Dinner with the President
By David Barringer
A bicontinental design studio aims for the gut.
Let’s start with food. Food is family. Food is tradition. Food introduces you to people and cultures and cities. Food brings people together, even across continents.
Hannerie Visser and Peet Pienaar both grew up on farms in South Africa. Their mothers were both home-economics teachers. “The other day, I found a great recipe for milk tarts that my great-grandmother wrote on the back of an envelope,” Visser says. “For me, cooking is about family and tradition. I’m not into fine dining and fancy eating places.”
“Food is just the best reason to spend time with people, ever,” Pienaar says, “and what an amazing way to show people you love them or appreciate them.”
The two met in 2004, when Visser worked for a magazine publisher and Pienaar ran a design firm, Daddy Buy Me a Pony. They worked together on magazines after that and joined creative forces in 2008, starting the President. “We wanted a name that would be symbolic of Africa, and presidents in Africa are extremely iconic,” says Visser. “We also wanted a logo you’ll never forget. We’re often called ‘the people with the knife-and-cut-off-finger logo.’ ”
Visser works in Cape Town, and Pienaar, since 2011, has worked in Buenos Aires. Visser takes care of business, while Pienaar, with his art background, does the design, but their roles are fluid. They work on everything together. They have no rules except to be honest. Drawing on freelance staff as needed, they are a tiny global creative agency working long-distance (via e-mail and airplanes) on little magazines and large conferences, and often the subject is food.
In 2011, they launched the magazine Menu, aimed at foodies in both South Africa and Argentina. Twice a year, Visser and Pienaar host the Toffie Pop Culture Conference and Festival, in Cape Town. This month, Toffie is collaborating with Spier Wine Farm, near Stellenbosch, South Africa, on a two-day food festival called Secret. It will feature British designers who experiment with food, Italian designers who specialize in food events, a South African biodynamic farmer, Spanish food artists, and more.
“I always knew that somehow I would make a living organizing events or through food-related things,” Visser says. “When I was young, I had a business selling cakes to the farm community. I would take orders during the week, bake the cakes on Thursday nights, and deliver them on Fridays, when people got paid.”