Tag Archives: Irna van Zyl

Jet-set Mercedes-Benz Eat Out Awards 2014 at Thunder City, but food a disappointment!

Eat Out 2015 cover Whale CottageThe Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards event is a highlight on the restaurant calendar, held for the 17th year, and at Thunder City for the first time last night.   The results surprised, with one heavyweight chef sliding right off the Top 10 list, while a new restaurant made Top 10. Two restaurants which did not make the Top 20 Restaurant shortlist in 2013 flew back into Top 10 last night.  Stellenbosch remains the Gourmet Capital of South Africa (4 Top 10 restaurants), followed by 3 in Johannesburg, and 1 each in Cape Town, Franschhoek, and Hermanus.   While the award recipients were acceptable, the food was a disaster.

Thunder City is not an ideal venue for a function of this magnitude (800 guests, but advertised asEat OUt Thunder City Whale Cottage 1000 initially), being difficult to find – the petrol station one block away from the turn-off had no clue where Thunder City is, and there were no signs off Borcherds Quarry Road, other than some posters held by men, only visible in the last minute.  I followed a taxi, there being no further signage to Thunder City.  We were collected from the VIP parking by a Mercedes-Benz shuttle van, and I arrived just as the event started, Chef Pete Goffe-Wood doing a tribute to Chef Bruce Robertson, who passed away two weeks ago.   The lighting was poor for Continue reading →

Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards 2014: Best event ever, some highs, some shocks!

Eat Out magazine cover Whale Cottage PortfolioAfter two disastrous years, New Media Publishing was brave enough to take stock earlier this year, and asked the industry what it wanted in the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards.  Last night that hard work paid off, with a new venue for the event, a slick and short presentation, new Awards introduced, and three new restaurants making the Top 10 Restaurant list.  The surprise was the emotion which the chefs expressed when receiving their plaques, challenging MasterChef SA Season 2 on tears!

We were one of the interviewees, meeting with Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly, its GM Aileen Lamb, MD Bridget McCarney, and Director Irna van Zyl.  We were forthright in our feedback and suggestions, including that a team of judges would be needed again (we suggested Garth Stroebel, and have yet to meet him!). We fed back that the preferential relationship with Luke Dale-Roberts in TASTE magazine (also published by New Media Publishing, and of which Abigail is the Food Editor) was unfair towards all other chefs, by featuring him every month – we were told that Woolworths had a contract with him, and therefore he received the coverage in the magazine.  This contract was terminated earlier this year, which is excellent news.  Other recommendations can be read here.  Flowing from the interviews and discussions with previous Top 20 chefs and restaurant managers, owners, and suppliers, as well as media representatives and bloggers, New Media Publishing allowed restaurants to apply to be included in the Eat Out Top 500 Restaurant List, which was selected by a Continue reading →

Eat Out selects Top 500 restaurants for its 2014 Guide!

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 Continue reading →

Changes made to Eat Out Restaurant Awards to improve credibility!

New Media Publishing has released the results of its qualitative and quantitative research conducted amongst top chefs and restaurant diners, respectively, in guiding the 2014 Eat Out Top 10 Awards this year.  The proposed changes are likely to improve the image of the Eat Out Restaurant Awards, which reached an all-time low in the past two years.

To recap: Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly lost credibility for offering (undisclosed) menu consulting services to the newly established Makaron restaurant at Majeka House two years ago, a restaurant which was awarded the Boschendal Style Award in that year, personally chosen by Mrs Donnelly!  Even worse for her reputation was the appointment of herself as the sole Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards judge in that year, having fired her co-judges (MasterChef SA judge) Pete Goffe-Wood, Anna Trapido (author of the book on Nelson Mandela’s eating and drinking habits), and Chef (and MasterChef SA Culinary Manager) Arnold Tanzer.  To fix the dissatisfaction following this fiasco, Mrs Donnelly chose to appoint an unknown British food blogger and occasional online Wall Street Journal newsletter writer Bruce Palling, who proved to be a disaster, with no scruples in divulging his judgement of our top restaurants six months after evaluating them, trashing all but four restaurants, and refusing to return for the Eat Out Top 10 Awards gala dinner because he was not offered a Business Class ticket by New Media Publishing.  Not only did we criticise the choice of appalling Mr Palling as a judge, but Top 10 Chef George Jardine Continue reading →

Eat Out Restaurant Awards 2013 industry feedback food for thought!

Yesterday I was honoured to attend a meeting with New Media Publishing, publishers of Eat Out, to discuss how this year’s Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant and related Awards can be improved, and the criticism about it reduced and ideally eliminated.

Attending the meeting were Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly, New Media Publishing Director Irna van Zyl, CEO Bridget McCarney, and Aileen Lamb.  Aileen is preparing herself to take over the GM role of a number of New Media Publishing titles, including Eat Out, in April and she is driving the process to fix what the industry thinks may need attention, a most noble initiative. Aileen is planning a series of interviews with Top 20 shortlisted chefs of the past years, some restaurant owners, the sponsors, industry persons, and the Eat Out audience, to give various players in the restaurant industry a voice.

I found the meeting to be open-minded in receiving my feedback about the 2011 and 2012 Eat Out Awards, everything which I have written in this blog already.  While it initially seemed odd to hold the meeting two months after the Eat Out Awards, the time period did help to focus on the really key issues, which I summarised as follows:

*   appoint a panel of (South African) judges, perhaps representing not only chefs, but a cross-section of the food industry

*   do not make changes to the Awards for the sake of change. Dropping the panel of judges in the past two years was too drastic a move.

*   Consolidate and improve the Awards, and regain credibility

*   Potential new categories for the related Awards were discussed, a Best South African Restaurant category being an obvious opportunity

*   The over-focus on Luke Dale-Roberts of The Test Kitchen in the Woolworths’ Taste magazine was discussed, and it was explained that Woolworths has a business relationship with Chef Luke, which sees him being featured as a contributor in every issue.  The challenge is for Abigail to distance herself from Chef Luke in her role as Food Editor of Taste, given her role as judge for Eat Out.

*   the predominance of Cape Town and Winelands restaurants on the Top 10 list is not an issue, in my opinion.  It does seem to irk Johannesburg restaurants, but new restaurant openings in Johannesburg may better balance the playing field this year.

*   The rules should be 100% consistently applied, for example in respect of chefs taking over from their departing bosses, and being in charge of the kitchen for a full twelve month period, to avoid criticism about restaurants (e.g. Rust en Vrede, La Colombe, Grande Provence, The Roundhouse) having been left off the Top 20 shortlist due to chef changes.  The Eat Out website never listed the rule that a chef should have been at a restaurant for a year, to be eligible for the Top 10 Restaurant Award, even though it was applied in practice. After pointing out the omission on this blog, the rule has now been added to the Eat Out website.

*   Should there be any doubt about the application of the Award rules, Abigail and her panel of judges should act with caution and ‘strictness’.

*   The results should be audited, and should be available to those restaurants that wish to receive feedback. Currently Abigail only does this on request after the Awards presentation, not sharing the feedback proactively.

*   No consulting relationship may exist between Abigail and any restaurant, to not damage her image and that of Eat Out.

*   Eat Out should regularly inform the industry about the Awards, and the work it is doing to improve them.

*   The Eat Out Conference is a good concept, and should attract more chefs, which means that it should be held in winter, and preferably on a chefs-day-off Monday.

By the end of March or early April Aileen and her Eat Out team will have finalised their interviews, and we will meet again thereafter to discuss the summarised results.  The first indications are very positive, and I was privileged to hear some of the ideas being considered, which I will not write about until they have been finalised.  We parted on a Saigon note, and it was clear that Abigail and I would not agree on last year’s Best Asian restaurant award!

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

Eat Out Restaurant Awards: Abigail Donnelly must come consulting clean!

The shock discovery that Abigail Donnelly awarded the Eat Out Boschendal Style Award to her client Makaron Restaurant at Majeka House in Stellenbosch is still being talked about, and it appears that Mrs Donnelly did not obtain permission to do consulting work from her bosses at New Media Publishing.  The conflict of interest in this award must have caused the publishing company, the Eat Out staff, and Mrs Donnelly severe embarrassment, and it has severely dented the credibility of the Eat Out restaurant awards, which determine chef reputations and shape restaurant incomes for the year ahead.

There has been a deafening silence from New Media Publishing generally and from Abigail Donnelly specifically since we wrote about her Majeka House involvement, and no one in the industry has dared comment publicly, for fear of being victimised (this happens, a chef telling me that he provided feedback some years ago, and never made the Top 20 list again!).  Until the Eat Out Awards ceremony on 20 November I had nothing but the highest regard for Mrs Donnelly and her integrity, and even defended it when I heard mutters about Mrs Donnelly being the sole Eat Out Restaurant Awards judge this year.  We thought she could pull it off without controversy, but it appears we were wrong.

The Makaron Restaurant consulting non-disclosure by Mrs Donnelly is completely unacceptable, and therefore I contacted the Managing Director of New Media Publishing, but the e-mail to Bridget McCarney was returned, stating that she is on a sabbatical for a few months.  I was advised to send the e-mail to the two directors Irna van Zyl and John Psillos, and it was Ms van Zyl who quickly and honestly answered, having sought Mrs Donnelly’s input too.  We publish the communication between ourselves and Ms Van Zyl below, and one can read Mrs Donnelly’s anger in her reply.  My last and the ultimate question which Ms van Zyl did not answer was if Mrs Donnelly had sought permission to do the consulting work, this being the New Media Publishing policy.  The non-response is a deafening admission that this did not happen:

From: Whale Cottage Portfolio

To: bmccarney@newmediapub.co.za

Sent: Wednesday, December 07, 2011 1:40 PM

Subject: EAT OUT

Dear Bridget

I want to ask you what the policy is about your staff, and Abigail Donnelly specifically, consulting for restaurants? I am very perturbed about Abigail’s position as sole Eat Out judge, and the conflict of interest that has arisen with Makaron Restaurant having made the Boschendal Style Award shortlist, as well as it winning this category.  I have also picked up that its owner won the Review of the Week on the Eat Out newsletter last week.  Can we expect Makaron to be the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant next year? Can we please receive a declaration of all the restaurants to which Abigail consults?

From: Irna van Zyl

To: Whale Cottage Portfolio

Cc: Anelde Greeff ; Abigail Donnelly ; John Psillos ; Bridget McCarney

Sent: Wednesday, December 07, 2011 4:29 PM

Subject: Re: EAT OUT

Dear Chris

I’ve discussed your concerns with Abigail Donnelly in her capacity as Editor of Eat Out and Anelde Greeff, Content Director of Eat Out. As you have probably gathered Bridget, our MD, is on a mini-sabbatical but I will endeavor  to reply to your questions as well as I can.

Here are the facts:

Abigail did a once-off consultation with Makaron before the restaurant was opened and made it clear to the owners at that time that because of her involvement the restaurant would not be eligible for any of the Eat Out Awards that involved food. At the time the chef that she was consulting to left the restaurant without implementing Abigail’s menu. The Style awards was not judged on the food. It was judged, as Abigail explained at the Eat Out Awards, on the setting, the detail in the wallpaper, the underfloor lighting of the bathrooms, the beautiful chairs, handmade crockery and the overall beautiful look of the restaurant, to which she had no input as a consultant.  In terms of the Review of the Week Anelde Greeff explains that in order to be representative countrywide they choose a review from a specific area each week as the “winner”. It is their policy that the “winning” review should be one with a positive slant. It is unfortunate that the review was the one written by the owner but completely coincidental. The choice of Review of the Week has nothing to do with Abigail, who is not involved in the website in an editing capacity.  Just one last comment: the Top 20 shortlist of restaurants is decided on after careful consultation and consideration of the input of all Eat Out’s 20 countrywide reviewers, reader opinions throughout the year and other opinions from foodies. At Eat Out we were just following the example set by Lannice Snyman years ago as the founder of the restaurant guide, who acted as the only judge of the awards for several years before Sam Woulidge became the editor and a panel was appointed to assist her.  I hope this clarify things for you.

From: Whale Cottage Portfolio <whalecot@iafrica.com>
Date: Wed, 7 Dec 2011 17:09:56 +0200
To: Irna van Zyl <irna.vanzyl@newmediapub.co.za>
Subject: Re: EAT OUT

Dear Irna

I appreciate your speedy and detailed reply. My information is that Abigail

*    designed the current menu at Makaron, which has been inherited by the new chef, who told me this directly

*   called a supplier just a few days before the Eat Out Awards on 20 November, requesting a specific type of product from the supplier for Makaron Restaurant.

In general, if you go to Makaron, you will not see what has been written about it to justify it winning the Style Award.  Most of the description relates to the M Lounge (their bar), which is across the passage, and is not part of Makaron restaurant, with a different name and a vastly different decor style.  The accolade is completely over-written, in my opinion, and one senses that it was written by Abigail, gushing to please a client. I have always held Abigail in high esteem, but I think that it is absolutely not acceptable that she consults to any restaurant in any capacity at all whilst she is editor of Eat Out and the sole judge of the Award winners.   She, Eat Out, New Media Publishing, as well as Majeka House have lost credibility through this. You have not answered as which other restaurants she consults to.

From: Irna van Zyl

To: Whale Cottage Portfolio

Cc: John Psillos ; Anelde Greeff ; Abigail Donnelly ; Bridget McCarney ; Claire Buchanan

Sent: Thursday, December 08, 2011 11:43 AM

Subject: Re: EAT OUT

Dear Chris

Herewith Abigail’s comments as requested by me. I think it’s quite clear from her replies that Makron (sic) did now implement her original menu and is changing it. She also does not consult to other restaurants. Thanks for your feedback, we always welcome it. Best regards

Irna

Hi

I am not sure where she gets her facts. I called Angus from Spier when the ex chef was still at Makaron requesting beef cheeks well before the Eat Out Awards. The new chef has taken it off the menu and replaced with oxtail and I mentioned yesterday is already putting her own menu together. If I showed favouritism then I would have judged them but the owners knew this when I consulted. They are also aware that I am unable to judge them next year until Tanya has her own menu. I have never written anything about the style award for Makaron only the comment I wrote was for the magazine which was about the chairs, crockery and the feeling of the restaurant. I am not consulting for any other restaurants. There is absolutely no favouritism I awarded a restaurant with the best style.

Thanks
Abigail

From: Whale Cottage Portfolio <whalecot@iafrica.com>
Date: Thu, 8 Dec 2011 14:06:21 +0200
To: vanzyl <irna.vanzyl@newmediapub.co.za>
Subject: Re: EAT OUT

Dear Irna

One question remains: What is the policy of New Media Publishing about its staff consulting – e.g. Abigail/Makaron, Etienne Hanekom/Makaron? Thank you

From: Irna van Zyl

To: Whale Cottage Portfolio

Sent: Thursday, December 08, 2011 7:31 PM

Subject: Re: EAT OUT

Dear Chris

The policy is quite simple: staff members have to ask permission to take on any freelance work and it then is in the discretion of their manager to grant the permission or not. Etienne Hanekom is on a freelance contract and the same rule does not apply to freelancers. But it is something that you have highlighted now and we will look at this carefully in future.

From: Whale Cottage Portfolio

To: Irna van Zyl

Sent: Thursday, December 08, 2011 7:34 PM

Subject: Re: EAT OUT

Thank you Irna.  Apologies for belabouring the point – did Abigail have permission to consult to Majeka House?

No reply was received to the last e-mail, sent a week ago!  Two weeks ago I was astounded to see in the Eat Out newsletter that Majeka House owner Karen de Quecker won the Eat Out Restaurant Review of the Week for her review of Pane e Vino, a lightweight four-line feedback about how much she enjoys eating there, a restaurant which belongs to her friends the Dalla Cias, and so the conflict of interest continues!

Mrs Donnelly has been under severe observation from chefs and restaurants this year, after she announced her decision to let go her judging committee, and to become the sole Eat Out judge.  I have heard how early or late she came to judge candidate Top 20 restaurants, how much and what she ate, and the glowing praises she heaped on each chef.  Many chefs were disappointed when the Eat Out Top 20 Restaurant shortlist was announced.  I am sure that the industry would join me in insisting that Mrs Donnelly cleans up her act, to become squeaky clean, and to not create any conflict of interest by consulting to restaurants!

POSTSCRIPT 18/7: It is heartening to see that the Eat Out Boschendal Restaurant Style Award judging will be done by VISI magazine’s editors, the magazines being sister publications at New Media Publishing.

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