What's a braai without meat? A feast, if it's on 'Ultimate Braai Master'

Creativity was the name of the game when contestants of the hit competitive cooking show were challenged to a plant-based cook-off over the coals

07 November 2021 - 00:00 By Hilary Biller
The first plant-based episode of 'Ultimate Braai Master' took place at Grass Roof Restaurant in Lovemore Park, Gqeberha.
The first plant-based episode of 'Ultimate Braai Master' took place at Grass Roof Restaurant in Lovemore Park, Gqeberha.
Image: Matt Bouch

The canopy of trees, rolling lawns, fields of vegetable crops and tunnels brimming with fresh produce at Grass Roof Restaurant in Lovemore Park, Gqeberha, couldn’t fail to inspire the contestants of the seventh series of Ultimate Braai Master.

This episode was a first for the braai contestants, because it was to be a plant-based cook-off over the coals. It was sponsored by Fry’s, a family company started in KwaZulu-Natal by Wally Fry, who in 1991 developed a range of plant-based foods.

“The seed was planted because I couldn’t find anything to feed my family, whose love of animals meant they refused to eat meat — so I invented something and began making burgers and sausages in my home kitchen,”  said Wally.

On the day of the competition, a chilly Saturday morning meant restaurant diners were huddled inside tucking into hearty hot breakfasts. Many couldn’t contain their curiosity,  peering out of the windows to the lawn below where the Ultimate Braai Master team were staging the set.

It came to life when the two long cooking stations with braais on either side were built, but the hero of the scene was the pantry, resembling a farm stall, the counter brimming with gorgeous fresh produce, many of the greens having been picked from the restaurant gardens that morning.  

The open pantry.
The open pantry.
Image: Matt Bouch

Inside, a  large fridge groaned with Fry’s Foods, from which the contestants could take their pick. A far cry from the original Fry’s offering of sausages and burgers, today the range is a vast array of plant-based foods that include sausages and burgers in different flavours and styles — even a braai wors — nuggets, schnitzels, a plant-based mince and “beef” strips, seafood, snacks, pies and pastries.

Allan Bezuidenhout, top chef and co-owner of Muse.
Allan Bezuidenhout, top chef and co-owner of Muse.
Image: Matt Bouch

The contestants for this episode competed in two teams — the Ngonyamas, or lions, and the Ndlovus, or elephants.

To inspire their creative plant-based thinking, they attended a presentation in the morning courtesy of one of Gqeberha’s top chefs, Allan Bezuidenhout, who together with his wife Simone owns one of the city’s award-winning restaurants, Muse.

And inspiration there was aplenty — pretty mini pink hamburgers, the dough coloured with beetroot juice and served with a garlic aioli. Waffles with a tasty savoury topping of saucy “chicken” strips. Tacos filled with tasty “beef” strips, topped with greens, corn and a fresh tomato salsa. Using plant-based mince, the chefs made their version of spaghetti with meatballs — the spaghetti was thin strips of baby marrow.

After an inspiring feast, it was the turn of the contestants to get creative. They huddled in groups, pen and paper in hand, and thrashed out their ideas. They had some tough critics to please — not only the judges, expert meat chefs Pete Goffe-Wood and Benny Masekwameng and myself, guest judge for the day — but perhaps even harsher critics, a group of 60 children visiting from a local children’s home who were looking forward to a lunch feast.

From left, judges Benny Masekwameng and Pete-Goffe-Wood, 'Ultimate Braai Master' presenter Justin Bonello and Sunday Times food editor Hilary Biller.
From left, judges Benny Masekwameng and Pete-Goffe-Wood, 'Ultimate Braai Master' presenter Justin Bonello and Sunday Times food editor Hilary Biller.
Image: Matt Bouch

I really felt for the contestants, as chefs Pete and Benny can sniff out any pitfalls and potential problems.

Team Ndlovu's cheese burgers.
Team Ndlovu's cheese burgers.
Image: Matt Bouch

From the outset we judges were concerned about the Ndlovu team, who look harried and disorganised. Already unsure about their menu — burgers and boerie rolls — we felt they were tripped up by their decision to make chips, as cooking in hot oil over the coals meant it was going to be tricky to maintain the heat. And why peel the potatoes and slice them inconsistently — some burnt while others were cooked through? They made a tasty sauce for the “boerie” roll, though.

In the dying minutes of the contest they quickly whipped up fresh fruit kebabs. But Benny was unhappy with the inconsistency of the cut of the fruit, and why wasn’t there a sugar syrup to go with them?

Team Ngonyama's Tex-Mex tacos.
Team Ngonyama's Tex-Mex tacos.
Image: Yashodh Singh

The winning team, the Ngonyamas, kicked off with huge enthusiasm and a menu of sliders  and mini hot dogs, cleverly thinking of the children and cutting the sausages and rolls in half for a perfect young persons’ serving with a homemade tomato sauce. Good thinking.

We judges tasted all the dishes and the one that had the greatest appeal was the Tex-Mex taco — marinated “beef” strips in a homemade taco base that used a combination of brown and white flour, rolled out and cooked over the coals for a slightly charred appearance. We didn’t for a minute miss the meat, and the topping of a delicious guacamole sealed the deal.

The children, who burst in hungry and ready for a feast, declared everything “delicious”. They came back for seconds and thirds, then packed up the leftovers to take home. They also left with a R10,000 donation from Takealot.com and packs of crayons, colouring books and other stationery courtesy of BIC — and balancing ice lollies in their hands.

• Catch season 7 of 'The Ultimate Braai Master' on e-TV at 6pm on Saturdays.


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