Entries tagged with “Graham Howe”.


Burrata 'Pick me Up'  dessert Whale CottageLast year New Media Publishing changed its annual Eat Out magazine, having featured 1100 restaurants in earlier years.  Last year the Eat Out Top 500 restaurant guide was based on applications sent by restaurants themselves, and the top 500 selected by 50 food and restaurant writers and lovers.  This year the Eat Out 500 top restaurants could be nominated by anyone, mainly the public, and chosen and reviewed by a panel of 30, mainly food writers.

Earlier this week Eat Out announced the Top 20 Restaurant shortlist, which will guarantee those restaurants a space in the 2015 Eat Out Top 500 Restaurant Guide.

The selection and evaluation of the Eat Out Top 500 is sketchy: ‘...a list of candidates was selected (how, on which criteria?), rated (on which scale, on which criteria?), and reviewed by the panel‘ (the criteria for reviewing are mentioned as food – defined as menu composition, seasonality, and presentation – and ambiance, service, and wine/beverage selection).  Surely they mean that a particular member of the panel reviewed a particular restaurant?  The end result is described by Eat Out (twice in its media release) as a ‘power list of great restaurants‘! Someone alerted me to the hard sell to new restaurants by Eat Out to be listed on (more…)

Burrata Pick me Up dessert Whale Cottage PortfolioOne of the changes New Media Publishing has introduced for Eat Out‘s 2014 edition is that its printed Restaurant Guide will only list 500 restaurants, as opposed to 1100 last year.  The method of selecting the included restaurants has changed too.

The process commenced with Eat Out announcing that it was looking for applications from restaurants to be included in the 2014 Eat Out Guide, such applications closing on 30 June.  It described the application process as follows: ‘This call to action turns up the heat and shifts the onus onto the restaurant to put themselves forward in a simple process‘.  The restaurants that wanted to be considered for inclusion had to complete a (more…)

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   The Australian wine industry has recognised the role of wine and food tourism in selling wine – it’s not just about the wine anymore, reports Graham Howe after a trip to that country, attending the Australia Tourism Exchange 2013.

*   Amstel launches its ‘The Chef” TV commercial on Thursday, shot almost entirely at The Mount Nelson, in Chef Rudi Liebenberg’s kitchen, reports BizCommunity.com

*   Populence, American producers of popcorn, has created a Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir inspired popcorn range for Kim Crawford wine estate in New Zealand.  It does not contain wine, but is flavoured to pair with the wines.

*   The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has recorded a close to 6% increase in international air travel between May 2012 and May 2013, the airlines from the Middle East and from Africa showing more than double that growth rate in the twelve months!

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

Last year Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly introduced a new series of complementary awards to the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards, having been the sole judge of both sets of awards.  This year Mrs Donnelly made the fatal error of choosing UK Blogger Bruce Palling to give her credibility for her choice of Top 20 restaurants, out of which the Top 10 Restaurant list will be announced tomorrow evening.  She also has named the ‘Best Of’ awards her ‘Editor’s Choice’ awards, making it clear that she is the sole judge of the awards, and that Palling had no input in these awards.  We have already seen irregularities on the Top 19 Restaurant shortlist, so it will be interesting to see which of Mrs Donnelly’s favourites and friends will be rewarded in the ‘Best Of’ categories.

What is interesting this year is that the finalist restaurants in the six ‘Best of’ categories have been pre-announced, unlike last year, when only the Boschendal Style Award finalists were announced.   There is one exception, being the Best Italian category, for which the finalists have not been announced. Could it mean that this category is once again reserved for Mrs Donnelly darling Chef Giorgio Nava of 95 Keerom Street, last year’s winner in this category?

Something else that is noticeable is the vast number of listings in each of the ‘Best Of’ categories, which makes one think that New Media Publishing is dreadfully short of money this year:

*   they did not have enough money to put their Eat Out 2012 judge Bruce Palling into a first class seat to attend the Awards event tomorrow evening, as per Palling’s Tweet and confirmed by New Media Publishing

*   advertisers were hounded to place advertisements in the new Eat Out magazine, and the rates tumbled the closer it got to the deadline date!

*   even worse, the 24 reviewers were not invited to the Gala Awards dinner until a week ago, having been invited to the dinner in all the past years.  They were fuming in having been left out, and many made other plans for tomorrow evening, and will therefore not be able to attend.  The Eat Out Review Team is interesting in itself, with long-standing Eat Out reviewers Graham Howe, Diane de Beer, Greg Landman, and Errieda du Toit, to which have been added bloggers (but not known as restaurant reviewers on their blogs) Dax Villaneuva, Tandy Sinclair, and Ishay Govender. The remaining 17 reviewers – Carla Rossouw, Charlotte Pregnolato, Colette du Plessis, Frank Chemaly, Hennie Fisher, Janine Walker, Kate Ziervogel, Lee Middleton, Lisa van Aswegen, Louise Liebenberg, Marie-Lais Emond, Nothando Moleketi, Paula Mackenzie, Pero Lotz, Priscilla Urquhart, Richard Holmes, and Sdu Gerasch – are unknown.

*   linked to the above is the vast number of ‘Best of‘ restaurants listed per category, e.g. 43 in the ‘Best Asian Restaurants’ category, 24 in the ‘Best Steakhouses’ category, 33 ‘The Best Country-Style Restaurants’, 15 ‘Boschendal Style Award’ nominations, and an astounding 52 nominations for ‘Best Bistro’, a total of 167 restaurant nominations minus some duplications!  If the restaurants were to send a representative or two in the hope of winning the category award, a large number of seats for the Gala Awards dinner will have been sold!

The Bistro category sounds more like a ‘Proudly South African’ cuisine listing, and contains some odd nominations such as Hemelhuijs, Babel, Bread & Wine, Fyndraai, Gaaitjie, Ile de Pain, and many more on the list of 52!  A Bistro is defined by Eat Out as offering fresh and seasonal produce, having a small kitchen, limited staff, being homely, with congenial hosts, ‘endless amounts of wine‘, ‘spectacular food’, and regular menu changes.  An obvious exclusion is Bistrot Bizerca from this category, but being a Top 19 finalist may have excluded them from this category.  Worthy winners would be Bistro Sixteen82, Dear Me, and The Foodbarn. The nominees are in Johannesburg (Bellagio, Coner Café and Bistro, Eatery JHB, The Leopard, Possums Deli and Bistro, Salvation Café, Tashas in Sandton, Hyde Park, Melrose, Arch, Morningside, Rosebank, Village View, Thomas Maxwell Bistro; in Pretoria (Carlton Café, Karoo Café, Silver Orange Bistro, Zest Bistro); in Durban (9th Avenue Bistro, Bellavue, Craft Trattoria, Marco Paulo, Café 1999, Unity Brasserie and Bar); in Cape Town (Bistro Sixteen82, Constantia Uitsig, Dear Me, The Foodbarn, Hemelhuijs, La Mouette, Societi Bistro, Societi Brasserie, Woodlands Eatery);  in (undefined) ‘South’ (96 Winery Road, Babel, Bar Bar Black Sheep,  Bread & Wine, The Burgundy Restaurant, Café Felix, The Common Room, Fyndraai, Gaaitjie, Hilda’s Kitchen at Grootte Post, Ile de Pain, The Kitchen at Maison, Pembrey’s, Reuben’s Franschhoek – not meeting any of the defined Bistro criteria – Scotty’s, Sofia’s at Morgenster, Stables at Vergelegen); in (undefined) ‘East’ (The Bistro, Gordon’s Restaurant, Haricot’s Deli & Bistro, Skye Bistro at Fordoun, Two Dogs Bistro); and in (undefined) ‘North and Central’ (Mrs Simpsons, O’s restaurant).

The Best Country-style Award nomination list includes the controversial winner of 2011, being The Table at De Meye, a regular past photographer colleague of Mrs Donnelly.  Surprise omissions are The Kitchen at Maison, The Long Table, Fyndraai, The Millhouse Kitchen at Lourensford, Tamboers Winkel, Creation, Sofia’s at Morgenster, Oep ve Eet in Paternoster, and Johan’s at Longridge.  A likely winner would be Mariana’s, a regular past winner of a similar award, and a regular contributor to Taste magazine, as well as Babel, the restaurant with the most nominations (on Top 19 list, as well as Style Award, and Best Bistro nominee). Defined as ‘homely, heart-warming and belly-filling kos’, food in the style of one’s grandmother. The nominees are located in Gauteng (Bellgables Country Restaurant, Die Ou Pastorie, Meadow Green, Roots at Forum Homini, The Other Side Restaurant, Monaghan Farm, The Rambling Vine); in the Western Cape (Babel, Bramon, The Country Kitchen at Mont Rochelle, Dassiesfontein on the N2 highway near Caledon, De Kaap in McGregor, Eight at Spier, Fynboshoek Cheese, Fresh, The Goatshed at Fairview, Havercroft’s, Hilda’s Kitchen, Houw Hoek Farm Stall, Karoux, Mariana’s, Mogg’s Country Cookhouse, The Stone Kitchen in Wellington, The Table at De Meye, Thyme at Rosemary’s Restaurant, Towerbosch, The Wild Apricot); and in KwaZulu-Natal (Café Bloom, Caversham Hill, Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, La Lampara, Nicolson’s Café, and Tumble Downs).

The omission of Belthazar from the Best Steakhouses category nomination list may relate to Eat Out ex-judge Bruce Palling‘s last South African dinner!  This category is typically won by a Johannesburg restaurant, the city being known for its collection of good steak restaurants. Nominees are in Johannesburg (Butcher Shop & Grill, Gray, The Grillhouse, HQ, Karoo Cattle and Land, The Local Grill, Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse, Thundergun, Turn & tender, Wombles); in Mpumalanga (Pioneers Butchery & Grill); in The Free State (The Phatt Chef); in the Eastern Cape (Flava); in Cape Town (Barristers, Carne SA, Cattle Baron – The Grill House, HQ, The Hussar Grill in Camps Bay, Karoo Cattle & Land); in Durban (The Grill Room at The Oyster Box, Havana Grill, Joop’s Place, Steak & Ale); and in Pretoria (Karoo Cattle & Land).

The Best Asian Restaurants list was an easy one to fill up, and contains last year’s winner Kitima, as well as popular Willoughby’s at the V&A Waterfront, potential Top 20 candidate Indochine, and Nobu (not eligible to make Top 20 list this year, due to a chef change).  The nominees are in Johannesburg (Al Makka, Dawaat Pakistan Restaurant, Ghazal North Indian REstaurant, The Good Luck Club, Koi, Kong Roast, Midori, The Red Chamber, Shanyana Vegetarian Restaurant,  Sitar, Yamato); in Pretoria (Guia, Shilla Korean Cuisine, Wing Hin); in Durban (China Plate, Gounden’s, House of Curries, Mo’s Noodles, Spice); in the Eastern Cape (Just So Chinese Restaurant, Shanghai); in Bloemfontein (Nagoya); on the Garden Route (Firefly Eating House); in the Winelands (Genki, Indochine at Delaire Graff, Okamai); and in Cape Town (1890 Sushi House, Biesmiellah, Bombay Brasserie, Bukhara, Chandani, Chef Pon’s Asian Kitchen, Erawan, Haiku, Kitima, Kyoto Sushi Garden, Maharajah, Maharaj Pure Vegetarian, Nobu, Saigon, South China Dim Sum Bar, Takumi, Willoughby & Co).

Pierneef à La Motte, Makaron Restaurant, Babel, The Greenhouse, Overture, Planet Restaurant, and The Tasting Room are nominated for a Top 10 and a Boschendal Style Award. Makaron Restaurant won last year, without Mrs Donnelly disclosing her consultancy relationship with the restaurant, and her accolade about the restaurant described the M Bar of Majeka House rather than Makaron!  Almost all the restaurants are more than a year old, with the exception of Burrata, a restaurant which Mrs Donnelly only got to eat at six months after it opened!  The nominees are Burrata, Keenwa (odd choice), The Restaurant at Waterkloof (consolation prize for losing out on Top 20 nomination?), Craft Trattoria in Durban, Babel at Babylonstoren, Café del Sol, The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français, The Greenhouse (lots of bunnies), The Walnut Grove in Sandton, The Red Chamber, Tasha’s Le Parc, The ‘Greenhouse’ (sic – actually called the Babel Tea House!) at Babylonstoren, Hemelhuijs (an Abi favourite), The Kitchen at Maison, Pierneef à La Motte, Overture (a consolation prize?), Planet Restaurant (a consolation prize?), LIFE Grand Café, and last year’s finalist Kream.  Obvious omissions in this category are Casparus, Delaire Graff, and Indochine.  There is no obvious winner, especially as so few of the restaurants are new, but Hemelhuijs would be a strong contender, changing its decor regularly.

We await the announcement of the ‘Best of‘ category winners on tomorrow evening with interest!  It is clear that Mrs Donnelly could not have visited or eaten at each of the 167 ‘Best of’ nominated and Top 20 Finalist restaurants in the course of one year!

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

Last night the country’s top restaurants and their chefs were crowned in the annual 2011 Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards, held at the Bay Hotel in Camps Bay.  Despite controversial changes to the running of the Awards, most attendees appeared happy with the results, which saw Cape Town regain its crown as the Gourmet Capital of South Africa with five Top 10 restaurants, after a dip last year.  Stellenbosch has three Top 10 restaurants, and Franschhoek and Johannesburg one each, giving the Cape nine out of the Top 10 restaurants.

Eat Out Editor Abigail Donnelly came under fire this year, for announcing herself as the sole judge of the 1000 restaurants in South Africa, letting go of her fellow judging panel of Pete Goffe-Wood, Arnold Tanzer, and Anna Trapido, and instead relying on the 70 000 Eat Outreviewers’ posting on the magazine’s website, with the risk of them being open for manipulation, and not necessarily ‘fine-diners’. In the Eat Out 2012 magazine we received last night, 19 ‘reviewers’ were listed, being ‘these people ate their way around the country on our behalf’.  The reviewers include bloggers Andy Fenner and Dax Villenueva, as well as food and/or wine writers such as Graham Howe, Greg Landman, Fiona McDonald, and Clifford and Maryke Roberts.

The Cape Times on Friday described Mrs Donnelly’s judging criteria of the ‘hidden gems and forgotten favourites’ restaurants (this description was not a reflection of the Top 10 list): that the chef had been at the restaurant since last November (an exception was made with the Azure chef, who fell a few weeks short of this criterion), the owners and chef must be passionate about their business (odd in that Mrs Donnelly did not chat to all chefs of the restaurants that she visited, booking under a false name often), must be dedicated to ‘upliftment of the industry’ (a new criterion), the chefs must care about the sourcing of their produce, and the restaurant must be consistent in everything it does.  Food counts for 70% of the evaluation, and is scored on menu composition, seasonality, presentation, taste, price and value, wine choice, and dishes eaten.  Within menu composition, Mrs Donnelly evaluates choice, cooking techniques, variety of ingredients, and dietary requirements.  For seasonality, the variety of ingredients is evaluated, as is use of ‘local ingredients’, choice of fish, use of imported products, and out of season produce. Food presentation is judged on visual appeal, reflection of menu description, garnishing, and plates used.  Taste of the dishes is evaluated on balance, texture and complementary flavours.  Additional criteria are food and wine pairing recommendations, service levels, linen, cutlery, the bathrooms, reservations and arrivals, and the billing.  Interesting is that Mrs Donnelly says that 2011 is the ‘year of the egg and the wild sorrel’.  She adds: “Many chefs have displayed a strong sense of nature through foraging in forests or veggie gardens, and pure South African storytelling has also been celebrated”.

In the past the Top restaurant was usually awarded the Awards for Service Excellence and Chef of the Year too, but this year this was awarded separately, making the top accolade shared across three restaurants:

Restaurant of the Year: The Greenhouse, with Chef Peter Tempelhoff

Chef of the Year:  Luke Dale-Roberts of The Test Kitchen

Service Excellence Award: The Roundhouse

The Top 10 Restaurants were announced as follows:

1.  The Greenhouse, with Peter Tempelhoff, Cape Town

2.  The Test Kitchen, with Luke Dale-Roberts, Cape Town

3.  The Tasting Room, with Chef Margot Janse, Franschhoek

4.   The Roundhouse, with Chefs PJ Vadas and Eric Bulpitt, Cape Town

5.   Overture, with Chef Bertus Basson, Stellenbosch

6.   Terroir, with Chef Michael Broughton, Stellenbosch

7.   DW Eleven-13, with Chef Marthinus Ferreira, Johannesburg

8.   Jordan Restaurant, with Chef George Jardine, Stellenbosch

9.   Nobu, with Chef Hideki Maeda, One&Only Cape Town

10.  La Colombe, with Chef Scot Kirton, Cape Town

The other restaurants that were Top 20 Finalists were Azure Restaurant, Babel, Bosman’s Restaurant, Hartford House, Pierneef à La Motte, Planet Restaurant, The Restaurant at Grande Provence, Restaurant Mosaic, Roots, and Tokara.

The winners of the newly introduced Restaurant category Awards were announced at super-speed, and what was interesting was that no nominees nor finalists were mentioned per category (some had been announced for some categories in the Eat Out newsletter in the last few weeks), with the exception of the Boschendal Style Award. We requested details of the nominees of the categories, but were refused these, only being sent the Boschendal Style Awards nominees list.  No criteria were revealed for these awards, and seemed to be Mrs Donnelly’s personal pick:

Boschendal Style Award: Makaron Restaurant at Majeka House was the winner, a surprise in two respects – the R10 million newly constructed and decorated restaurant only opened its doors in September, a month before the Eat Out magazine went to print, and Mrs Donnelly is a consultant to the restaurant!  The designer was Etienne Hanekom, the art director for VISI, a sister publication to Eat Out at New Media Publishing!  The other finalists, out of 18 nominees, were Babel, Kream in Pretoria, Hemelhuijs, and, very surprisingly, The Test Kitchen!

Best Steakhouse: The Local Grill in Johannesburg (29 nominees)

Best Italian Restaurant:  No other contenders appear to have been evaluated, the award predictably going to 95 Keerom.  (The full list of Italian restaurant contenders was revealed today – 23/11)

Best Asian Restaurant: Kitima in Cape Town (no nominees list)

Best Bistro: Bizerca Bistro (43 nominees)

Best Country-Style Restaurant: A surprise win for the unknown The Table at De Meye, no nominee list having been revealed

City Press ViP Sunday Breakfast Award: Salvation Café at 44 Stanley in Johannesburg (this award was not pre-announced, and does not even appear in the Eat Out magazine with the other award listings).

The Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award : Garth Stroebel

In the past the food has always been prepared by Finalist chefs, and increasingly those invited to prepare the food were the ones that did not make Top 10.  However, this year each one of the invited chefs was from a Top 10 restaurant.  One admires the challenge of the chefs to prepare the meal for 360 persons, and Pete Goffe-Wood was the co-ordinator of the event on the food side.  Chef Peter Tempelhoff made the canapés, but these were not seen when Boschendal Grand Cuvée Brut 2007 was served on arrival.  The ‘bread’ came from Giorgio Nava, it was said, but was croissants and other sweet pastries from Caffe Milano, it appeared.  Chef Hideki Maeda prepared a baby spinach salad with dried miso and crayfish starter, which was paired with Groot Constantia Reserve White 2009.  This was followed by Chef Luke Dale-Roberts’ Ballotine of rabbit and gammon, duck liver purée, red cabbage crumbs and relish, and Everson’s pear cider jelly, paired with Chamonix Chardonnay 2009.

Michael Broughton’s trompette dusted fillet of beef with cep butter sauce, baby beet, asparagus and parsley was my favourite, for its sauce in particular, paired with Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. George Jardine served his dessert of Valrhona Ivoire torte, raspberries and Ivoire chantilly on a slate plate, and this was paired with Jordan Mellifera Noble Late Harvest 2010.

The food and wine service has been disappointing for the past three years that I have attended the event, with serving staff contracted in, last night’s staff leaving much to be desired, there being no wine service initially, no ice buckets on the table for the white wine and water, and bottles arriving at the table but not linked to the course they were meant to be paired with, and other wines not listed on the menu arriving as well.  What the event needs is a Manager on the service side, walking the floor, to check on the satisfaction of the guests and the smooth flow of the event.  There were no steak nor fish knives, and many of the aspects which Mrs Donnelly mentioned as her criteria in judging the Top 10 restaurants were lacking on the food and wine side of the event.  The Eat Out Restaurant Awards should be a showcase of food and wine service perfection, at R1000 a ticket, but this has not been the case in the past three years, and particularly not last night.

The Eat Out DStv Food Network Awards did not award any Top 10 positions to any new restaurants, a disappointment, all restaurants making the Top 10 list having been on it before, with the exception of Nobu, but some with new chefs.  Some excellent chefs were overlooked, in our opinion, ‘safe’ selections having been made!. Perhaps a Top 20 finalist list should not be pre-announced, as was the case in the past. The Restaurant category Awards may need some consistency in announcing all or no finalists/nominees, and in providing a motivation why a restaurant has won a category.  Scope exists for different categories, while some current ones could be dropped. The conflict of interest by Mrs Donnelly acting as a consultant to restaurants cannot be acceptable.

POSTSCRIPT 21/11: On Twitter this morning, in reaction to this blogpost, there is feedback that The Table at De Meye is owned by an ex-photographer for TASTE magazine, a sister publication to Eat Out, and of which Mrs Donnelly is Food Editor.

Eat Out 2011: www.eatout.co.za Twitter: @Eat_Out

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

The SA Blog Awards is a good idea, and can be a good measurement of success and performance in a field that bloggers were never trained for, by raising the standard of blogging in Southern Africa.   It is a shame that the 2010 SA Blog Awards were so poorly organised, and that it has been dogged by controversy.  At the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting earlier this week, long-standing blogger Dax Villanueva of Relax-with-Dax Blog said that the controversy surrounding the SA Blog Awards had devalued blogging, instead of enhancing it!

Ever since the SA Blog Awards were announced on Twitter about 2 months ago, they have been criticised for their change in procedure compared to previous years.  When the shortlist of 10 finalists for each of the 24 blog categories was announced on 1 September, there was even more criticism and very bitchy commenting by those that did not make the top 10 list in their category, and by those who disparaged others by questioning why some bloggers had made the Top 10 list in specific categories.  When the top two winners per category were announced, and most Top 10 short-listed bloggers were excluded from the Awards Dinner at the One&Only Cape Town last night, the knives really came out, and the organisation of the SA Blog Awards was severely criticised.

Guest of Honour Western Cape Premier Helen Zille spoke at the Awards evening about how “bloggers are the new voice of society” and how blogs “link the local with the big picture”.  The premier, no slouch herself on the social media scene with around 115 000 Facebook friends and one of country’s first verified Twitter accounts, said that digital communications were a “force for entrenching democracy”.  “Everything breaks immediately and is commented on and analysed before it hits the press… it’s a problem for newspapers and I wouldn’t want to be a newspaper editor in this day. It’s made it more difficult to control what information is transmitted”, reports Memeburn, one of the award-winning blogs.

So what were the complaints?:

1.  The announcement of the call for nominations of the SA Blog Awards was on Twitter only.   If one was not on Twitter, or did not follow SA Blog Awards on Twitter, one would not have known about the Awards, or may have been delayed in participating, in seeing Tweets by others about the call for nominations.

2.  The rules of the Awards seemed to have been made up as they went along – the fact that voting was encouraged at Nomination stage already was not clear, and irritated Twitterers, in that they were bombarded with Nomination vote requests.  The process of nomination was also not clear, with a message popping up, telling one that one could not nominate a blog more than twice on the same e-mail address. 

3.  The organisers of the SA Blog Awards were not identified on the SA Blog Awards website, and via Tweets one could put together the information that 2009 Blog winner in the Business category (Dave Duarte) and Chris Rawlinson, winner in the Marketing category, had got together with JP Naude (an infrequent blogger, by his own admission on his site: “Yes I don’t blog much… I’m a businessman and radio presenter” – prior to this mini-blog post earlier this month, JP had last blogged in May! He is a presenter on Good Hope FM) as Chairman of the SA Blog Awards. I met JP at the Vista Bar after the Blog Awards presentation, and he told me that his company organised the SA Blog Awards.  I was shocked when I saw a comment on the shortlisted Bangers and Nash blog, written by SA Blog Awards committee member Chris Rawlinson a few months ago, congratulating Dan Nash on his blog, and stating that a good blog should carry the f-word at least once a day!   So much for the quality of the judges!  (I did get to meet Dan Nash at the Vista Bar, having had dinner at Reubens at the One&Only Cape Town, and he was very generous in handing out tequila).

4.  When the top 10 shortlist was announced per category, the list was on the SA Blog Awards website, and top 10 finalists were only notified by e-mail the following day.  At no stage was an e-mail with the rules ever sent to all nominees.   One had to find information on the website, and this seemed to be amended as the SA Blog Awards progressed.

5.  Previous participants were shocked as to who made the top 10 shortlist, especially those that had won in previous years.  In the Food & Wine Blog category, for example, eight out of ten 2009 finalists did not make it in 2010.  The Relax-with-Dax, Scrumptious, Spit or Swallow, Rossouw’s Restaurants and Neil Pendock’s blogs all fell out of this category, with only the My Easy Cooking and Cooksister Blogs making the 2010 shortlist again.   Relax-with-Dax and Spit or Swallow did make the Microblogging/Twitter shortlist, however, a surprise to them too.

6.   As the SA Blog Awards developed, more and more sponsors were announced for the categories, but not all categories were sponsored (e.g. our Whale Cottage Blog made the shortlist in the Most Controversial Blog category, which did not attract a sponsor!)   In 2009, the ‘old hands’ and finalists tell me, they all went home with prizes.  It appears that despite sponsors coming on board, the category prizes were a little perspex obelisk with the SA Blog Awards logo on it.  This gives little incentive to enter the Awards competition in 2011.   Sponsors’ monies appear to have been used to pay for the dinner, and to compensate JP Naude’s company for organising the Awards.

7.   The highlight for the 2009 finalists was the SA Blog Awards dinner, I have been told, even if the bloggers did not win.  It was a great networking platform, and an honour to have attended.  In pre-announcing the top 2 out of the top 10 of each category this year, the Awards dinner was reduced to about 50 finalists, and only those got to attend the dinner – in the last minute the rules were changed, in that the SA Blog Awards website announced that the dinner was ‘by invitation only’.  Initially the Awards dinner date was set for yesterday (over a long weekend!), leading one to assume that all top 10 finalists would be invited to attend it.

8.  The voting phase for each category spanned about two weeks, and one felt like an Idols’ finalist, begging for votes on one’s blog and on Twitter.   I think that the more the finalists begged, the fewer votes they received.  One was allowed to vote once a day per valid e-mail address one has.  So, for example, someone with 10 e-mail addresses could cast 10 votes daily!   The actual weighting of votes by ‘fans’ and the judges evaluation was only recently stated as being 30 % of the vote by the judges, and 70 % from the public.  The judges per category were also not all announced – on one specific day the judges of some of the 24 categories were named on Twitter, and some judges also proudly tweeted that they were judging blogs (e.g. Jo-Ann Strauss, Sam Wilson and her husband Andreas Späth).  We never got to hear the names of the judge(s) of the Most Controversial Blog category, for example.  Mention was also made that blog ranking statistics would be taken into consideration as well, being Afrigator specifically, a site that frequently goes down.  The question was raised as to the effect it would have on one’s standing if one was not registered on this ranking site.  Oddly, few of the top-ranked Afrigator blogs were in the finals.  It is clear that the larger the number of readers of one’s Blog, and the greater the Twitter following, the higher one’s votes would have been likely to be.   The top first and second winners per category were notified by e-mail that they had made it, and they were listed on the website too.  The remaining 8 finalists per category were not notified by the organisers, and were only told that if they did NOT receive an e-mail, they would know that they had not made it as number 1 or 2!   This was the rudest aspect of the SA Blog Awards organisation, in my opinion.  Many Blog finalists had put in a lot of effort to encourage voting, and thereby had publicised the Awards on behalf of the organisers, who had created little publicity for the event themselves!  No thanks was received for one’s participation.

Despite all of the above, we are proud that we made it to the Top 10 finalist stage in our category, and that we learnt from participation for the first time.  We trust that the organisers of the 2010 SA Blog Awards will accept this feedback and will improve the organisation and credibility of it, to ensure that they have quality participants in 2011!

The overall winner of the SA Blog Awards was a big surprise, being www.watkykjy.co.za, a provocative proudly-Afrikaans on-the-edge blog, that claims to receive 180000 ‘visits’ per month, and describes itself as “Die beste Afrikaanse blog en website in die heelal”!  In the past the Award has been won by www.2Oceansvibe.co.za every year that editor Seth Rotherham (Will Mellor) has entered the Awards.  Rotherham/Mellor did not even bother to attend, being in the Karoo over the weekend, and sent a message to the organisers that this was the last SA Blog Awards competition he had entered.   (Most non-Cape Town top 2 finalists per category did not attend, yet the writer of www.indieberries.blogspot.com travelled all the way from South Korea to pick up her two category wins).

The winners in the 24 categories, announced last night, are as follows (congratulations to them all):

Best Entertainment Blog:  www.2oceansvibe.co.za (ranks 3rd on Afrigator)

Best Media & Marketing Blog:  www.cherryflava.com

Best Post on a SA Blog: www.brainwavez.org/screen/film/features/2009/20091001001-01.html

Best Overseas Blog: www.pharside.co.uk

Best TV Radio Blog: www.ecr.co.za/kagiso/content/en/east-coast-radio/east-coast-radio-blogs-breakfast

Best Politics Blog: www.wonkie.com (ranks 10th on Afrigator)

Best Photographic Blog: www.guywithcamera.co.za (Andrew Brauteseth)

Best New Blog: www.simply-delicious.co.za

Best Food & Wine Blog: www.simply-delicious.co.za

Best Science and Technology Blog: www.shesthegeek.co.za

Best Music Blog: www.dontparty.co.za

Best Fashion Blog: www.kimgray.co.za

Best Design Blog: www.indieberries.blogspot.com

Best Podcast/Video Blog: www.zanews.co.za

Best Business Blog:  www.memeburn.com

Best Group Blog: www.rlabs.org

Best Sport Blog: www.paddlesweep.net

Best Green Blog:  www.sprig.co.za

Best Indigenous Language Blog: www.watkykjy.co.za (7th on Afrigator) 

Most Controversial Blog: www.2oceansvibe.co.za

Best Travel Blog: www.getaway.co.za/page/blog

Best Personal Blog: www.indieberries.blogspot.com

Best Parenting Blog: www.reluctantmom.wordpress.com

Best Twitter Blog: www.twitter.com/mandyjwatson

Best Company Blog: www.rlabs.org

The SA Blog Awards website states that “integrity and credibility of the SA Blog Awards is our highest priority”.  It also states that the organisers would look for a ‘balance between the public voting system and the judge’s choice of winners’, to allow a free and fair selection of winners.  Many participants of this year’s Awards will agree that this was not the case!  

POSTSCRIPT 27/9:  The response to this blogpost has been phenomenal, with more than 850 readers in the first 21 hours of publishing it, and an incredible number of Twitter Retweets, many containing compliments, throughout the day yesterday.  Twitter is normally very quiet on a Sunday, especially over a long weekend.   The link to this post was sent to the organising committee of JP Naude, Chris Rawlinson and Dave Duarte, with no response to date. 

If one googles ‘SA Blog Awards’, one can read many blogposts written in the past two months, criticising various aspects of the SA Blog Awards.

The list of judges per category, with many typing errors, was recently added to the SA Blog Awards website, it would appear.  It is funny to see Randall Abrams listed as a judge for the Most Controversial Blog category – did I not write above that we felt like Idol’s finalists??!!  The other judge for the category was listed as ‘Ivor Vector’, but this name does not exist on a Google search.  However, Ivo Vegtor says he was invited to be a judge, but decided not to.  Randall Abrams has no blog, nor has Graham Howe, one of two judges in the Food & Wine Blog.  As far as judging goes, read the Comments section to this blogpost about what happened to Chris, the writer of iMod, the top ranked blog on Afrigator.  The list of judges for all the categories:  http://www.sablogawards.com/Judge3.aspx

Chris von Ulmenstein: Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com