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Cooking up a new season of Ultimate Braai Master

Ultimate Braai Master Season 5 returned to e.tv this past Sunday, 5 February at 4pm. Show host Justin Bonello and executive producer at Cooked in Africa, Peter Gird, share the show's success as well as what we can expect from this season's contestants and celebrity judges Pete Goffe-Wood and Benny Masekwameng.
In case you missed it, I’ve embedded the Season 5 preview promo for this latest season of Ultimate Braai Master below:

The show keeps its flame of success burning from season to season, so much so that it’s been dubbed ‘South Africa’s favourite outdoor cooking show’ and has fanned the flames for international renown. Talking us through the show’s growth, Gird explains that season one of Ultimate Braai Master started with an audience of around 450,000 per week in SA and no Facebook fans. “We now average an audience of around 2m South Africans per week with over 20,000 Facebook fans,” he says, with several South African Film and Television Awards for the innovative concept, and reaching over 100m homes around the world with Brazil, Sweden, Poland, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand being their biggest fan base outside of SA.

Cooking in the great wide South African open

Part of that success lies in the fact that the show’s not stuck in a standard studio location – instead the ten teams like Pretty Griddy and Salty Flames, which are pairs of braai master and braai buddy, travel the length and breadth of the country – 7,000km in total – to cook dishes on open flame only and whisk their way to the top. Instead of just marvelling at the mouth-watering meals concocted, viewers also get a dose of the staggering natural beauty of the country, as contestants also explore various survival challenges in the Drakensberg, Gamtoos River in the Eastern Cape, Letsatsi Game Lodge in the Free State and Wavecrest Hotel & Spa in the Wild Coast, that include an on-air competition element to keep viewers interacting and not just passively viewing.

Speaking of audience feedback, Bonello says, “being in pre-production of season six should say it all – too often, I find that SA productions that are destined only for local airing are below par to what the viewing public is used to, which is weird because we produce great international commercials, series and movies. From the outset, we said we wanted to produce a show that we could be proud of, that have viewers coming back for more. Every year since the first season, we’ve increased viewership. I think the key here is that we produce a show that's not only world class, but is also us.” Bonello adds that while there’s been a plethora of international food competition formats on air, none of these were home grown or focused on what we like to do as South Africans, and focused on our heritage and country while starring South Africans. “That realisation, coupled with the huge volume of local content that we were producing at the time, gave us the leverage and ability to create the format, and get brands involved,” adds Bonello. The idea and timing were everything.

Gird says all the contestants were selected because they can cook, and they cook well. They also love the challenge of cooking things that they've never had before, all in the great outdoors and on an open fire. With 10 teams who come from all walks of life, their approaches to braaing food are also very different. Offering some clues on what to expect, Gird says, “One team produced a perfect apple strudel on a braai; we had seafood extravaganzas and a good old Durban curry, Asado-style lamb, dashboard biltong and much more exciting stuff.”

Top judging pedigree and tastes

Judging each week’s challenge is obviously no easy feat, and falls to cook, author and TV producer Justin Bonello, who has pioneered his own cooking show, Cooked and sever cookbooks under his name, while also co-owning Cooked in Africa Films, which produces Ultimate Braai Master, and serving as presenter and judge of the show since it first aired. This year’s judging panel also includes celebrity chef Pete Goffe-Wood, now executive chef and CEO of Kitchen Cowboy who made his mark on the Cape Town food scene back in the early 1990s, “when fusion food was still a novelty in South Africa” through bold and brave Asian-European- and African-inspired combo creations that raised local food eyebrows, while fellow celebrity chef Benny Masekwameng graduated from what is now the Durban University of Technology with a diploma in catering management, with his culinary journey including stints as executive chef at the then-Mondo Vino restaurant at Montecasino, before becoming executive chef at Tsogo Sun.

Gird at the 10th annual SAFTAs.

Goffe-Wood and Masekwameng are also household names, thanks to the success of Masterchef SA. Explaining how they were selected as judges for Ultimate Braai Master or UBM Gird says, “Unfortunately MasterChef Australia has set the standard for all MasterChef franchises around the world; it’s a hard act for any country to follow.” So while Pete and Benny were outstanding in that production, because of the dynamics in this country, any satellite channel only offers limited audiences.

Bonello takes us on a trip down memory lane: “When filming began on season one, judges included Bertus Basson of Overture and Marthinus Ferreira of DW11-13, and later Petrus Maduletla”. They never wanted viewers or contestants to question the food pedigree of their judges, so when all three left to focus on their restaurants, they faced a real dilemma in finding new judges who would fit the bill, already have screen presence, make their lives as producers easy and of course loved food. “When we heard that Masterchef wasn’t going to be produced in SA again, they were the only two we phoned and chatted to. Especially after show director Andrew Faber, who had worked with them both on MasterChef, said that they were real stand-up guys. No other audition was necessary."

UBM now offers Goffe-Wood and Masekwameng a far wider audience and an opportunity to entertain all South Africans instead of a select few. Gird says inviting them to be part of the journey has proven to be a great decision on Cooked in Africa’s part as “they are hard task masters and are uncompromising when it comes down to the food on the plate”. As a result they’re thrilled to have them and look forward to a long and happy relationship in the years to come.

While Goffe-Wood “holds no punches”, Bonello shares that Masekwameng tends to be a little bit gentler, and the great thing about the two of them is that they love food in all its forms and are always up for a new experience. So viewers should expect honesty, some laughter and judges who tell it like it is. On what the judges will be looking for this season, Gird says, “Our judges are no fools when it comes to food. If contestants try to pull the wool over their eyes, they get found out. They are looking for creativity, time management, organisation, cleanliness, the use of spices to create unique flavours, but above all we look to astonish the audience and demonstrate that anything is possible when cooking on an open fire,” and they’re uncompromising in this quest: to enjoy astonishing food cooked on the open fire.

Haute cuisine and high tea on an open fire

Letting us in on some of the exciting new challenges contestants will face this season but without giving anything away, Bonello shares some of the exciting new challenges contestants will face his season as follows: “Let’s just say you can bake a three-tiered cake on the fire. Pap can be amazing, and there are even some dishes for the vegetarian 'braaiers'.”

Judges for Ultimate Braai Master season five.

Gird adds that viewers are going to be blown away when contestants are asked to produce a 'high tea' on a braai, which featured the three-tiered cake Bonello alluded to, as well as cheesecakes, scones, jaffles, Portuguese tarts and much more. He adds that producing three giant potjie pots – enough to feed 300 people – as well as a gruelling eight-hour challenge that’s interrupted by a natural phenomenon add to the spicy viewing mix.

Sharing a personal braai success, Bonello says there is always one braai story that stands out: “When I got married, 40 of our friends joined my wife and I on the Wild Coast for four days of kuier and friendship to celebrate our marriage. Every day we centred our time around the fire. The piece da resistance was a Greek-style lamb spit, but the part I loved the most was the sense of village, of neighbourhood, that everyone cooked towards a common goal.” Mmm. To me, that’s the essence of a good braai.

Bonello ends with his personal favourite ‘braai fire-only’ meal to make: “It has to be pesto-lined skilpaadjies (lamb liver wrapped in net vet or caul fat) and veld-fed cold smoked rib eyes seasoned with just salt and pepper,” served with his wife's slaw, a three-bean salad, Thai mielie salad and clay oven-baked bread.

Sounds delicious. Ultimate Braai Master airs on OpenView HD, the only free digital satellite platform in SA, powered by e.tv. Follow updates of the show on Twitter @UltimateBraai and be sure to tune in each week.

About Leigh Andrews

Leigh Andrews AKA the #MilkshakeQueen, is former Editor-in-Chief: Marketing & Media at Bizcommunity.com, with a passion for issues of diversity, inclusion and equality, and of course, gourmet food and drinks! She can be reached on Twitter at @Leigh_Andrews.
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