Exclusive: Starting fires with the ultimate braai master himself: Justin Bonello! @UltimateBraai @Justin_Bonello

You have more chance of catching Justin Bonello on his successful television show Ultimate Braai Master than meeting him in person. He’s not evasive, just elusive, because his time between producing television shows, writing books and managing his own production company is scheduled months, if not years, in advance.

One doesn’t simply just get Justin’s number and call him for an interview. One goes through his receptionist, who goes through his personal assistant, who runs the idea past Justin. The response is then relayed back in the order it came through. The business of being Justin Bonello is actually very pragmatic, no diva demands or delusions of grandeur, simply time is money and needs to be managed.

The JoziStyle Team was about to give up on interviewing Justin Bonello, but Edward Chamberlain-Bell was determined to get an exclusive interview with South African television’s most successful television show’s producer and presenter. In fact it almost became a challenge, but what Edward wants, Edward gets- and he got an exclusive interview with Justin Bonello just for JoziStylers!

Starting Fires With The Ultimate Braai Master Himself: Justin Bonello!
By Edward Chamberlain-Bell

Justin Bonello Edward Chamberlain-Bell JoziStyle Ultimate Braai Master
I had featured Justin Bonello on our radio show JoziStyle on Radio Today Johannesburg promoting Ultimate Braai Master, and interviewed a few of the contenders from Johannesburg, but it was mostly a promotional pitch encouraging listeners to watch the show and support the Jozi braaiers competing for the title of Ultimate Braai Master. It was time to interview the man himself.

Okay, I couldn’t find his telephone number or email address, but through a quick internet search I found his production company, Cooked In Africa, sent a polite email requesting a personal interview, waited a week and was pleasantly surprised with a positive response. His team was surprisingly patient scheduling interview dates because Justin could be anywhere between Badplaas or Windhoek- and probably without cellphone reception or wi-fi!

Meeting Justin Bonello is like watching Justin Bonello on Ultimate Braai Master, but he’s nicer in person because we usually see him drawing the hardline when contestants fall short of expectation. He’s surprisingly relaxed considering the time-constraints imposed by his hectic schedule- he reminds me of someone who personifies the word “chillaxed”. He smiles broadly, offers a warm handshake and thanks me for my time- DOH! I have to thank him. He’s got the most peaceful blue eyes that don’t look at you but seem to be taking in everything around you. I immediatelly assume that this is a man who has seen so much of the world yet he only sees the beauty of this world. He’s very zen!

Edward Chamberlain-Bell: Justin, you host Ultimate Braai Master- how do you start the ultimate fire?
Justin Bonello: It’s funny that you ask that question because many people just put a stack of wood together, chuck a packet of blitz underneath and light it, thinking that the fire will automatically catch. The truth is that you need to let it breathe. You need to have enough air to fuel the fire otherwise you will just smother it, so make sure that there are spaces between the pieces of wood that allows for air to reach the flames.

What is the quickest way to ruin a braai / or an absolute no-no?
Well there are a number of things that could go wrong:
A) You could run out of beer,
B) your beer could be warm,
C) you don’t have the wine for the ladies,
D) you have bad company.
Cold beer, good wine and great company – the rest will just fall into place that’s the beauty of the braai!

What is your favourite food to braai?
I love doing a spitted lamb, deboned leg of lamb, lamb ribs between two hot igneous rocks, skilpadjies, lamb chops, lamb Italian potjie with gnocchi, lamb, lamb, lamb. I think that my love affair with lamb has something to do with the fact that I spent two years in the Karoo shooting a series, called ‘Karoo: Land of Thirst’ which is coming out soon, but in the meantime you can cook all those lamb recipes in my latest book called Cooked in the Karoo available at all major bookstores.

How many braais have you been to in your life, and which was your most memorable?
That’ is a question that I don’t have an answer for because there are just too many to count, but I would imagine that the figure would be somewhere in the thousands. For me it’s a way of life, so when we’re on the road shooting that’s how we cook our dinner. I think one of the most memorable braais would have to be when my wife and I had our second wedding – a big kuier with our friends and not the formal family ceremony. It was a collective braai where my good mate Nick and I spitted a sheep and everyone got involved making tzatziki and salads and everything to go with it on the Wild Coast – that’s pretty much my idea of perfection!

Congratulations because you’re producing the fourth season of Ultimate Braai Master. I assume the stakes are going to be higher, so can you tell us what you have in store for contestants?
Well I can’t give too much away, but I can tell you this much: if anyone thinks they’ve watched three seasons and they understand how the game works, they are sorely mistaken and I have a few new tricks up my sleeve that should make for a very interesting season. This year we’ve changed the game dynamics of the competition to really make for the best road trip thus far, so if you haven’t entered yet, go to the website and do it now because I can guarantee that it will be the adventure of a lifetime. One thing I can promise you is this: as much as we have a fantastic culture of getting together around the fire in South Africa, this year I’m out to stir the pot and make the contestants more responsible for their own fate in the game and not just what the judges think! Entries close on the 21st of February for Cape Town and the 28th of February for everyone else!

What do you look for in contestants? What is a deal breaker getting selected or disqualified?
We’re just looking for all South Africans who love life, food and the braai. Obviously you need to be able to cook well. I think that people have become quite intimidated by what the contestants have produced on the fire over the past three years, but the truth is that anything you can cook in a kitchen you can cook on a braai and it’s the fire that levels the playing field. The first two seasons were both won by amateur chefs and the curve balls that I have lined up for this next season will definitely catch even the most experienced chefs off-guard. Remember you spend two months on the road with Bertus Basson, Petrus Madutlela and myself, starting as a good cook but ending as a great cook.

Ultimate Braai Master works well in South Africa butis there any chance of it being franchised globally? Eg. Ultimate Braai Master: USA or Ultimate Braai Master: UK?
Last year Ultimate Braai Master was selected by one of the world’s largest independent production and format rights companies, all3mediaInternational who own Undercover Boss and Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, to become part of its global format catalogue, which is a first for us and will hopefully see the Ultimate Braai Master replicated as a successful global format in territories around the world! So that’s definitely a possibility, but you never know it’s a big television market out there. Both the Americans and the Australians are big on their barbeques, but South Africans are the only people who can braai!

Finally, let’s pretend you’ve burnt the braai (hypothetically speaking!) What do you do? 
I normally pull an old Afrikaans trick here. Let me explain it to you in one sentence: the longer you make your friends wait for their food, the better it tastes, so provide and ply them with loads and loads of alcohol, give them the contact number for a taxi or a couch to sleep on and feed them as late as possible. Remember there is no such thing as a bad cook, only friends who aren’t hungry enough!

Just as our time is up Justin’s PA reminds him that he has to leave for another meeting- and checks if he told me about the closing date for entries for Ultimate Braai Master: Game On (Season 4). He did!

Entries for Ultimate Braai Master: Game On (Season 4) close on the 21 February 2014. Enter here:

Also read JoziStyle’s Get your game on for Ultimate Braai Master for more tips from Justin Bonello about how to become the next Ultimate Braai Master.

Images of Justin Bonello courtesy of COOKED IN AFRICA FILMS.

Addendum: Justin Bonello had agreed to a radio interview with JoziStyle on Radio Today Johannesburg. We’ll confirm dates as soon as we have them.

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