Around the country in many braais

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Laertes 'Tubby' Melidonis and Elaine Ensor-Smith won the first season of The Ultimate Braai Master. They are pictured here at the "after-party" held at The Cape Point Vineyards in Noordhoek. PICTURE: DAVID RITCHIE

Cape Town - South African braais are never going to be the same again, at least not for the country’s first Ultimate Braaimaster and his braai buddy.

It’s been over three months since filming ended. The 8 000km road trip around the country lasted 52 days and on most of these winners Tubby Melidonis, 56, and Elaine Ensor-Smith, 58, cooked dishes on the open fire.

You would expect that the pair wouldn’t want to see another open fire or a set of braai tongs for a while. But team “Who Dares Wins” have been braaing up a storm since winning the Pick n Pay Ultimate Braaimaster reality series, which was screened on SABC3.

“I’ve been braaiing every second night. I’ve been making everything on the fire, and experimenting with my own sauces.

“With this weather, who wants to be inside and stand in front of a stove?” asks Ensor-Smith.

Melidonis, however, says that while he’s spent quite a bit of time around his own fire since the end of the show, his friends are a bit hesitant to invite him over.

“They’re all intimidated now. But Elaine still invites me over,” he says.

They say that in retrospect, there are many dishes they could have done differently, or experimented with. And now they have the opportunity to do it. This time, without the pressure of cooking against the clock.

Melidonis, notably the calmest and most laid-back contestant, jokes that it is as a result of age.

“I’ve led a reasonably interesting and hectic life where the worse thing that could have happened was that I could die,” he says.

Melidonis has been a commercial dive supervisor for several years. On one of his dives he was taken hostage by pirates.

“So, when the worst thing that could happen was being eliminated, it was not that big a deal at all,” he says.

Melidonis admits he is getting older and diving is becoming a bit tedious. So he may very well trade his wet suit in for an apron and become a full time foodie.

“Thanks to the tireless advice from Bertus (Basson) and Marthinus (Ferreira) my cooking skills have improved immensely. Winning the competition has also given me renewed confidence in almost all aspects of my life,” says Melidonis.

Ensor-Smith’s experience in the food industry – owning a restaurant – came in handy when they had to churn out dish after dish in marathon challenges. “It’s in my nature that the more pressure there is, the more calm I become and incredibly focused,” she says.

Other than the calm, Melidonis brought outdoors expertise to their team. He says he was “adopted” by fishermen at the Kalk Bay docks, who taught him how to fish. He also learned how to build an oven and bake bread in the open.

The best part for both Melidonis and Ensor-Smith was seeing the beauty of the country, and making friends. Their rivals who stood out the most for the team was Sindi Manthata and Lethu Ncengwa. “They’ll be friends for life,” says Melidonis.

The worst part was having to go up against them in an elimination challenge, knowing that it was “them or us”. That, and preparing catfish. Ensor-Smith still shudders when she thinks about the fish’s long whiskers on the plate.

She says the physical aspect of the competition was especially challenging.

“But the experience increased my appreciation of my country. The pictures in my head will be with me forever,” she says.

Both agree that braais are never going to be the same for them.

“There’s just something special about sitting around the fire, and burning some meat together,” says Melidonis.

Ferreira and Basson, the two judges and also among the country’s top 10 chefs, described the winners as deserving of the title.

Basson says Ensor-Smith was very reserved and shy when the series started, but by the end of it she had come out of her shell.

By the end of the show, contestants and judges alike had bonded, which was to be expected after so much time spent on the road together.

It was also never about the individuals. “It always came down to what was on the plate,” says Ferreira.

The production team is already gearing up for the second season, for which entries close on January 31. This time around, Ferreira and Basson are expecting a lot more fun, and even better dishes.

“Braaiing is such an integral part of our culture. If you’re South African, you smack some meat on the fire,” says Basson. Ferreira adds that the aim is to educate the public about everything that can be cooked on the fire. - Cape Argus

* For those interested in entering for season 2, visit: www.ultimatebraaimaster.com

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