Celeb chef, TV show host and thoroughly nice guy Justin Bonello was in Port Elizabeth last weekend for the Eastern Cape regional auditions of the Ultimate Braai Master II competition, which will start airing on South African TV in September.
Salvelio and I joined 18 other judges in the parking lot at NMMU’s Letaba residence to help whittle down the pre-selected entrants, whose choice was determined by questionnaires they had to fill in before the time, and the actual menu they would prepare for the judges on audition day.
Meeting Justin was a real pleasure – he’s handsome, wholesome, down to earth and likes to joke, making contestants and judges alike all feel instantly at ease. And he rates even higher in our book now since he DID decide to include PE in the auditions for season two of the Ultimate Braai Master show after all – and gave me and Salvelio an autographed copy each of his gorgeous Cooked in Africa book!
Each team of four judges was allocated four to six teams of “braai masters” and “braai buddies” to adjudicate. There were some familiar faces among judges – Natti and Mark from Natti’s Thai Kitchen, Matt from Charlie’s, John from Flava, Bernice from Hacklewood (soon to be Capsicum), Brent and Emmy Lou from 3 Fat Fish in JBay who make the best chocolate brownies in the whole world, Mauro from the Elephant Walk and others who, like us, had almost certainly skipped breakfast that morning. The brief sheet from Georgie from Cooked in Africa did say to come hungry… We also met the guys from Pick n Pay who are the main sponsors of the show, executive producer Peter Gird and the chef from the series, Bertus Basson.
Our particular judging team was made up of Salvelio, myself, Matt Repton and Dean Dickinson. We were super impressed by the efforts of our allocated teams – Matt, Salvelio and I especially enjoyed the laid back BBB (Barefoot, Beer and Braai) team from Chintsa East whose dessert of pancakes on the fire stuffed with grilled banana and rum sauce was quite heavenly. We also liked their rump bruschetta starters though Dean felt the meat was under-seasoned.
He preferred the second team on our list, Marc from JBay and Penny from Port Alfred. They barely knew each other and had just teamed up for the purposes of the competition, but nevertheless managed to produce a magnificent spread. I loved their roosterkoek pre-stuffed with figs and blue cheese and their fillet filled with fresh coastal oysters and bacon, carpetbag-style just like my Dad used to make. Marc used to have a restaurant but said it had closed; Penny does catering for a retirement village and so it was wonderful to see two people from different towns, having hardly any time to practise their dishes together, coming up with such a great entry. Sadly they did not make it through to the next round.
Our third and fourth teams also put in a solid effort though team three, Sue from East London and Zane from Sedgefield, did far too many dishes in our opinion. Their table looked beautiful and they’d even gone to the trouble of making little wooden signs for all their dishes, but it was all quite overwhelming and one fancies they would have fared better had they chosen instead to focus on fewer dishes and perfected those.
Team number four – friends Seth and Rese from Rock and Roast – came all the way from Cape Town and tried to tempt us with their pigeon parcel, but unfortunately those bony little birds did little to impress. Great couple though – we felt really bad for them as they’d had a disastrous experience following the Cap Town auditions when some errant coals left in the braai at the end of the day ended up igniting their vehicle and canopy. They thought they’d try their luck in PE again but it was not to be.
In the end it was only the BBB team from our lot who went through to the next round, though it’s not yet a done deal that they’ll even be on the show. We also had a chance to check out the other teams not in our “pool”… there were some inspiring ones there, like the two architecture masters students from NMMU, JJ Theron and Heinrich Schlemmer, who made the suckling pig (and toasted chocolate croissants / buns which you could dip into a wondrous chocolate chilli sauce…. now why didn’t I have more of that???) Another team did rabbit; there was warthog sausage and lamb shank potjie… lots of roulades too, even terrines done on the fire and heaps of interesting starters and desserts.
The guest judges’ shortlisted teams were then narrowed down further by Justin and his guys, and it is this list of semi-finalists who will find out, hopefully next month, whether they have actually made it onto the show or not.
The 15 final teams that are chosen will accompany Justin around SA for many weeks, braaiing up a storm as they go along, including in some pretty far-flung destinaitions, and having to do various tasks along the way so eventually there will be only one team left to claim the grand prize.
Here are some pics from last weekend’s judging… sorry about the absence of some of the names but I was far too busy noshing to take detailed notes… Do also scroll down for the full list of semi-finalists from the PE leg.
Here is the full list of finalists from the PE round. Some of the teams came from the Garden Route and even from other parts of South Africa to compete here.
1) “Smoke Sweat & Tears”, friends from Fish Hoek, braai master Chris Kastern and braai buddy Simon Good.
2) “West Coast Bro’s”, brothers from Lamberts Bay and Elandsbay, braai master Etienne Gersbach and braai buddy Karl Gersbach.
3) “BBB”, friends from Chintsa East, braai master Steve Domoney and buddy Janet Bezuidenhout.
4) “Smith & Krohn”, friends from Port Elizabeth, braai master Stuart Smith and braai buddy Karin Krohn-Bresler.
5) “Coal Play”, a couple from Cape Town. Braai master Kate George and braai buddy Jonno Proudfoot.
6) “Braai-o-Holics”, a married couple from Knysna, braai master Brenda McKenchnie Ballack and braai buddy Grant Ballack.
7) “Huiskombuis Boys”, friends and life mentors from Cape Town, braai master Kyle Hodgson and braai buddy Rudy Gibbons.
8) “Elephant Spitbraai” friends from White River, braai master Heinrich Schlemmer and braai buddy, Jean Jacques Theron. The two are masters students in architecture at NMMU.
9) “Wild Ones”, a couple from Wilderness, braai master Vanessa Wellstein and braai buddy Haral Hilbert.
To get you in the mood for the Ultimate Braai Master show, here’s a recipe from Justin Bonello from last season’s hugely popular show: