Celebrity cook, traveller and lover of life, Justin Bonello has done the very thing we all dream of – taking the things he cares most deeply about and making his world revolve around them.
As a seasoned documentary maker of eleven television series, Justin has also presented five seasons of Cooked (aired on the BBC); and produced 13 episodes x 30” of Getaway to Africa (aired locally on MNET and internationally on various broadcasters, including Discovery), as well as 13 episodes x 30” of Exploring the Vine (aired locally on MNET HD, SABC 3 and internationally on National Geographic.).
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Justin has also enjoyed success in the literary world, and has published four books. The first, Cooked in Africa, which was a best seller, won Exclusive Books’ ‘Book of the Year’ 2009 award and a ‘Loerie’ for its design in 2010. The pocket book “Weekends Away” received rave reviews, and his third book, Out of the Frying Pan, which was published in 2010, enjoyed a similar reception from South African readers and home-cooking fans.
His fourth book with Penguin; Justin Bonello and Friends launched in December last year and was available in SA bookstores in advance of Christmas.
As a veteran presenter and producer, and founder of one of South Africa’s leading film production companies, Justin has combined his three favourite things – Southern Africa, food and friends – into his daily work. As a child Justin was fortunate enough to enjoy long lazy summer holidays fishing on the banks of the Breede River on the Southern Cape coast or at a very special place on the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape. While his love for the untamed beauty of South Africa was being shaped and moulded so too was his appetite for good, wholesome, down-to-earth uncomplicated food.
With his earliest kitchen memories dating back to his grandmother teaching him to make pancakes, to this day Justin will tell you he is not a chef, but a cook – “an average Joe with a passion for life, love, food and my friends.”
He’s the guy messing about with the braai, burning the fingers on one hand with a beer in the other; or in the kitchen fearlessly experimenting with flavours and ingredients, playing with his food. It might not always work, but as Justin says “without exception we all have flops from time to time but like life, food is about trying new things, making new friends and most of all, having fun. It’s all part of the process and when it works the rewards are sweet…or savoury!”
In the first season of Cooked, Justin invited viewers to join him and 30 friends on an epic 30-day road trip of a lifetime from Cape Town to the Wild Coast and back again. The idea was to get back to the basics of food and friendship, with meals of local ingredients and produce slowly cooked over open fires and enjoyed without the hassle of utensils while soaking up the beauty of South Africa. “The more you’re out there playing the more you understand the simple truths of food and life and how everything is interconnected,” says Bonello. “And when you add into this the mix the beauty of travel, of getting out there, of searching for those elements that make you tick, of making friends and memories, life is truly grand.”
In season two, the concept was continued with weekend breaks and getaways, and in season three Justin took his crew even further, all the way to Mozambique. Along the way we have seen him make a roast in a tree, a pizza in a dustbin, chicken in a pit oven and steaks on a spade. In season four, which was broadcast in Southern Africa on the DStv channel BBC Lifestyle late in 2010, Justin tested his boundaries by swopping a sarong for chef’s whites in some of the best-known restaurant kitchens in the country – quite literally out of the frying pan and into the fire.
South Africans would have seen season five, entitled “Living Free”, last year. “I questioned where our food comes from, with the resulting journey hopefully changing how people think about their food and how it’s produced,” says Justin.
While the subject matter was more serious than previous seasons, it remains an accurate reflection of Justin’s own caring and evolving relationship with food. The self-taught bush cook will start filming and hosting a home-grown SA-original 13-part reality TV cooking competition entitled “Ultimate Braai Master” in July for broadcast via SABC 3 in September 2012.
[SABC Press Release}
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