An Exclusive Interview with Justin Bonello… And a GiveAway Winner

Last week we were lucky enough to spend some time hanging out with Justin Bonello… the mastermind behind South Africa’s Ultimate Braaimaster Reality TV Show…


For our readers overseas, who don’t know about the show or what a braai is, it is the first locally grown South African reality show where fifteen teams have to pit their “cooking on open fires in the great outdoors” skills against each other… of course there is a grand prize and the continuous pressure of time and performance. A series where the teams travel together for 52 days straight and traverse 8000km of our beautiful country… showing us highlights from the Fish River to the Transkei… From Cape Town to Natal… and don’t forget cooking in the wild of the Pilansberg Game Reserve.


The program is extremely South African, the landscape, the food and the culture of braais and associated “kuiers” (visits around the fire). Just completing this journey is an incredible achievement… completing and competing brings the game to a whole new level. The series is brought to us by our very own locally grown Justin Bonello, who is a movie maker of note but more than that he is a chef, when he talks about food he lights up – he uses words like alchemy and passion, the mingling and blending of flavours… This is a man with the incredible ability to create fine food. Which means that at the beginning of the series when our braai-masters were fresh at the game they could cook on an open fire… and by the end of the series they have brought braai-cuisine to a whole new level… no longer was it a piece of sausage or burgers… we are talking fine and refined meals that you could never ever imagine were cooked anywhere but in a five star kitchen!!!


We got to visit his studio last week… and ask him se7en + 1 “behind the scenes” questions:

  1. After Reviewing his Ultimate Braai book and two weekends straight of solid braaing to taste-test the recipes… the entire family was long gone and in bed night after night and I was still in the scullery scrubbing. I had to know What happened on the show and who did the washing up?
  2. Turns out when you are planning a reality TV show for the first time ever – you don’t think of everything the first time round… in fact washing of dishes never entered their minds. The problem was slightly more complicated, by the fact that the teams and the film crew were on this epic adventure together… they weren’t just cooking out in the open for the show and to compete… Oh no, they were living outdoors and the entire group still had to have three meals a day prepared and cleaned up before they could pack up and move on. There were places, like at the bottom of the Fish River Canyon, in the first show, where they were not even slightly prepared to wash dishes!!! At first the not so the lucky film crew were blessed with the job of dishwashing, and as you can imagine it wasn’t too long before there was a mutiny and dishwashing was outsourced to locals as the “circus” traveled across the country. I have to say that is one thing they won’t be forgetting in the plotting and planning of future series.


  3. To live and film a reality show of this magnitude, I can imagine would be pretty daunting… Writing and preparing a fully grown cookbook in 52 days, while on the open road with a squad of teams and crew to look after. A superb book packed with brilliant photography, tips, recipes… and yet gives NO CLUE as to who the series winners are… is actually a little beyond comprehension. How did you find time to write a book, while you were on the road and filming a reality show?
  4. They wrote the book on the road… as the dishes were made so they were photographed. Hundreds of photographs were taken and sifted through. The recipes were dashed back to the test-kitchens to be tried and checked before deciding if they were on of “the recipes” for the book.


  5. The traveling took place during the South African winter, which means for most the country – no rainfall at all, but there are parts that have winter rainfall and winter storms can really be wild and violent… Did you ever have to compromise a show because of the weather?
  6. Well because of the tight schedule – 52 days is 52 days… they only had one day’s grace available and that was when they went out to sea to catch their fish for the braai… they worried about the weather – because treacherous conditions could mean nothing short of a disaster. Turns out they did get rain and lots of it… deluging rain… but the show must go on… and just as if you plan a braai for Saturday night with your friends and it rains – you still braai – I know it is a mad South African thing, but braai plans can never be re-arranged… so the teams had to braai and present their meals in the pouring rain… Meals that weren’t soggy and were well presented… adaptions were made and the braai did indeed go on!!! They had a challenge to cook “Engine Stew” a stew packed and prep at the beginning of a journey and carefully tied to the engine manifold, the drive time was extended significantly, by hours because of stormy weather… but their stews survived and so did the teams!!!


  7. Now past experience tells me that traveling with even your best friends can be a little, ho hum, trying sometimes. Toss in some challenges, a competition, gruelling adventures and very long days… it could get really messy!!! Here they had fifteen vastly different teams with vastly different motivations… all aiming for that big prize. Folks from all sorts of walks of life, and in a rainbow nation like ours… many different cultures. How did you cope with tossing so many different folk into one pot… how did they get along, how did you survive the inevitable squabbling and feuding?
  8. And here is an answer that I just wasn’t expecting… while there might have been squabbling from time to time. With all that was going on, the players had to work as a team to survive… they had to cook all their meals together on the road, camp out together and by and large work together. Turns out he teams got on really well… and as they travelled further and further into the competition so they became a cohesive group. A family really, and the elimination round at the end of each show was gut-wrenching for them all – crew and competitors alike. When you think about it enough, and clearly I hadn’t, all the players would have had a similar streak gushing through their veins. These competitors only would have entered if they were the confident, gregarious, outgoing ultimate braaimaster in their own back yard, with their own group of friends and family. So they did have something in common… the desire to braai better and better, to out perform and out-challenge each other. These competitors may have had different backgrounds but mentally, within the game, they were actually very similar and as a group they were pretty invincible.

  9. Justin Bonello’s first book and series “Cooked in Africa” introduces us to a man who loves to live out doors, to travel our rugged country and make fine food… but 52 days on the open road is a long time… Do you have a favourite recipe, from your latest book… was their a food lesson in this adventure for you?
  10. Firstly, the food lesson: You can not cook a fine meal without real butter… I so agree with that. Butter really does make everything better!!! And the other thing is that South African foodies like to include influences from around the world… a touch of France, a taste of Italy and so on. He would like to see more genuine and uniquely South African flavours to be brought to the table… the flavour of the braai for instance is decidedly lacking in our top restaurants… the only way to get that woody, roasty, smokey flavour is to actually braai the food… And now that there is a recipe book out that highlights restaurant standard food, all cooked on a braai it is time to take the leap so to speak. His favourite recipe from the book is a pork belly lined with fillet steak, covered in gourmet spices and spit roasted on a braai. We haven’t yet tried this one, but when we heard him describe it – well it is on the list of “must eat meals.”


  11. I always expected the challenges to be a little more like survivor or the amazing race… but there were really about cooking in the great outdoors towards the end of the series the challenges definitely got more difficult and there was a definite panic in the Durban episode as teams dashed through the spice market looking for very specific ingredients… to make the perfect curry of course. I also expected there to be a certain amount of eating strange things cooked from the braai… and you touched on that in the pub grub… What was the challenge that stands out for you?
  12. Well the challenges definitely got more difficult as the production team gained experience and as plans for “Ultimate Braaimaster 2” are well underway… the challenges will most certainly have more intriguing elements in them. I think because this series was the first they had a lot to learn on the road. For many of the teams the challenges were difficult enough, some of the competitors had never eaten crabs or mussels and yet had to find them and cook them. Not difficult for everyone but certainly a challenge if you have never encountered them before. They are definite plans ahead to develop the challenges and food challenges, shall I say: “have you eaten cane-rat?” The challenge that stood out for Justin Bonello was a 24 hour challenge spread over two days – where the teams had to cook using every single skill they had learnt to master the challenge. My favourite challenge was the one that followed straight afterwards where teams had to stay up all night, like they weren’t tired enough, to make camp coffee and rusks for the judges for breakfast the next morning. It was nail biting stuff the competitors were already exhausted and this would be an easy task in a kitchen but out in the bush veld… not that easy!!! The winners of that challenge were certainly deserving… making three flavours of rusk and keeping their fires stoked just enough to dry them out.


  13. Let’s get this right, the filming of the show took 52 days and 8000km, life on the road together with a full crew and fifteen competitive competitors… a book and a show came out simultaneously, and most of South Africa has been glued to their screens every Thursday evening for the last twelve weeks. This show out-strips and out-shines most reality shows for us – it is locally grown and we are loving it… but so much work must have gone into this project it is a vast and epic challenge just to put it all together, let alone actually take part in it!!! What did you, Justin Bonello, learn from the show?
  14. And he answered in a word: “Trust.” Just too many things were going on at once for him to be in control of absolutely everything… he had to trust his production team, his publishers and everyone involved to do their jobs with as much passion as he does his job and with the same crystal clear vision. A hard lesson to learn and one that only such an enormous project could teach. At the beginning of the series challenges could get pretty hectic but by the end the series the teams had pretty much learnt one very important thing from Justin Bonello, and you could hear them reciting this under their breathe…

    Plan… Prep… Cook… Serve…


    And the se7en + 1th thing…

  15. There is going to be “An Ultimate Braai Series 2” you will have learnt from your experiences in the first series… you have hit on a phenomenal show that encompasses everything “proudly South African” the countryside, fine food and hanging out with friends… What would you change and do differently next time?
  16. Season 2 is launching in December, in fact online entries open tonight after the show… and it will never ever be as easy as it was for the first group of competitors again. As the production crew learnt a lot – what works for competitors and what doesn’t… the challenges will be much harder from now on and in Season 2 there will be no visiting of big cities… driving through them once or twice but otherwise back roads all the way!!! The teams will be in the great outdoors living off their wits… and I can guarantee that big “little problems” like “who does the dishes” will be ironed out and resolved long before they hit the road…

And now to announce the GiveAway Winners…


When we reviewed the Book we also had two copies of Justin Bonello’s Ultimate Braai to GiveAway… and we had tons of entries:


In a heap…


And we popped them into the pestle and mortar…


And carefully picked two winners… I chose the smallest, least able to read or to be aware of who’s entries were whose…


And the winners were:


Congratulations to:

Linda B Nov 23, 2012 at 5:35 am This would be such a great gift for my friend from SA who lives in the US.


Maria Domingues Nov 25, 2012 at 7:15 pm The book looks to me awesome! Our family loves to braai,this book would come in handy!!!!

To both our winners look out for an emil from us… And a huge thank you to Justin Bonello for his fabulous work and enduring another interview with us and se7en + 1 kids bouncing around on his white couches… and a huge thank-you to Penguin Books South Africa for supplying us with the books to Review and GiveAway.

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