Feeding reality TV

COOKING WITH FIRE: Ultimate Braai Master crew with Justin Bonello (centre)

Cooking shows have been on trend and among the hottest shows on television in recent years and a big trend for next year is fire and traditional, open-air cooking methods, says local TV reality star and cook Justin Bonello of Cooked in Africa films.

“Fire interests me. I always try to take on something for me too – two years ago I did the Karoo, this time it is fire, Bonello told Screen Africa. “Fire is such a primal thing to me; I’m interested in what drove us as a culture of using fire. We used it as protection, warmth.

“Whether you are in South America, India or South Africa… it’s hot wired into our DNA. But what is it that makes us all gather around it when nights are long and friends are few? We all use it. I want to turn back the clock a few hundred years to when everything was cooked on fire. I want to go back there for a bit.”

Reality TV shows are gaining ground in South Africa and our content is being noticed by the world, with a series of recent successes charted by Cooked in Africa, which is celebrating selling the rights to its Ultimate Braai Master to global format rights giant, All3Media.


 Cooked in Africa films is led by executive producer, former Ogilvy adman and founder, Peter Gird and Justin Bonello, creative director, TV celebrity cook and founder of the ‘Cooked’ series. They have produced Ultimate Braai Master for four seasons now, premiering currently on e.tv, with the fourth series firing up a weekly TV audience of 1.7 million viewers (4.4 AR) on Sundays. The Saturday repeat brings in another 500 000 viewers.

All3Media has secured options for the replication of the franchise in other braai-loving locations such as America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and even Poland and Sweden. Of course in some regions it is called a barbeque. ‘Ultimate Barbie Master’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it though.

Ultimate Braai Master, the local version, has also gained international fans after it was broadcast on international food channels, and Bonello says it is airing on Discovery Channel soon too. UK-based distribution agency TVF has also recently sold the first two seasons’ broadcast rights to Latin America. It will start airing in 2016.

Gird said the strategy to move the show to a weekend off-shoulder slot locally had paid off, with a massive increase in viewers from the average 600 000 prime-time viewers SABC3 brought in on the first two seasons.

Cooked was Bonello’s road to reality fame and entry into the television production industry and after a successful 10 years, Bonello is launching Cooked: The Reunion with his original pack of friends and travellers, on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion.

The format is a two month road trip across the island with his friends – who, like Bonello, have ‘grown up’ and married, had families, built careers – joining the production for a week or two at a time.

“We’re still the same people, the same group of friends. I’m fortunate. But how we live now is different. We own homes, have debt, kids… It will be special… a trip down memory lane.”

Grilled not fried

In the decade since he conceptualised, starred in and produced Cooked on a limited budget with this  same group of friends as extras and helpers, Bonello admits he has learnt a lot about movie-making and production and the reality of reality show budgeting.

“I love reality. There is something so amazing about it, you have to construct stories around it, but reality allows you to have a construct where you can get people as they are. Reality TV is exploding, it is phenomenal. But no matter what genre you are in, you have to produce good stuff.”

Bonello’s new show Fire is still in pre-production and feeds into the current cooking trend: ‘fire’ will see him exploring how cooking has evolved through the ages from when man learned to cook with fire, to how people currently cook with fire all over the world, latest fire recipes, traditions and culture. His love for this ‘umami taste’ will take him from Argentina spit fires to American barbeque culture, Asian street fires, Mediterranean tastes, and of course the Australian ‘barbie’.

Apart from looking at the various cooking methods, with Fire, Bonello will also be looking at the ritual of fire, the origins of cooking with fire and modern man’s advancement with fire. It is that storytelling that Cooked in Africa is so good at portraying and a key reason why their productions are so successful.

“There’s a point in our history where we were all hunter gatherers, but fire enabled us to manipulate our environment and we strolled out the jungle. For me, no fire is the same. I want to tell this story,” Bonello adds.


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