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Fireside Chat

When we gather round the fire we are evidently of good cheer in fine company; great food and drink to season the bonhomie. But we’re allowed the odd moan, aren’t we?

 Rupert Bates   Spring 2021

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When we gather round the fire we are evidently of good cheer in fine company; great food and drink to season the bonhomie. But we’re allowed the odd moan, aren’t we?

My beef – and he needs a sharp dig in the short ribs – is with Gregg Wallace off the telly. I won’t pass judgment on his presenting skills, but I simply have to take issue with a crass remark he made in a cheap way to promote an ITV series called ‘South Africa with Gregg Wallace’.

Now I cede to nobody in my admiration for a South African braai. The finest meat I ever tasted was in a car park at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria during the 1995 Rugby World Cup and I wasn’t even invited; just summoned by a big man with a big beard who then lectured this Englishman about how, now they were in from the cold, the Springboks would rule the rugby world. They certainly did in 1995 in front of Nelson Mandela and, as my daughter’s godfather will relentlessly remind me (he’s a subscriber to BBQ magazine and always banging on about a mention), still do.

Wallace – no need to shout Gregg – quite rightly extols the virtues of the braai, but then, showing astonishing ignorance for somebody supposedly immersed in the food world, adds lazily and without having conducted a scintilla of an iota of a soupçon of current research: “I hate barbecues in the UK; they’re always put together by people who don’t cook.” Gregg old son, for a man whose finger is meant to be on the pulse, or lentil, you are 10 years out of date.

Now I am no fan of the social media pile on, but I loved the way the UK barbecue community rose as one to – politely and passionately – put Wallace straight; and he has previous, taking cheap shots at barbecues at every opportunity.

If Wallace had looked online in the wake of his lame jibe, he could be dining out on the finest live fire cooking in the country for the rest of his life, such were the quality of cooks and enthusiasts who responded with offers.

To turn down an invitation for a feed from my magazine colleague Marcus Bawdon is the height of culinary foolishness, as Bawdon extended the BBQ glove of fire and friendship to Wallace. And I would challenge any braai – even that one in a Pretoria car park – to compete with the meat at a Marcus feast.

‘Out of touch’ was a familiar refrain on Twitter in response to Wallace, as he was bombarded with images of succulent food over wood and coals in British backyards.

There were some lovely light put-downs. Barbecue cook and writer Genevieve Taylor exclaimed: “Oh Gregg, the British fire cooking scene is hot baby!” While Oliver Woolnough of Meat Matters said: “Come and have a chat. Kisses and fire.” There was even an intervention from the church, with Norfolk rector Father James Mather saying: “Poor Mr Wallace. He must still be putting frozen burgers on his lighter-fuel-scented, pre-formed briquettes.”

Hell hath no fury liked the barbecue community scorned. A braai has sacred significance in South Africa, but the British are now not far behind in their fervency for the food flame, whatever television presenters might think, or rather say – without thinking.

Yours in live-fire cooking



Rupert Bates



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