I wrote here about the Ultimate Braaimaster being about much more than just putting up a nice plate of food. It is an epic road trip, of which the auditions are a very small part. But, however small the auditions are, in relation to the whole, you’re not getting anywhere near the road trip if you don’t impress the judges in the auditions. Having experienced them from both sides (contestant last year, judge this year), here are some of my views on getting it right.
OK, so here goes…
You need shade (an ordinary, collapsible gazebo is fine). Working in the sun is no fun, and the judges won’t be enthusiastic about tasting food that’s been sitting in the sun. Maintain cold chain.
Take along a little plastic bath to use for washup, as well as dish washing liquid. Judges love good hygiene, especially if they are food professionals. On the same topic, be religious about preventing cross-contimanination.
When you cook in a kitchen it is very easy to control heat. Doing this on – and around – a fire is a lot harder. You always need to be thinking ahead to make sure that you have enough heat for what you’re going to be cooking next. There’s nothing worse than trying to caramelise fillet steak above tepid coals.
Menu planning – impressing the judges
Justin has said all along that a chop on the braai won’t do. If you are going to cook that metaphorical chop, what are you going to do to make that chop different to every other lamb chop that has ever been braaied? What is going to accompany it? It’s not just about the meat. The freshness of a salad or salsa not only gives the palate a break from smoky meat, but it also gives you the opportunity of showing off some knife skills (if you make a salsa with cubed elements, it will be more impressive with 5mm, than 10mm, cubes), or an absolute ripper of a salad dressing. If you’re in any doubt, borrow some ideas from Vietnamese or other fresh Asian cuisines. Donna Hay has great ideas for braai dishes, especially presentation.
If you can show off a few different culinary techniques you’re going to give yourself a better chance of being chosen. Therefore, I would plan to cook at least two, perhaps more, dishes. I am, personally, not a great dessert eater, but I would recommend that you include a dessert because you’ll be demonstrating greater depth to your braai repertoire.
Presentation makes a big difference – we eat with our eyes first. Bear in mind that the judges are not going to taste more than a mouthful of any dish, so give it to them in small format. Tapas is a great way of doing this, at the same time as making things look great.
As I said above, controlling heat is critical. It also means that braaimasters need to be inventive in their tools and methods. Judges love to be surprised by dishes they thought couldn’t be cooked on the braai.
Menu planning – operational practicality
You will know exactly what time you’re going to be judged. You have plenty of time to cook a whole bunch of things, but they can’t all be last-minute. You can reduce stress by smoking fish well in advance, or by selecting menu items that are served cooked through (like pork belly). So, think – and plan – like a chef. Break all your dishes down into their component elements. Work backwards and do whatever you can in advance, remaining true to the ingredients.
Menu planning – what to avoid
Chicken breasts and pork fillet can be amazing when cooked on coals, but they are the braai equivalent of a 50-50 pass in rugby. They have no fat, which makes them prone to being dry.
On Saturday in Cape Town, we were served several totally uninspiring banana-based desserts. Not only did they show a lack of imagination, but they looked terrible as well. Plus, you’re in trouble if your judge doesn’t like eating cooked bananas.
Braai is something we do in our downtime, relaxing with friends. Above all, have fun and enjoy the experience!