Tuesday, July 21, 2015

10 Questions with Justin Bonello

This week we interview Justin ahead of his appearance at Taste of Durban.

Justin Bonello
1. Tell us about Ultimate Braai Master, how did that develop?

Well, it was quite strange that no one had done this show before. When you think about it, we call it braai in all 11 official languages and we keep bringing international formats into South Africa and try to turn an international format into something home-grown, so in many respects the Ultimate Braai Master was a no-brainer. It’s something that all South Africans relate to, something that all South Africans do over the weekend (or any opportunity that they have), and with the advent of lots of cooking shows and chefs and cooks becoming the new rock stars of television, it just made perfect sense for us to put together a show that was based around what South Africans love to do. In fact, you can think of it as a show created by South Africans, starring South Africans, filmed by South Africans that taps into the South African psyche.

2. Was there a point when you had started shooting the first series when you all stopped and said 'Guys I think we are on to something here?'

My business partner, Peter Gird, and I were both very nervous when we held the first Ultimate Braai Master auditions in Cape Town, and while he was driving through to the audition locations, he saw a bakkie filled to the brim with braai grids, accessories and paraphernalia that could be used for a braai and at that point, at 5AM on the first day of shooting the season 1 auditions, we knew that we were onto something special.

3. Now you are all over on TV the other day I saw you on 'Cooked Out of the frying pan' how did that develop?

When I first started off doing television shows I was just a cook. When I went away with mates, I was always the one who cooked, and by the time I had filmed three seasons of Cooked with my mates and I had travelled the length and breadth of Southern Africa having a good time showcasing what a beautiful country we have, I had begun to feel like I was cheating the viewing public: here I was on TV as a cook, showing people how to cook and how to live a certain experience and a lifestyle, and I had no formal or professional training. Out of the Frying Pan was a great way to work with some of South Africa’s best cooks and chefs and up my cooking game and bring the viewer on that journey.

4. Now 'Ultimate Braai Master' you guys managed to secure a deal with the Travel Channel how did that come about?

Although South Africa is our primary market, all the content that my production company, Cooked in Africa Films produces always has an international appeal. When we first hooked up with the Food Network we suggested to them that Braai Master was a perfect fit for them because the series showcasing food in South Africa. The funny thing is that the Travel Channel came to us and said ‘hang on, it’s a better fit for the Travel Channel because it’s got that outdoor, travelling, road trip vibe with food in it’  - I guess we were just really lucky - we had a show with international production value, global appeal and our timing was just perfect. We are proud to announce that the Travel Channel will be airing season four as well!

5. So the new series of 'Ultimate Braai Master' what can we expect?

Without giving away any spoilers, in the first three seasons we had confirmed that we could cook anything that we wanted on the open fire and we really did do that – whether it was brains, testicles, tripe, trotters and whole animals in really trying circumstances, but for season four we looked at how do we still do that and add in a pinch of drama. That’s all I’m prepared to give away because you have to watch the show to see how we have put in the drama and some animosity between the contestants, because in fact, one of our biggest problems in the past was that contestants kept becoming friends on the road. In season four we’re out to make frenemies.

6. Tell us about your background, how did you develop this love for food and cooking?

I was very lucky to have parents who took my sister and I out to the great outdoors and in fact my ability to cook came out of a necessity to know what to do with nature’s bounty, so whether it was diving perlemoen, harvesting mussels or catching fish, my first experiences of food was borne out of the necessity to know how to prepare the items that I caught and from there it just evolved. We all have a guy or girl in our group of friends who generally becomes responsible to prepare our food – I was that guy and had to learn or face the wrath of my friends.

7. What advice do you have for youngsters who are wanting to become Chefs?

Well, I’m just a cook, but what a lot of people don’t know is that TV has made chefs quite glamorous, and as I previously stated, nowadays chefs have become rock stars. I think what I’d like to say to people wanting to become chefs is that you should first check out the hours. Often it’s very unrewarding work in the belly of a hotel or establishment, cooking great food for people that you never see and while everyone is on holiday, you’re not – so before you decide that this is what you want to do, make sure that it really is, otherwise you’re going to end up in the depths of some kitchen without recognition for what you do.

8. So you are coming to Taste of Durban what are you going to be doing at it?

Yes, I’ll be making hamburgers and showing South Africans a couple of tips and tricks when it comes to making one our favourite one-handed delivery vehicles for flavour. So if you’re around, do pop in and check it out!

9. What makes a good burger?

Firstly, you have to have good beef. In life you can never prepare a great meal without great ingredients so quality is key. Personally, I don’t like it too finely minced – I mull my patties by hand – I definitely don’t like the store bought stuff.

10. Talk a little bit about the presentation of food, it's one thing to make a great meal but how should you serve it?

You’re talking to the wrong guy here. Often I say, how do you make a potjie look sexy? When it comes to fine dining, you expect your food to look amazing, but when it’s just your mates what actually counts is flavour. Often people do eat with their eyes, but the real taste explosion comes when you pop it in your mouth.

You can find Justin Bonello on Facebook and Twitter @JustinBonello as well as his website,

Catch Justin Bonello at Taste of Durban happenning 24th - 26th July at Suncoast.

Image - Supplied 

Interview by Fred Felton
Twitter @fredfelton 

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