A selection of my favourite photographs from the Ultimate Braai Master auditions in Johannesburg.
The Ultimate Braai Master auditions in Johannesburg were hosted in the parking lot at the Indaba Hotel and Conference Centre in Fourways. It was a spacious venue that could accommodate all the teams but they were still at the mercy of the elements. Fortunately the Jozi weather played fair by holding back the rain until the judges had completed their rounds- and I had just left!
Last year’s auditions were conducted on a much larger scale but it was a disappointing mix of indifferent firestarters; who really shouldn’t have bothered if they couldn’t make the effort, to some very determined braaiers who had every intention of winning the coveted title of South Africa’s next Ultimate Braai Master. Fortunately, this year the focus was on quality and not quantity so contestants had to be prepared for the ultimate challenge of impressing the judges.
Justin Bonello, producer & presenter of Ultimate Braai Master, said they screened all contestants online before inviting them to auditions. Previously, there were some chancers who could talk a good game but couldn’t light a fire to save their life, let alone cook on one, who had tried to enter the show because the lure of a sponsored trip around South Africa, even if they couldn’t win anything, was a temptation that was impossible to resist. One can’t blame someone for taking a chance but it wastes everyone’s time and isn’t worth the effort, or the embarrassment, because there are some serious contenders who will pull out all the stops to win.
This year was the complete opposite because virtually everyone pulled out all the stops to impress the judges. The food was as exceptional as it was varied. Some contenders focused on the simplicity of braaing a good piece of meat to perfection while others demonstrated incredible versatility by serving multiple dishes of varying complexity. I would have preferred the ‘less is more’ approach because after tasting your twentieth dish everything begins to taste the same.
Presentation was more polished this year even if some contenders thought that a chunk of meat on a plate had sufficient visual appeal. It doesn’t take more than a few episodes of watching a foodie show to appreciate that plating is an art-form that requires composition, structure and contrast. I’m going to avoid that tired cliche about how people eat with their eyes first, or maybe I’m not, but a visually appealing presentation can make it more memorable. Visual presentation is especially important in a competition where judges need to remember which contestant served the best dish. Was it the one garnished with shredded basil or the one that was too stickey or the other one that was too spicey. Ultimately, the best dish will win but it doesn’t hurt to score a few extra points with presentation.(Bearing in mind that creativity is one of the criteria judges are looking at.)
Some contestants could improve their people skills, or at least learn to be more engaging; and not just with judges who are shortlisting candidates based on their personality, but the Ultimate Braai Master auditions is also a media event where one is exposed to the press from different mediums. Admittedly, the stakes are high and time is a valuable commodity, but if contestants can’t spare a few minutes to engage with the media then they are losing a valuable marketing opportunity regardless if they make it into the finals. In addition to covering Ultimate Braai Master, because of its newsworthiness, I also cherry-pick future guests for my radio show on Radio Today Johannesburg based on their backgrounds, abilities and personality. It might sound like an unreasonable request considering the pressure the contestants are under but the ones who can engage with the media while multi-tasking are the ones who reap the rewards.
Being on Ultimate Braai Master is a phenomenal marketing opportunity for any contender but it also begins at the auditions. Having branded signage or branded uniforms is the obvious way to make a memorable impression but some teams took it further by printing PR kits that offered some background information about themselves or provided business cards or flyers promoting their other endeavors. I will certainly be taking some of my business cards with me next time. One team was slightly offended by my suggestion about branding themselves by saying that they were there to cook, not brand. Their food was really exceptional, and could get them into the finals, but for the life of me I can’t remember what their name was. Another team took my suggestion to heart and quickly rustled up a board that they called me to inspect. I was very impressed- and can remember that they were Team Coal Mates.
From a food tasting point of view, I think everyone did an exceptional job and is worthy of being picked for the finals. Fortunately, the judges have the odious responsibility of deciding who was better than the best because it would be like splitting hairs over technicalities and preferences.
My Top 5 Tips for Future Ultimate Braai Master contestants:
1: Technical competence is not negotiable. Slightly burnt or slightly raw is like slightly not winning.
2: Create a signature dish that showcases your creativity. Competent is nice but memorable is better.
3: Go bold or go home. A braai is a braai unless you want to be Ultimate Braai Master. Be fearless.
4: Hygiene is as crucial on Ultimate Braai Master as it is in a restaurant.
5: Housekeeping: Clean up your stations before the judges arrive. It just sets the right tone.
Become your own publicity machine by looking like you are having fun and that you are approachable if people want to engage with you. You’ll quickly ascertain who represents a networking opportunity versus those who just want to make small talk. Post your mission statement on your stand, have flyers or business cards available for those who want them and remind people to support you when you make the finals.
It also helps if you are generous with offering taste-bites!
Attending the Ultimate Braai Master (Johannesburg) was the highlight of my week. I ate too much but came home inspired to rustle up a fire of my own. I met some really wonderful people who I will be rooting for if they make it into the finals. I also can’t wait for season 4 of Ultimate Braai Master to begin because Johannesburg is going to be well represented!