Earlier this year I was shocked to see that the La Motte Culinary Director (and wife of its red wine maker Edmund Terblanche) as well as Kokkedoor judge Hetta van Deventer had reviewed De Warenmarkt for Eat Out. Now it appears from the new Eat Out 2016 magazine that she reviewed a number of Franschhoek and other Boland restaurants (many on wine farms too) that are in direct competition with Pierneef à la Motte restaurant!
At the time that I saw the De Warenmarkt review by Van Deventer I Tweeted about it, but there was no response from Eat Out. I wrote it off as a once-off story, but on having paged through the new Eat Out magazine I was shocked to see that Van Deventer is one of 40 reviewers listed in the magazine. It smacks of conflict of interest, because Van Deventer is in charge of the La Motte and Leopard’s Leap restaurants, including replying to all Tripadvisor reviews, menus, cutlery, crockery, staffing, etc for both restaurants.
Pierneef à La Motte has won Eat Out Top 10 once, when Chef Chris Erasmus headed up the restaurant. Chef Michelle Theron has taken over, and did not manage to take the restaurant to the Top 20 Eat Out Restaurant shortlist (Rossouw’s Restaurants did not rate it either). There were so many problems with the restaurant when I ate there over the Bastille Festival that I wrote a hard-hitting review as an early warning to the owners, knowing in my heart of hearts that the restaurant would not make the Eat Out Top 20 shortlist. I even attended a meeting with the La Motte management team, to point out all the problems to them, if they had not read them in my review. Van Deventer’s response was that I did not have to eat at their restaurants! My first question to Eat Out is how they can appoint Van Deventer as a reviewer if she is not able to get the Pierneef à La Motte restaurant into winning shape!
Even more shocking was to discover that Van Deventer reviewed Eat Out Top 20 finalist The Kitchen at Maison, located less than a kilometer from La Motte, and therefore the most direct competitor to the La Motte restaurant! But even worse, Van Deventer also reviewed The Restaurant at Grande Provence (a previous Top 10 winner/Top 20 Finalist) as well as Haute Cabrière, both restaurants being competitors for finer dining in Franschhoek!
Other restaurants reviewed by Van Deventer are Bosman’s at Grande Roché (fine-dining restaurant, and past Top 10 restaurant), Terra Mare in Paarl (ranked in the Top 10 restaurants in Africa by TripAdvisor users!), Fyndraai Restaurant at Solms-Delta in Franschhoek, Le Bon Vivant in Franschhoek, Babel at Baylonstoren outside Franschhoek, Cuvée Restaurant at Simonsig in Stellenbosch, Delaire Graff Restaurant in Stellenbosch (which surprisingly did not make the Eat Out Top 20 Restaurant shortlist), Genki Sushi and Japanese Tapas Bar in Stellenbosch, Helena’s Restaurant in Stellenbosch (over-written and glowing in praise, contrary to what we experienced three weeks ago!), The Hussar Grill in Stellenbosch, Oppie Dorp Restaurant & Wine Bar in Stellenbosch, The Restaurant at Clos Malverne in Stellenbosch, Towerbosch Earth Kitchen in Stellenbosch, and Stables at Vergelegen in Somerset West.
Having spoken to some of the Eat Out reviewers, I have understood that they can flag which restaurants are eligible for a Top 20 Finalist status, which is then tested by Eat Out Editor Abigail Donnelly. This is where the conflict of interest really manifests, in that so many Franschhoek and Stellenbosch restaurants evaluated by Van Deventer did not make the Top 20 list, as it would have been a competitive threat to Pierneef à La Motte! Terroir Chef Michael Broughton’s wife Jane used to be an Eat Out reviewer too, and left the panel when this was criticized for the same reason of conflict of interest! The honorable thing for Van Deventer to do is to resign from the Eat Out review panel! Eat Out cannot afford to have any fingers pointed at it for such a serious problem!
POSTSCRIPT 23/11: We wrote to Aileen Lamb, General Manager of the Consumer Division of New Media Publishing, about the conflict of interest in La Motte’s Hetta van Deventer reviewing other restaurants in Franschhoek and Boland for Eat Out. This was her very curt reply: ‘Eat Out is satisfied that there is no conflict of interest regards your request for response below’.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here