Karen Dudley, Joseph Dhafana among the judges of this year’s Eat Out Awards

Karen Dudley, Joseph Dhafana among the judges of this year’s Eat Out Awards
Clockwise from top left: Karen Dudley, Abigail Donnelly, Joseph Dhafana, Herman Lensing, Mokgadi Itsweng, Marisa Munro. (Photos: Supplied)

The Eat Out Awards season starts early with a lot of hard work to be done before the glittering event is held every November. The organisers have announced this year’s judging panel.

The pack has been shuffled and the judges for the next round of Eat Out Awards have been announced. Facing the unenviable task of eating their way through the menus, or part thereof, of scores of restaurants throughout the country are:

Abigail Donnelly. Having steered these awards for many years, Abi is a culinary visionary whose expertise and creativity have made her a household name in the industry.

Abi’s journey began with her own coffee shop, where her talent and style caught the attention of the editor of Fairlady magazine. From there, she rose to become the magazine’s food editor.

In 2006, Abigail joined Eat Out as Editor and Chief Judge. Her food writing has been recognised with multiple Galliova Awards.
Abigail says, “I am so excited to work alongside and be inspired by the 2023 judging panel, and I look forward to discovering new restaurants around South Africa as well as eating at the established ones that are elevating the standards around the country. I also hope to give diners a good understanding of how restaurants strive for excellence.”

Joseph Dhafana. Joseph Tongai Dhafana is a notable remarkable sommelier, wine judge and founder of Mosi Wines and Spirits. Originally from Zimbabwe, he grew up in the communal area of Chirumhanzu and, in 2009, moved to South Africa in search of better opportunities.

Starting from scratch, Joseph pursued his passion for wine. He took on odd jobs, working as a gardener, dishwasher, barman, and waiter. He became one of South Africa’s most celebrated sommeliers. 

Joseph holds a Wine Judging Certificate from the University of Cape Town and was a member of Team South Africa, which competed in the 2015 World Blind Wine Tasting Championships in France. He went on to captain Team Zimbabwe in the World Cup in France in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The team’s inspiring journey was documented in the award-winning documentary, Blind Ambition.  

In 2019, Joseph was recognised for his accomplishments when he received the Eat Out Wine Service Award during his time as head sommelier at La Colombe in Cape Town.

Today, Joseph’s wine and spirits brand has grown significantly since he made his maiden vintage seven years ago.

“This role is both humbling and incredible,” says Joseph. “I have longed to participate, not for fun, but because it’s demanding and challenging. I enjoy dining in various establishments and brainstorming with experienced judges, which is similar to my expertise in judging wine. Analytical thinking, without personal preference, is crucial. I enjoy exploring a dish’s concept, taste, and technique. And I am committed to delivering a fair judgement without fear or favour.”

Marisa Munro. Marisa grew up on a farm in Limpopo. As a child, her love for food was sparked by paging through cookbooks. Since then, her adventurous palate has taken her around the world in search of new flavours.

She says she can actually taste a dish just by reading the recipe. At Woolworths, she works alongside a diverse team of creative, dynamic chefs and product developers. With 20 years of experience in product development under her belt, she’s attended food, flavour and trends seminars all over the globe.

“Being an Eat Out judge for 2023 is an enormous honour. I can’t wait to explore the local restaurant scene. Being a judge means I get to witness the heart and soul of a chef and experience their unique combination of skills, imagination, and nature’s bounty.” 

Mokgadi Itsweng. Mokgadi is an accomplished chef, food activist and author. With more than 17 years of experience in the food industry, she has been a prominent voice in food media, sharing her knowledge and passion for healthy, sustainable eating.

Mokgadi is a champion of ancient grains and indigenous ingredients. She is also a passionate advocate for the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle and her debut cookbook, Veggielicious, is a celebration of her love for seasonal produce.

Beyond her work in the kitchen, Mokgadi is also a food activist, working to promote sustainable and ethical practices in the food industry. She is a strong advocate for supporting small, local farmers and for reducing food waste. Through her cooking, writing, and advocacy work, she is helping to promote a more conscious and responsible approach to food.

“I love food and dining at restaurants is one way I get to travel with my palate and experience different chefs’ food journeys,” Mokgadi says. “Being a judge means I get to explore our beautiful country with its diverse culture and taste what South Africans are eating. I get to represent the ordinary South African who loves food and is always looking for a memorable experience that offers both satisfaction and excellent value. I love to see what the chefs have been up to, creatively, and whether there is a consciousness around ingredients, plant-based food, sourcing, sustainability, and indigenous food.”

Herman Lensing. Growing up in the town of Upington in the Northern Cape, Herman had big dreams of becoming a chef. He realised that dream at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, where he honed his skills and emerged as a culinary powerhouse.

At just 22, Herman landed the role of food editor at Sarie magazine, where he quickly made a name for himself with his innovative recipes and bold flavour combinations. He went on to become the editor of Sarie Kos, and has since published several standalone cookbook magazines under his own name.

He’s a well-known TV personality, with hit series like Inspirasiekos met Sarie and Dit proe soos huis capturing the hearts and palates of viewers across the country. He’s also a co-host on Minki van der Westhuizen’s talk show on VIA, and has produced some of South Africa’s most popular food reality shows.

Herman has won the Galliova Award for South Africa’s top food writer three times — in 2010, 2017, and 2022.

Herman says: “I love to eat, it’s what makes me smile. I love South Africa and there is no place in the world that offers such a diverse food landscape. We have some of the world’s best chefs and restaurants. Being part of this year’s Eat Out judging panel is a huge honour and a job that I take seriously. I am looking forward to eating food that tells a story of sustainability, proud use of South African ingredients and that makes me smile with every bite. I can’t wait to taste the many dishes that restaurants produce across South Africa.”

Karen Dudley. Karen is a chef, author and food entrepreneur, widely known for her exceptional culinary creations and innovative approach to food, especially vegetables. A born-and-bred Capetonian, Karen developed an early love for food and cooking. With years of experience at the intersection of how people connect with food, she has insight and perception of what makes food spaces work. In 1999, Karen opened The Kitchen in Woodstock, Cape Town, a catering company that quickly gained a reputation for its delicious, home-style cooking. The Kitchen soon expanded to include a café, which became a popular hangout spot for locals and tourists alike, including Michelle Obama.

Karen has appeared on CNN and TEDx, and has been featured in The New York Times and The Guardian. She has also been a guest judge on multiple reality cooking shows in South Africa and is a familiar face on national TV channels.

The awards are presented in the summer. DM


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