Intrepid cook and seasoned traveller, Justin Bonello embarks on an epic road trip of a lifetime – 30 days, 30 friends, more than 4500km around South Africa, from Cape Town to the Wild Coast and back again.
Guided by Justin, along the way they will play with their food, cook over open fires, eat under the stars, explore the incredible natural beauty of their country, and have awesome experiences and adventures that will give them a lifetime of warm memories!
This is Cooked.
Justin and his busload of friends set off on the first leg of their epic journey, from Cape Town to the Breede River. First stop is for Justin to sneak onto a farmer’s land to pick waterblommetjies at dawn. A little later he makes a restorative chilli coffee with a splash of brandy for mates fishing (unsuccessfully) followed by a hearty “breakfast for da boyz” on the beach. Back at base camp, friends get roped in to make beer bread (there is no such thing as a free lunch after all), and slow cooked gemsbok and waterblommetjie bredies on an open fire. The meal is enjoyed at a long communal table before the episode concludes with a fiery finale.
After a bit of a heavy night at Up The Creek with lots of tequila, Justin whips up a “regmaker” – a spicy Bloody Mary with raw egg yolk. Picnics are an important part of road trips so the gang stop at the side of the river where Justin toasts up some of last night’s leftover beer bread and tops it with mozzarella and ostrich carpaccio cut with a Swiss Army knife. The main meal of the day is another group effort – Thai-style (sort of) risotto and another with butternut and sweet potato, typical of Justin’s fusion approach to food.
From candlelit cocktails in the hot baths at Calitzdorp spa to Buffalo Bay…a gentle horse ride on the beach can only be tackled after a hangover breakfast of health muffins (a bit like baked muesli) and fresh berry smoothies. Is there a pattern emerging here? Strength regained, on the menu for dinner is a Thai-style paella full of colourful veggies, chilli (of course – they’re Justin’s favourite), coconut milk, saffron and seafood.
A walk on the wild side and it’s back on the bus down to Storm’s River Mouth, through Tsitsikamma forest, a drive that reminds everyone what a beautiful country South Africa is. Justin’s up early again, whipping up Spanish omelettes. Among the ingredients is the peri peri oil he picked up the day before at a farm stall – another thing you have to do on a road trip. He uses it again later for kebabs done four ways: “I want you to remember that a couple of ingredients used in clever ways can make them stretch a long way,” says Justin as he prepares an explosion of colours and flavours.
In this episode Justin cooks with tequila. He even puts it in the food. The fishing is still not going so well. “Humbled by a creature with the brain the size of a pea and a three second memory,” grumbles Justin. Some trout is secured through other means, however, which Justin smokes with rooibos tea then mixes it with ricotta to make ravioli served with burnt garlic and tequila sauce.
It’s all about the journey, not the destination and this road trip of a lifetime is around half way now. Justin and his friends have gone through Hogsback and heading towards Mazeppe Bay in the Eastern Cape. Justin gets back to basics by making stock while his friends get down and dirty in the mud. Simple stick bread with pecorino and olives, or whatever takes their fancy, keeps the hunger pangs at bay until that stock Justin made earlier gets put to work as a fondue base…skewers of marinaded meat and vegetables. Dessert is a South African tradition – a marshmallow tree. The next day it’s full steam ahead to the Wild Coast to kick back, relax and recharge.
Skinny dipping and barefoot jungle-bashing in an unspoiled paradise, and a spot of surf fishing finally yields results! In another Cooked never-been-done-before experiment Justin cooks the mussel cracker in banana leaves with cream, capers and olives, right there on the rocks. After a long day of fun in the sun, there’s more mussel cracker for dinner – hey, those beach games work up one heck of an appetite – this time in tempura batter with sweet chilli dipping sauce, followed by playing with fire…
Oysters pried from the rocks and sucked down, fish fresh from the ocean…why would anyone want to leave this place? But all good things must come to an end, of sorts. On their last day in this little slice of heaven, there’s a feast of Priscilla’s vetkoek and Justin’s pancakes, and a homemade pasta with “everything that swims” and a few things that don’t (like mussels steamed in white wine). Making pasta is a messy group activity defying every mother who ever told her offspring “don’t play with your food.” Yeah, right. She doesn’t know Justin.
After an emotional farewell, it’s time to hit the road again, winding down from the Wild Coast and heading back in the general direction of Cape Town, via St Francis Bay. Taking advantage of big swells brought in on the back of a cold front, the guys go surfing while Justin makes them bunny chow with slap chips, a traditional surfer munchie. Back at the house there’s a bit of white mischief, strawberry daiquiris, calamari stuffed with mussel, tomato and olive risotto, and Fran’s crème brulee to finish.
Everyone gets high on the Bloukrans bridge as they head down to Knysna to potter around on a houseboat. Stopping at Buffalo Bay on the way, Justin makes “hobo” fish – cob wrapped in newspaper and cooked on the coals. Knysna is the home of the oyster so there is nothing else for it but to eat them in as many different ways as possible. Grilled in garlic butter and mopped up with brown bread, in a Bloody Mary shot, a Divorce cocktail (with tequila and Tabasco), poached on the grill and slurped down with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon juice, with sparkling wine at sunset…oysters go well with everything, especially good times. Is that another hangover morning we see looming?
Time to give the fishing another go off the South Coast. With spears and fishing hero Gareth, the bounty from the open ocean is rich. Justin feeds the hungry hordes with home made muesli, fresh fruit and smoothies but the coup de grace is the baked stumpnose, which was swimming not so long ago, done two ways – tomato based with mushrooms, onion and garlic, the other with cream, capers and olives, which worked so well with the mussel cracker in an earlier episode. The next morning it’s off to the Cedarberg via De Hoop nature reserve for breakfast – tin mug poached eggs with all the trimmings, washed down with vanilla coffee.
The Koue Bokkeveld in the heart of the Cedarberg is the rendezvous point to hook up with some new friends, stroll among the peach blossoms and frolic in crystal clear mountain pools. Fran makes a traditional malva pudding for the dessert to follow Justin’s rare ostrich fillet rolled in crushed peppercorns, warm mixed mushroom and smashed baby potato salad. There’s a poignant bitter-sweetness in the air as the trip nears its end – happiness for what has been, sadness that it’s nearly over. “It’s been incredible…the more I think about it, the more I have to think about,” muses Justin.
Coming full circle, the tour heads back to the Mother City for a house party in Bakoven, but first some crayfish hunting in a chilly Hout Bay. The bath is filled with beer and ice, the band is doing a sound check, the coals are ready and the scene is set for a kick-ass Cooked season finale. Justin makes an intoxicating fruit punch. To line the tummies is crayfish with chilli chocolate vodka sauce, a brandy-chardonnay sauce and Thai salad. It’s a fittingly decadent ending to a most memorable month of fun, food and friends.