The multi-award winning reality TV show, Ultimate Braai Master boasts newly selected judges Pete Goffe-Wood and Benny Masekwameng, both of them familiar faces on South African television. I was fortunate enough to catch up with host Justin Bonello and the two judges to talk about the food, the travel and the adventure that is Ultimate Braai Master.
How do you decide on where you will be traveling during the show?
Justin: The first thing that we do is plot out a rough route and that is no different really from planning road trip. If we say we are going to start Cape Town and end in Mpumalanga then I do a road trip and drive through all of them. I go to some familiar places that I have been to before but I am always looking for those ones that are off the beaten track, those gems that are hidden away.
Tell me about your decision to join Ultimate Braai Master?
Benny: I love the fact that it is a South African thing, it tells a South African story by South Africans. It is something that is our own show, our own identity where the world now knows us for our braais and cooking outdoors. It is a privilege to be part of it. Unlike when you are in a controlled kitchen, here you are cooking outdoors with uncontrollable elements. There were many reasons that enticed me to sign up, obviously the bonus was that we also got Pete involved so you know the show is going to be great. I still got my partner in crime so it was really exciting.
“...I am always looking for those places that are off the beaten track, those gems that are hidden away...” - Justin Bonello
How differently do you have to think about ingredients with a show like this?
Pete: I think one of the things about an outdoor cooking competition is that you have to throw out this indoor / outdoor rule. They must be able to do a decorated layer cake or a baked cheesecake. We can't do thirteen episodes of chops and wors so as we get into the competition we want to challenge them.
Taking me back through the seasons you have already done, what has been the most challenging and exciting location?
Justin: Every year we have different challenges but the biggest one this year was that we started off at Cape St. Francis. Then we cut up into the Freestate, then into the North-West, across the Drakensberg, back to the Freestate and up through the Wild Coast. The biggest challenge is the actual distances traveled in one day. I have found over the years that 400km is about the maximum that we are prepared to travel in one day. Some days we had 800km travels with forty-five vehicles on the road which was absolutely murdurous.
“...We had some fantastic dishes that were prepared by these guys against all odds...” - Benny Masekwameng
Working so closely with the contestants, do you ever get emotionally attached?
Benny: Yes, you know it's always been like that. You spend so much time with these guys and you understand what they are fighting for. You get to know them and their cooking styles, their decision making and the stories they tell you through the food that they cook. You get attached and want to listen to their stories, you see exactly what they can do and their potential so when it comes to letting contestants go, it's never nice. We understand that it is a competition and at some point people will have to go home, but it's never nice breaking somebody's dream. With me especially, I get attached to them.
In my feedback I always try to encourage them, show them where they went wrong and how they should fix it next time should they have an opportunity to do it again. The caliber of the contestants we had this season was incredible and I take my hat off to them. The pressure on them, not just in terms of outcooking everybody else, but being on the road, being in an environment that they are not familiar with and having challenges thrown at them, they soldier on. It takes a lot of guts to do this. We had some fantastic dishes that were prepared by these guys against all odds.
It must be quite a shift from your previous show in terms of going all over the country?
Pete: One of the beauties of doing Ultimate Braai Master is that road trip vibe. The comradery between the crew and the contestants and obviously between me and Benny. One of the reasons why I was very keen on doing the show was because I knew Benny was doing it. It's very different from what we have done before. When you are in a studio we say right, we are going to put something in the oven at 180 degrees for two and a half hours and that's it. Whereas when you're cooking on the coals you are factoring in wind and sand and keeping an eye on the coals. There is a whole other challenge in terms of cooking but from a traveling point of view, what I loved was the roadtrip. For me personally it was the complete vibe, traveling all along the coast in different places was just mind-blowing.
“...we want the same perfection in a cake that is baked in an oven and one that is baked on the coals and therein lies the challenge...” - Pete Goffe-Wood
Where did this idea come from for the Ultimate Braai Master?
Justin: There was a whole plethora of cooking shows on air and South Africa was trying to replicate all these other shows. I thought it was quite weird that we had nothing home-grown, created by South Africans, starring South Africans and using South Africa as a backdrop. So it was a combination of those things, I said it's time we do something that is representative of what we can do in this country and who we are as a people.
What is the end result between cooking in a kitchen compared to this outdoor environment?
Pete: We want the same perfection in a cake that is baked in an oven and one that is baked on the coals and therein lies the challenge for the contestants. Don't forget that we have been baking and cooking everything we know over the coals for thousands of years before we started cooking with electricity. We have always baked delicacies and breads and pastries, it's part of our history. It's how you apply it, you have to be inventive. In one of our challenges the contestants had to do an afternoon tea. They had to do a baked layer cake, a cheesecake and three other pastries and the results were unbelievable.
It is extremely exciting to hear the show is going global, are they keeping the name Ultimate Braai Master?
Justin: Hundred percent, we were worried in the beginning that the word braai was too South African but we were told no ways, everyone knows what a braai is. It's mainly countries that have an outdoor cooking culture such as Scandinavia, Australia, Canada and South America. They have optioned the show so fingers crossed we will soon see a Canadian or South American version of our show.