Given the chance, he’d have written it in braai-smoke signals. Justin Bonello discusses his latest ode to fire and food
Words: Ian Macleod
When you’re standing around a fire with a group of friends, everything just makes sense.” That’s not just something Ultimate Braai Master host Justin Bonello says, it appears to be the mantra that drives him. It’s certainly at the heart of his latest book. As much a recipe book as a guide to relishing the fireside kuier in South Africa’s great outdoors, Roads Less Travelled is a must for everyone who travels, braais and banters.
Many of the dishes included were inspired by contestants on his hit reality series. But Bonello was adamant that this not be a collection of recipes and pictures. “This book is essentially about making food accessible again and inspiring South Africans to travel in their own backyard,” he says. “We live in this 24/7, high-speed, social media world. There’s stimulation pollution everywhere. I mean, so many of us forget to live. We definitely don’t learn from our parents the way we used to. Much of this book aims to remind people that it doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve been cooking outside on fire for much longer than we’ve lived in cities, and you really don’t need a kitchen or restaurant to prepare great food.”
Highlighting the inherent link between food and place, Bonello named his chapters after locations – Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve to Hogsback to Sodwana Bay – and begins each with a chatty history of the place, his own experiences there or a few visitor hints, like what to take along. Similarly, each recipe opens with a note from the author explaining its origins (such as the original ‘dustbin pizza’ at Splashy Fen) or some other facet that makes it stand out.
Bonello also went to great effort to make this book relevant and usable for everyone. “Good food is not the realm of the top chef,” he reasons. “Restaurants are more about the experience, but food really is quite simple.
All you need is an understanding of three things: time, combinations and a heat source.” Along with ghost writer Helena Lombard, Bonello mixes these ingredients with an uncomplicated blend of passion and energy that does make even the more outlandish recipes accessible.
Where some extra skills are required, illustrated guides are a handy way to get up to speed. These cover everything from deboning meat to selecting your cuts of beef to scouting for the right wood for your fire. Despite the common theme of cooking outdoors on fire, the sheer variety of meals dished up is another draw card of Roads Less Travelled. You’ll find tasty new takes on old favourites like the rolled mealie and the jaffle. There are also plenty of ideas you’re unlikely to have considered. In this category are the Snout to Tail Potjie and Grey-winged Francolin Braai Pie. Bonello even ventures into puddings, like the Wet Chocolate Cake Mugs, and boozy floats. In short, no matter how experienced you are, you won’t want for innovative meals and twists.
As for the man himself, his favourites are the ones that surprised him. “I love lateral thinking,” he says. “The parts of the book I really enjoy are the ones that started with me being like, wow, that actually makes perfect sense. Why didn’t I think of that?” Here he cites the Jaffle Waffle conjured up by a member of his crew one day on the road.
Another of Bonello’s besties is the Tongue and Tail Potjie, which captures the essence of the project. Introduced by Ultimate Braai Master contestants, the Berry Bright Food Fanatics, this is a meal you’ll struggle to make in an urban centre. “Tails are usually docked at source,” says Bonello. “But if we’re going to slaughter an animal, we should be gracious enough to use all of it. When you make this meal, you kind of get that. So often we buy a chop, and that’s as far as we think. We forget about making skilpadjies or using the tongue.” Assembling the ingredients – including six to eight sheep tongues and 2kg of tails – coupled with the intensive cooking required, makes this one a ceremony to be savoured. Moreover, Bonello raves about the taste.
The ultimate braai master offers the following story to illustrate how he envisions you making use of his latest release: “The best book of mine I’ve ever seen was at a signing I did. One lady brought me a copy that she had filled with her own ideas. She had been changing recipes, writing notes and sticking photos into the book. That’s the way a recipe book should be used. It mustn’t look pretty on the shelf. I want to see this book stained and burnt.”
Roads Less Travelled is available at all leading bookstores. For more info visit www.penguinbooks.co.za