‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa’ – who is he, are SA viewers being misled, Woolworths pushing its Australian investments ?

Hayden Quinn Title page sunflowersThe question on the lips of many South African viewers of ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa’ is: why Hayden Quinn?  Why choose a MasterChef Australia top 3 finalist (no, not winner) of 2011 (no, not even 2013) to promote the beauty of South Africa and its abundance of sustainable foods amongst South Africans? We did some research, and found that South African viewers are being misled about the TV show host, and that Woolworths appears to have a hidden agenda in pushing its Australian investments!

I started with the Cardova Group, the production company of ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa‘, and of the ‘Expresso Morning Show’ and ‘Top Travel‘ too, all flighted on SABC3.  A random e-mail landed in my Inbox from LinkedIn, asking me to congratulate Mark Bland as newly appointed Producer of ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa’, just as the series kicked off and my interest in it was piqued.   I got Mark’s cellphone number via LinkedIn, and asked him for more information about the food series.  He was extremely hesitant in talking to me, even though we have known each other for  a good two to three years.  He is a regular reader of my blog, and has commented on it on occasion.  I was taken aback about his hesitancy to meet, to talk about the new show, stating that he had just been promoted, and did not want to jeopardise his new appointment in case I wrote something that could land him in trouble. As a regular reader he would have known that I can only write what I have been told.  As the producer of the show, one would have thought that he would have wanted information about the series to be shared, or expected that he would have referred me to a PR person within his company, or at Woolworths, SABC3, and/or Nedbank, the major sponsors of the series.  The best he could send me was this bland (pardon the pun) media release:

Hayden Quinn South Africa is an exciting new show starting Monday 14th July at 21:30 on SABC3. Surfer, marine biologist, WWF-SASSI ambassador and celebrity foodie Hayden Quinn, of Australian Master Chef fame, is coming to South Africa to taste the best of what the country has to offer. This handsome Aussie will be travelling coast to coast across South Africa in this thirteen part series stopping to discover local flavours, participate in thrilling action adventures and follow the journey of food from farm to fork. Hayden’s unique and perpetually optimistic outlook will give South Africans an outsider’s perspective on our beautiful and diverse country.  As a WWF-SASSI Ambassador Hayden will visit the top food producers and conservation initiatives around the country – with a special focus on sustainability, environmental awareness and animal welfare. He finds that not only are responsibly farmed flora and fauna full of flavour but also healthier for both us and the planet. Hayden travels around the country finding adventure, and learning about unique local dishes at each destination. Every episode holds a thrilling escapade to sate Hayden’s thirst for discovery and excitement. From surfing the cold waters of the Western Cape to ziplining through the Tsitsikamma tree tops to walking with rhinos in Zululand (sic) – Hayden does it all.   Eating and cooking are holistic sensual experiences that involve all the senses, there is probably no better way to experience a new culture than by tasting their food. Local cooks, chefs and foodies teach Hayden how to cook and prepare a myriad of local-is-lekker dishes and acquaint him with the melting pot of the South African palette (sic). Hayden prepares a SASSI Green-listed yellowtail sashimi dish atop Table Mountain, he cooks a pojtjie amidst a desert thunderstorm; he shows us how to shuck and gulp Knysna oysters and for dessert, Hayden creates a no-churn ice cream in the fair fields of the KZN midlands (sic). These are but a few of Hayden’s culinary capers along his journey across the country, just a taste of what’s to come. For the full course, tune in to SABC 3 at 21:30 every Monday evening starting from the 14th of July 2014!’

The release did not reveal much, but it is worth noting that:

*  The ‘WWF-SASSI ambassadorship‘ sounds impressive, but begs the question as to why the sustainability body uses an Australian as its spokesperson, when 12 local chefs hold such an honour, declaring that they will be responsible in their use of sustainable-only fish species which are green-rated on the sustainability schedule. Not every episode is fish-related (only episode 3 set in Paternoster has been very fishy).  SASSI does not set standards for ‘animal welfare’, as implied in the release, nor does it have anything to do with ‘flora and fauna‘!  Quinn has prepared two fish dishes to date, a salad in episode 1 and a mussel pot in episode 3.

*   Claims of Quinn being a ‘celebrity foodie’ are incorrect, not known locally, and not even having made a big splash in this regard in Australia!  The recipes on his website are extremely basic, ‘bloke’ type cooking at best! The fact that he is a ‘surfer’ and a supposed ‘marine biologist’ do not add to his credibility, and are not food related at all.  He may have studied Marine Biology, but is not currently a marine biologist, nor has he previously worked as one!  The closest he has come to the sea is as a professional lifeguard, his website reveals!  Quinn admits to not being a chef, calling himself a ‘cooker’ instead!

*   The claim that each episode ‘holds a thrilling escapade‘  is false – Quinn was too scared to abseil down Table Mountain in episode 1; there was no adventure event in episode 2 in Stellenbosch, unless the zorbing inside a gigantic plastic ball at De Morgenzon with Fritz Schoon was meant to count as such!; and in episode 3, Quinn went kayaking with Chef Kobus van der Merwe in the bay at Paternoster, which one may define as adventurous, but ‘thrilling‘ none of these have been!

*   ‘Culinary capers‘ is an exaggeration too, with two salads prepared by Quinn in episodes 1 and 2, and a mussel pot over the fire in episode 3!

Once I had posted the blogpost about episode 2, being Quinn’s visit to Stellenbosch, which he incorrectly referred to as being behind the ‘Boerewors Curtain‘, we received a rather nasty comment from Jessie Scheepers, who clearly did not like the blogpost, and attacked me and my career choice.  She did not declare that she was part of the series’ production team, which a Google search quickly revealed, with a number of photographs of Jessie and Quinn.  I happened to speak to Bland on the same day, and it was clear that my blogpost about the episode as well as Jessie’s blog comment had caused quite a stir.  Surprisingly, given that we know each other and that Jessie is a member of his team, Bland did not apologise for Jessie’s unprofessional behaviour and defamatory insults. It was impossible to receive any further information from Bland, and he did not reply to my last e-mail regarding the show, and the ‘why Hayden Quinn’ question!

 An article in The New Age of 30 July provided the following insights:

*  Quinn fell out in a ‘shocking elimination’ as top 3 Finalist  in the 2011 (yes, three years ago!) MasterChef Australia series – an Australian article on Quinn’s website from 2011 states that Quinn almost fell out in the first episode already, due to his poor chicken jointing skills!

*   Quinn is only 24 years old (but articles on his website claim him to be 25 and even 26 years old!)

*   he traveled 10000 km in seven weeks to shoot the series

*   he is described as ‘the ambassador for World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)‘ – they do not add SASSI to this .

*   they refer to him as being a ‘qualified marine biologist’, a more honest description – it is evident that he has never worked in the field, and his only employment appears to have been that as ‘professional lifeguard’, hardly requiring a degree!

*   It claims that ‘every episode captivates the viewer‘, but episode 2 in Stellenbosch received criticism for being very boring, being one long advertorial for Woolworths!

*   Quinn describes the series as follows: ‘Firstly, it’s different because it’s not just about food but adventure, conservation and sustainability. Through the different partners we have on board, we also speak about where the food comes from. I believe it’s important for viewers to know how the food they eat is produced and their impact on the environment so they can make informed choices’.

Given the poor response from the ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa’ production company, I decided to contact Woolworths directly, but this was a difficult task, no one in their Sustainabity nor Marketing departments being available to answer my questions.  Very friendly and bubbly Babbs from the Press Office at Woolworths appeared to be the only staff member on duty at its head office on a Friday afternoon, and promised to find some answers.  She sent me an e-mail with answers from Justin Smith, Head of Sustainability at Woolworths, whom I had met two years ago when Sustainability was a theme on MasterChef SA Season 1. 

This was Babbs’ e-mail, with my questions and Justin’s answers (strange for a corporate media department, she did not add her name, surname, nor designation in any of the e-mails):

‘Hi

Sorry. Here you go.;)!

Justin Smith, Head of Sustainability at Woolworths.

 “Q: Why choose Hayden Quinn? He is not famous in SA?

A:  We selected Hayden Quinn for a number of reasons, including:

  • He has lent his media profile to the cause of sustainable ecology, in part, through his affiliation with WWF, who have selected him as a Sustainable Seafood ambassador.
  • Although perhaps better known to some as a contestant on Masterchef Australia, he is also an adventurer and marine biologist with a passion for cooking.

We hope that the show will highlight some of our country’s unique (and beautiful) locations, and sustainability issues.

It is worth noting that Woolworths has significant business investments in Australia through the Country Road group, and the current acquisition of David Jones. We are also promoting linkages between the two countries. 

Q: How much did he cost?

A: We did not pay for him. That was an agreement between himself and the production company.

Q: Why is wine not featured?
A: Wine is featured in the ‘Franschoek’ (sic) episode of the show.”

Fascinating in this reply from Woolworths is:

*   The PR role Quinn is to play regarding the retailer’s recent acquisition of David Jones in Australia, and its ‘controlling interest in Country Road, Australia’s leading luxury brand and its sister brand, Trenery’, too.  However, none of this makes sense, given that Country Road is a clothing retailer, while David Jones is a department store better known for clothing, but carrying some food and wine items, at a ‘Harrods’ level, it would seem, so far removed from promoting South Africa and its sustainable food items.  No wines have been featured to date, but that will change in tonight’s episode 4, linking to wine for the first time, despite Woolworths being a substantial retailer of wine.

*   Quinn has no prior role in promoting ‘the cause of sustainable ecology‘ nor does he do so on his own website or in his ‘Unrefined’ YouTube videos.

*   Other than being a surfer, there is no evidence that Quinn is an ‘adventurer‘ (see the abseiling note above), nor a ‘marine biologist’ (as per above).  None of this has anything to do with food or cooking, as we have observed!  Why would Woolworths sprout forth such nonsense information about Quinn – were they misled by the producers?

*   Sustainability is certainly coming to the fore in the three episodes to date, as is the beauty of our country, the first episode on Cape Town making us feel particularly proudly-Cape Town.

*  The production company has ignored our e-mail about the cost of using Quinn.

I read Quinn’s Australian website, and was interested to note that:

*  there is NO mention of ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa‘, other than some (local) media interviews for the show, nor is his ‘ambassadorship‘ for WWF-SASSI mentioned!  In other interviews he has conducted with Australian media this year, he does not mention South Africa as a favourite country in which to travel, having just been to our country!

*   he is filming YouTube videos for  ‘A Food Adventure Series‘ he calls ‘Unrefined’, with very basic material, e.g. catch fish off a boat with a line and bait, and braai on the beach with his mates!  It comes across as a poor man’s ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa‘ without the sustainability angle!

*   he has published a recipe book ‘Dish it Up’

*   Hayden Quinn Bonds underwearhe is a Bonds ambassador for their underwear trunks!

*   he was the 2012 CLEO Bachelor of the Year

*  he does not refer to himself as a marine biologist at all, but in every interview he mentions his degree!

After evaluating these sources of information, we are none the wiser as to why unknown Hayden Quinn was chosen to be the spokesperson for Woolworths’ Sustainability program in our country, and why a dynamic local chef such as David Higgs, Margot Janse, or Jackie Cameron was not used to communicate this message more credibly instead.  In fact, the SASSI Seafood Circle, with sponsorship by Woolworths’ competitor Pick ‘n Pay, was founded last year, with 12 ‘trailblazer’ chefs appointed to help SASSI Seafood Circlespread the Sustainability message: Chefs Brad Ball from Bistro Sixteen82, Vanesa Marx from Dear Me, Jackie Cameron, who has just left Hartford House, Henry Vigar of La Mouette, Tanja Kruger of Makaron, Bjorn Guido of The Millhouse at Lourensford, Rudi Liebenberg of The Planet at the Mount Nelson Hotel, Kevin Joseph from The Oyster Box, Chris Erasmus, now at Foliage but then at Pierneef à  La Motte, Bertus Basson of Overture, Marthinus Ferreira from DW 11-13, and Stefan Marais from Societi Bistro.

One also wonders why Woolworths did not use its sponsorship of MasterChef SA to punt the Sustainability message as it did in Season 1, its  first episode of Season 3 hitting the pan on 21 August.  We suspect that the concept was presented to Woolworths by the production company, as an Advertising Funded Programme, which means that Woolworths, Nedbank, and with it SafariNow, Mercedes-Benz, and Centrum parted with money to receive extensive coverage in the series!  One suspects that Woolworths encouraged SASSI to appoint Quinn as its ‘ambassador’, given that SASSI is not a sponsor of the programme.

In episode 4 Quinn visits Franschhoek this evening, and it will be interesting to hear how he pronounces the name of the village! The New Age reveals that Quinn will visit at least one wine farm, and will travel on the Franschhoek Wine Tram.

Hayden Quinn is an Australian surfer and former professional lifeguard, ‘WWF-SASSI ambassador’, a ‘cooker’ and by his own admission not a chef, and a 2011 MasterChef Australia top 3 Finalist.   Episode 1 of ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa’ focused on Cape Town, and made Capetonians proud of their city!   Episode 2 was very disappointing and boring, focusing on Stellenbosch!  Episode 3 was beautifully filmed in Paternoster, and was back on track.

POSTSCRIPT 4/8:  Chef and MasterChef SA judge Pete Goffe-Wood was appointed a SASSI Champion Chef in 2011.  One wonders why his role has been taken over by Hayden Quinn!  Quinn’s appointment will only have been for the TV series, as he is not doing any other promotion for SASSI, and does not state this ‘ambassadorship‘ on his own website!

POSTSCRIPT 4/8: A promo for episode 4 tonight, based in Franschhoek, shows Hayden Quinn stay at the Le Franschhoek Hotel, ride on the Franschhoek Wine Tram, milking a goat, meeting and eating with former Pierneef à La Motte Chef  and now owner of Foliage Chris Erasmus, and making a risotto.

Hayden Quinn: South Africa, SABC3, Mondays 21h30 – 22h00.  www.haydenquinn.com.au  Twitter: @Hayden_Quinn @HaydenQuinnSA

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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