Yesterday I was invited to attend the judging of the Cape Finals of Season 3 of Ultimate Braai Master held in the parking area of The Lookout at the V&A Waterfront. Not only was it a good way to catch up with a number of chefs who judged the Cape Finals, but it was also an opportunity to meet Cooked in Africa Films producer Justin Bonello.
Justin chatted to blogger Thuli Gogela of Mzansi Style Cuisine Blog (she appeared in the Bloggers episode of season 2 of MasterChef SA) and I as the judging came to an end at the Finals. One sensed his overriding passion for food, which has grown into TV production, with 21 productions to date, including two previous Ultimate Braai Master seasons, two seasons of Charly’s Cake Angels, as well as ‘Seasons at Terroir‘, which was launched last week and focuses on Chef Michael Broughton, and his restaurant Terroir at Kleine Zalze. Justin denied that Terroir not making the Top 20 Eat Out restaurant list last November was a blow to their production, saying that Chef Michael’s food is beyond Top 10 competitions, clearly a fan of the chef’s food. He is fascinated by the revolution of growing one’s own vegetables and herbs, and proudly showed me a photograph of his vegetable garden at home, out Hout Bay way, which will become the subject of a TV series ‘Green Time’ at the end of 2015, with seven pilot projects of vegetable gardening at schools being developed. At the end of this year ‘Karoo‘, his latest project focusing on the future of farmers, will be released. ‘Global Wheeling‘, about carbon-free emissions, is also on the menu. Justin started off by saying that he is a passionate traveller, but that with two very young children he now spends more time at home.
Ultimate Braai Master fills Justin’s need for travel, covering interesting and often unknown parts of our country over a two month period. He shared that they are starting Season 3 in Cape Town, then heading for the West Coast, and thereafter Namibia. The rest of the route is a surprise. There will be a large amount of camping, suitably matching braaing, on the road, nine out of 13 legs requiring camping. Justin and Thuli talked about camping, and how alien it is the culture of many locals, yet how good it is to build family and other relationships. The camping element is so strong in Season 3, that it is entitled ‘Time of Tough’. He also shared how two Season 2 teams, chalk and cheese in terms of their backgrounds, bonded so strongly via the camping that they have become bosom friends. Thuli asked Justin if there would be more indigenous dishes in Season 3, as she had not seen much evidence of these yesterday, to which Justin replied that Cape Town is still a ‘bit colonial’! However, in the auditions in Johannesburg and Durban there had been a greater presence of indigenous dishes. He talked about the importance of handing down family recipes and cooking traditions, from grandmothers to her children and grandchildren. Peter Gird is the Executive Producer of The Ultimate Braai Master, and sat at our table briefly, sharing that he has been a TV producer for 32 years.
For the Finals a large number of judges evaluated the 47 braai teams, some with interesting names such as Happy Warthogs, Kaiser Chefs from Somerset West (not very communicative, despite my best German!), Ama Chop Chop, Team Tenacity, Spirit of Africa, Bad Dogs, Beach Combers, HuisKombuis, and Team Bull Shark. Teams of three judges had to evaluate the food of five to ten teams, sitting down to eat at the table which was specially laid for them, some teams taking trouble to decorate the table to a theme linking to their team name. Some teams wore co-ordinated clothing, to create a team spirit. All teams had to bring all their own braai equipment, tables and chairs, and all food and eating utensils. The judges were asked to not only evaluate the food, but to also consider the circumstances of the team members, in their affordability of participation in the Finals. Each set of judges had to rate the team on a score out of 5, which was shared in a communal judging feedback at the end, from which 16 teams of Cape finalists were selected to participate in a further test of their general cooking skills today, the details of which are as yet unknown to the finalists (see Postscript). I asked a Top 20 Eat Out restaurant finalist chef judge what he thought of what he saw and tasted, and he was not complimentary about what he experienced, finding it below expectation.
Chefs and foodies who were part of the Cape Final judging team included Henry Vigar of La Mouette, Karen Dudley of The Kitchen, Jason Lilley of Jason’s; rude and dishonest Giorgio Nava of Carne/Mozzarella Bar/95 Keerom/Caffe Milano; Michael copy-and-paste Olivier, oddly wearing a Silwood chef’s jacket (even though he does not work for them and has not owned a restaurant for more than 25 years) and his Klein Constantia branded hat!; blogger Anel Grobler of Wine Times; blogger Anel Potgieter of Life is a Zoo Biscuit (photograph left); Michael Broughton of Terroir; Greg Czarnecki of Waterkloof Restaurant; Tracy of Massimo’s; Nick of El Burro; Franco of Magica Roma; blogger Sam Linsell of Drizzle and Dip; blogger Tami Magnin of RumTumTiggs; and Stefan Marais of Societi Bistro. A number of contestants of Season 1 and Season 2 were appointed as roving judges as well.
The Ultimate Braai Master Cape Finals was a lovely day of bumping into restaurant connections. Rudi Liebenberg of Planet at the Mount Nelson hotel was there to meet up for a surprise function after the judging. He will be holidaying in Mauritius this year. Chef Bertus Basson of Overture is an Ultimate Braai Master judge, and attended yesterday despite not having a formal judging role at all. Getting married next Saturday, he was on a total high, proudly sharing that he has slimmed down his beard and changed his hairstyle for the big day. He says that business has been excellent this summer, and that restaurants he speaks to are saying the same. Filming for The Ultimate Braai Master Season 3 will take place in May and June, and he shared that he comes back even more proudly South African after each road trip, which he is building into his Overture menu. Mari Vigar was there to support her judging husband Henry, and we had a long chat about business, the Checkers building across the road, and the baby chefette arriving in July. The Social Media Manager for Robertsons, a new sponsor of the Ultimate Braai Master I was told, with a very low key presence at the event, told me about the SkyDine events, in which Robertsons and kulula.com partnered earlier this month to demonstrate that Robertsons Herbs and Spices add a ‘tasty twist’ to dishes, which were designed for the promotion (but not cooked) by Reuben Robertsons Riffel!
The co-ordination and organisation of The Ultimate Braai Master is a tremendous challenge, with 15 teams (i.e. 30 competitors) and 70 crew having to be transported and accommodated over two months, in areas that are usually remote from Pick ‘n Pays, for fresh supplies. It is clear that Justin and his team have very good experience in the production of these TV shows, and that there probably is little to phase them. I asked Justin what else is in the pipeline, but he is focusing on ‘Karoo’ and ‘Green Time’ until the end of next year. He looks for concepts to create series about, having to keep his staff employed, he said.
POSTSCRIPT 30/3: The top 16 teams selected after yesterday’s braai-out will be narrowed down to 3 teams at Capsicum Cooking today, where their food knowledge and food skills will be put to the test.
The Ultimate Braai Master Season 3, ‘Time of Tough’. www.ultimatebraaimaster.co.za Twitter:@UltimateBraai
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage