Tag Archives: Saigon

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 →

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

New Year kicks off with Twitter bullying, bashing, and blackmail!

The past twenty four hours have seen bullying, bashing, and blackmail on Twitter, kick started by an abusive Tweet by über Tweeter Jane-Anne Hobbs Rayner, who accused us of ‘cyber bullying‘ her ‘friends’ Mariette du Toit-Helmbold (CEO) and Skye Grove (Communications and PR Manager) of Cape Town Tourism, supermarket wine promoter Michael Olivier, and Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly!   Not only was her stream of Tweets disparaging, but she also blackmailed her 5000-odd Followers with the threat of being unfollowed!  One would have expected the New Year to have had a gentler start!

Hobbs is a ‘mommy food blogger‘, her Juno and now Scrumptious blogs having impressed in the past with the quality of her photographs, and portfolio of recipes.  In the time that we have known her, we have had little interaction, seeing each other at odd Franschhoek Continue reading →