flood detours just to get there.
Tucking into a traditional African spread of lingila (chicken giblets), chakalaka and buttermilk dumplings, larger-than- life radio personality Jeremy Mansfield – who helped move mountains to make the gastronomic getaway a reality – said he could see the event turning into the biggest culinary festival in the country.
"This is fantastic," the Grahamstown-born star said. "Never before in my life have I had merlot with my umngqusho [samp and beans]."
Using his Xhosa grandmother's ancient recipes, celebrity chef Peter Mabizela turned simple fire-cooked African food into such a treat for the tastebuds that grizzled farmers, city slickers and ageing hippies were asking for more tasty chicken bits they normally fed to the dogs.
Giselle Joubert of WineZani said the hundreds of extra kilometres they had had to travel to get three trucks past washed- away roads to Bathurst, had more than paid off as hundreds of people tasted their products.
"We sold more than a thousand bottles. The saying 'there is no thirst like Bathurst' really is true."
While thousands partied, six budding chefs shortlisted from dozens of entries sweated it out in the kitchens with the experts in the hope of winning a three- year, R320000 hospitality bursary at Port Alfred's world-renowned Stenden University.
After much deliberation by the celebrity chefs and hospitality experts over who had the special "X" factor, Free State- born Angelique Kossopalov, 19, was named the winner.