Interesting news arrived in the media release received yesterday, announcing that Eat Out Editor Abigail Donnelly has appointed Bruce Palling, London-based food blogger, and food writer for Wall Street Journal Europe, to ‘assist in judging South Africa’s top restaurants‘ for the 2012 Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards.
Last year Eat Out’s decision to fire its panel of judges (MasterChef SA judge Pete Goffe-Wood, MasterChef SA Culinary Director Arnold Tanzer, and Anna Trapido, author of a biography about Nelson Mandela’s life through food), and the announcement that its editor would be the sole judge, was met with surprise and shock, especially when controversial decisions were made, for example, Luke Dale-Roberts of The Test Kitchen was appointed Chef of the Year, and is featured in almost every issue of Taste, of which Ms Donnelly is the Food Editor, while The Greenhouse was announced the number one Top 10 restaurant; the most controversial award was that of the newly introduced Boschendal Style Award, which Ms Donnelly awarded to Makaron Restaurant at Majeka House, her (undisclosed) consulting client!; the exclusion of Tokara, with its top chef Richard Carstens, from the Top 10 restaurant list; and the award of Best Country Style Restaurant going to The Table at De Meye, which few had heard of, had only been open for a few months, and is owned by a photographer which Mrs Donnelly uses for some of her Taste shoots.
Mr Palling writes a weekly column for the European edition of the Wall Street Journal, and amended versions of his newspaper columns are featured on his blog Gastroenophile. Interesting is that a Google search found no results for anything written about Mr Palling, one just finding links to his blog posts. For the past six years he has been a judge for the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards. Mr Palling is Australian born, was a reporter for the BBC World Service in the former Indochina. He was a reporter for a number of publications in South-East Asia, Zimbabwe, and the USA. He then moved to travel writing for Tatler, and created a Travel Guide for them. Thereafter he created a travel company called Western & Oriental, of which he is the Chairman. He is described as having a passion for ‘fine wine and interesting food’, but also writes about travel.
Mrs Donnelly praised the new judge for being ‘an exceptional food writer’, for bringing ‘extensive international experience and knowledge to Eat Out and our awards – something that we’ve always aspired to‘. Mr Palling will assist Mrs Donnelly in selecting the ‘finalists for the Top 10 restaurants across the country‘. In yesterday’s weekly Eat Out newsletter Mrs Donnelly wrote that Mr Palling will also help to select ‘the winners of the other accolades’, including Chef of the Year, and the Service Excellence Award.
Mr Palling has never been to South Africa, and is quoted in the Eat Out media release as saying: ‘I know from my experience as a judge for the San Pellegrino Awards that South Africa is well represented among the top international contenders and I look forward to experiencing for myself what the local restaurant industry has to offer’. The Eat Out media release describes Mr Palling as an ‘internationally acclaimed gastronome’. Odd then that there is no information to be found written about him.
What dates Mr Palling severely is his reference in his profile to Zimbabwe as ‘White Rhodesia’, and his use of Blogger as his blogging platform (used by newbie amateur bloggers)!
In one of Mr Palling’s articles (‘What’ll it be? Wallaby’) he wrote about a visit to Australia three months ago, and local chefs may pick up some tips about what he looks for from it. He wrote that he was ‘disappointed by the lack of much distinctively Australian-ingredient-led cuisine, except for the occasional piece of well-cooked wallaby. There must be more native produce out there waiting to be used. Increasingly, what excites me is bold cuisine that belongs to a specific location, thanks to its unique ingredients. This is why the best New Nordic places in Scandinavia deserve all the hype. There is something fulfilling about consuming produce that relates to your region. That’s also why I adore fine wine from around the globe because it speaks of its origins and is nuanced on an annual basis by the weather. For this reason, I also think it is slightly depressing that the most famous Australian wine, Penfolds Grange, is a blend of grapes from dispersed locations rather than reflecting a specific vineyard’. In the same article he refers to his ‘passion for foraged cuisine’.
It will be interesting to see how the country’s top restaurants react to the news about the appointment of the new Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant judge!
POSTSCRIPT 29/7: Doing some further research on the new Eat Out Top 10 RestaurantBruce Palling, we have discovered:
* Last year Bruce Palling was one of 837 judges around the world evaluating the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. He has no specific senior position in this capacity. South Africa’s judges last year were Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly, MasterChef SA Culinary Producer Arnold Tanzer, Mont Rochelle Hotel Managing Director Erwin Schnitzler, retired market researcher Henry Barenblatt, food writer and previous Eat Out editor Sam Woulidge, ex-Cafe Max owner and now Londolozi Chef Anna Ridgewell, occasional food blogger David Cope, Grand Provence GM Karl Lambour, Chef’s Warehouse & Cookery School owner and Liam Tomlin Food co-owner Liam Tomlin, Principal of Institute of Culinary Arts Letitia Prinsloo, Platter restaurant writer Jos Baker, GOLD restaurant owner Cindy Muller, winemaker and 96 Winery Road owner Ken Forrester, The Test Kitchen and Pot Luck Club Chef and owner Luke Dale-Roberts, Graham Beck winemaker Pieter Ferreira, and Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants co-owner Andy Fenner. The Academy Chairman for Southern Africa is Tamsin Snyman.
* Local restaurateurs with UK connections have never heard of writer Bruce Palling
* Bruce Palling does not appear to have won any awards for his writing, yet is praised by Mrs Donnelly as ‘an exceptional food writer’, not substantiating this accolade.
* The Wall Street Journal‘s Europe edition has a circulation of only 74800 (in 2011), and is on a decline. Mr Palling is one of a number of food and restaurant writers for the newspaper.
* In the quote attributed to Mr Palling in the Eat Out media release, he flatteringly wrote that he was aware that our country was ‘well represented among the international contenders’ – ironically, in the 2012 awards South Africa slipped badly, no local restaurant making the 2012 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the first time in a number of years. The Tasting Room made 57th position (down from 36th the year before) and The Test Kitchen 74th position, reflecting how ill-informed Mr Palling is!
POSTSCRIPT 30/7: Mr Palling has a-palling-ly retaliated on Twitter to this blogpost, calling me a ‘noisy blogger’, and disparaging our Whale Cottages, hardly a gentlemanly response! He must be really mad, as he has continued this afternoon with more attacking Tweets, calling me a ‘pig ignorant peasant’! He is welcome to write a response to this blogpost. Let the Games begin!
POSTSCRIPT 20/9: As we predicted, Bruce Palling’s involvement in the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards has been a-palling to date, and he left Cape Town under a cloud of controversy on Monday, after 2 weeks of judging the Top 20 candidate restaurants. Despite his involvement, to help improve Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly’s image due to the controversy last year, a new bomb has burst about the initial inclusion of The Pot Luck Club on the Top 20 list when it has not been open for the 12 months required in the rules of the Award.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage