TGIFOOD

OPINION: JUDGING THE JUDGES

Restaurant Awards: How can anyone who downgrades their own Restaurant of the Year be trusted?

Restaurant Awards: How can anyone who downgrades their own Restaurant of the Year be trusted?
Kobus van der Merwe at his world-famous Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster. (Photo: Jac de Villiers)

The Eat Out awards do not shape the restaurant landscape, but their judges do have the ability to shape the dining public’s opinion. They therefore work for us. And we should hold them accountable.

Can there ever be such a thing as the best restaurant in the world? Of course not. Because judging any dining experience will always remain incredibly subjective. It can never be a sports-like competition with time tests, or where a combination of physical strength and skill is measured exactly, head to head, or peer against peer.

Yet restaurant awards and best-of lists are everywhere these days. And people love them. There are the famous ones such as Michelin, World’s 50 Best, La Liste and The Culinary Olympics. There are the more obscure ones such as World Culinary Awards, World Luxury Restaurant Awards, Top 100 Restaurants of the World, and The Best Chef… And there are the downright dodgy ones, like the Luxe Global Awards who send emoticon-riddled emails saying they’re “happy to jump on a call” with you. (And to take your money, should you “wish to participate” by buying your way into their guide.)

“Picture what the award (Lady LUXE) would look like in your reception…” reads the Luxe Global Awards’ sales email.

Fifteen minutes of fame

Kobus van der Merwe and his Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster became world-famous overnight in 2019. (Photo: Jac de Villiers)

In 2019, Wolfgat, my restaurant in Paternoster on the West Coast, was unexpectedly catapulted into our so-called 15 minutes of international fame at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards held in Paris, where we won our category of “off-map destination” for restaurants in far-flung locations. 

And out of all the diverse category winners on the night, we were named “Restaurant of the Year”. It was continuously misreported in local and international media as “world’s best restaurant” and “world’s number one restaurant”.

Top. Best. First. Number one. Hyperbole? Most certainly. We have long since realised that these types of accolades need to be taken with large pinches of salt. 

Of course, for a tiny, independent restaurant that is not located in a city or major town, without any marketing budget or public relations backup, any motivation for people to travel two hours by car for a meal is welcomed.

How on earth did a small restaurant in Paternoster become discovered by an international panel of judges? 

According to the World Restaurant Awards communication at the time, the judging panel consisted of 80 “experts in their field” – 40 women and 40 men, representing all continents – including famous chefs, food writers and sommeliers. 

In the year leading up to the awards, each restaurant on the shortlist needed to be visited by at least 12 of these judges, anonymously. This means each restaurant was judged on 12 unannounced visits by international dining experts – certainly no mean feat. This is how a competition creates a standard and builds integrity. 

It’s a real pity that subsequent World Restaurant Awards got cancelled by the pandemic and haven’t restarted.

During the campaign leading up to the awards, founder and respected UK-based journalist and food critic, Joe Warwick, was quoted by Fine Dining Lovers as saying: “The World Restaurant Awards will be conducted with complete integrity, total transparency and a real sense of inclusivity. 

“We want to make everyone think about the full gamut of the world’s great restaurants – old and new, from luxury destinations to humble institutions – and what makes them so special.”

Integrity, transparency

Integrity and transparency – now those are terms we would assume to be at the core of any respected awards programme.

Locally, we too have a handful of restaurant awards, with Eat Out staking the biggest claim in terms of publicity and reach.

Eat Out makes all the right noises on their website and social media accounts. The judging panel is at last more diverse than it has ever been. They post social media videos of themselves sitting around a table “deliberating”… they get the right sponsors on board and know how to make things look good in a magazine-y way.

The problem comes in with judging inconsistencies and the rigour (or lack thereof) of their judging system (which last year, post-pandemic, again underwent changes). As well as a lack of transparency. And in my opinion the breadth of experience and knowledge of the judges is open to question.

According to the Eat Out website: “Based on their collective experience and expertise, the Eat Out team, the judging panel and the awards’ chief judge [then] select the restaurants to be judged.”

As a newbie restaurant, Wolfgat first entered the Eat Out Mercedes-Benz “Top 20” list in 2017, at number 13. As with the World Restaurant Awards, judging that year was done anonymously. (Although word usually quickly gets out who has been spotted dining where, and information on the suspected judges is quickly shared between restaurants and chefs.)

The next year, from within the industry, there was a huge sigh of relief when it was announced that Margot Janse would become “chief judge” – finally the judging panel would be headed by a seasoned chef, with many international accolades to her name (not least of which, the first female chef to make it onto the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list while helming the kitchen at Le Quartier Francais, in Franschhoek, in 2009).

That year, Wolfgat rose from 13th place on the Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Top 20, to 4th place. We remained in the top five restaurants consistently until 2022.

Similarly, Michelin-starred chef Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen was a welcome addition to the judging panel at the first post-pandemic relaunch of the Eat Out awards in 2022, and the first year they changed to a star rating system. Did they drop him this year because of his involvement with Checkers, and Woolworths being the title sponsor?

From Restaurant of the Year to Nowhere

Johannes Richter and a Belnori goat cheese starter on bespoke plates made from KZN clay, at his LivingRoom at Summerhill in Pinetown, KZN. (Photo: Wanda Hennig)

The morning after the 2023 Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant awards, still upset by the cheek of Eat Out downgrading their own “Restaurant of the Year” from 2022 to a random two-star rating, and fuelled by the massive, heartfelt disappointment expressed by my colleagues Johannes and Johanna Richter on the night, I made an impassioned phone call to chief judge Abigail Donnelly, mostly asking for answers pertaining to The LivingRoom at Summerhill’s unacceptable downgrading.

How can anyone who downgrades their own chosen “Restaurant of the Year”, the very next year, judged on only one visit, be trusted? 

In the year following such an accolade, no restaurant would dare to drop their standard. On the contrary.

Scorecard

According to the The Eat Out website, the scorecard is compiled as follows:

  • Menu composition: 15 points
  • Presentation: 10 points
  • Taste and technique: 25 points
  • Beverages: 15 points
  • Service: 15 points
  • Ambience: 5 points
  • Perceived value: 10 points
  • Brand promise: 5

“Five to 10 factors are rated within these categories before the entire rating is rolled up into the total score out of 100. One star is awarded to those restaurants that scored 70-80, two stars to those scoring 80-90 and three stars to those scoring 90+, with Restaurant of the Year awarded to the establishment with the highest score.”

An embarrassing new category on this year’s scorecard is “brand promise” (5 points) which sounds like something thought up by some or other marketing junior. It’s a minor category, but the concept speaks of tone-deafness on behalf of the team behind these awards. 

Do they forget that they are dealing with actual people, and (for the most part) small, independent restaurants?

Wolfgat also dropped out of the three-star category with this year’s awards.

I emailed Abigail Donnelly directly to ask for Wolfgat’s scorecard so that we could do a comparison to previous years, and see where we had dropped points. It resulted in a lengthy email exchange – not with the chief judge herself, nor with members of the judging panel, mind you – but, randomly, with New Media Publishing’s “Head of Owned Brands”, Melissa Cummings.

My numerous email requests for backdated scorecards, which I wanted to see in writing rather than a “face-to-face feedback session” which they kept insisting on, were met with concerning resistance as they do not consider it “standard practice”.

So what if it is not standard practice? It ought to be. Full transparency should be the most basic of expectations for a public awards system that restaurants do not voluntarily enter into.

If they get to judge restaurants and publicly announce results in a big spectacle, being transparent (at the very least with the restaurant directly) as to how those scores were reached is the ethical thing to do.

I also questioned why Wolfgat was only judged on one meal this year when previously we were judged by numerous judges over three or four visits. (It should be concerning to them that we scored higher when visited by multiple judges.)

This judging inconsistency is glaring.

The Richters braved a face-to-face feedback session. For the LivingRoom at Summerhill, the explanation was that on the one visit from chief judge Abigail Donnelly and her colleague, Joseph Dhafana (ex-sommelier of La Colombe, this year’s Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant of the Year), they did not score high enough to merit a subsequent visit from any of the other judges. 

Red flag.

Wolfgat too was only visited by Donnelly and Dhafana, in one sitting. Two judges, but one lunch, and essentially one perspective. Neither Herman Lensing, Marisa Munro, Karen Dudley nor Mokgadi Itsweng have ever set foot in Wolfgat. 

Major red flag.

From 90.08 to 89.86 we lost a total of 0.22 points this year. The main reasons? Points were subtracted on presentation, not showing variety of technique and they questioned the success of the wine pairing. (This was the first year that Donnelly chose the wine pairing option.) 

Donnelly also didn’t like the main course of abalone and mushroom – a single marinated oyster mushroom apparently being the culprit, masking the entire dish as well as its accompanying wine.

On service we were critiqued because I personally served them and therefore they couldn’t gauge the team’s experience.

Did Donnelly bother to notice that our team has remained the same since day one at Wolfgat? 

In seven years, would our style or level of service supposedly have changed or dropped so significantly for the worse? And shouldn’t it be celebrated that the chef is there, and so hands-on that he is present at the table?

Since Wolfgat’s inception, it has been the concept that we are a team of all-rounders – there has never been a distinction between front-of-house and kitchen. Everyone who serves is also hands-on with the preparation of the food. 

I double up as sommelier – and both judges did the wine pairing that day. Of course, I will then be at the table with each course to present the wine.

Reportedly, for The LivingRoom at Summerhill, the judges’ main concerns were an untidy bathroom and two dishes that were too salty. 

Our scores from previous years remain a mystery, since Eat Out communicated that they don’t deem it a necessity to share scorecards with restaurants. However, as they see integrity as a key pillar of the awards, they would make an exception for Wolfgat. But they continued to backpedal, reminding me that since they moved from a top 20 ranking to a star rating system in December 2021, all previous scorecards are obsolete, and they will only supply scorecards from 2022 and 2023 for comparison.

If they are publicly, self-appointedly handing out stars based on a points system, why are they so reluctant to share how these points were allocated? 

If their process is honest, just and thorough, they should be willing to share their scorecards publicly. Secrecy and protectiveness imply dishonesty and bias.

Eat Out’s handling of my request for full transparency speaks of corporate imperviousness with nothing but their magazine brand in mind and their title sponsor to please.

Did all restaurants this year receive only one visit from a pair of judges? 

If so, it’s curious how their judging panel can make informed and accurate decisions when “deliberating” as a group if they did not share the same restaurant experiences. What is being compared to what? And how can scoring then be considered equitable? It brings the integrity of the awards into question.

Celebrating South Africanism

Glancing back at previous years’ top-awarded restaurants, it seems Eat Out sadly continues to prefer mostly awarding exoticism and generic luxury instead of celebrating local restaurants that truly offer uniquely South African dining experiences.

When Summerhill was announced as Restaurant of the Year in 2022, I thought, Eat Out finally got it! They awarded a small, independent, family-run restaurant that celebrates hyper-local ingredients, makes heroes of seasonality and sustainability, and sits sensitively within their community.

One year later we seem to have regressed at least a decade, with the Restaurant of the Year title again awarding generic luxury with international appeal – and no real South African identity or genius loci to speak of.

A quote from Alex Atala in his speech at the 2013 Design Indaba in Cape Town comes to mind. Speaking of his Amazonian cuisine receiving international acclaim, he said: “The only way to go global, is to go local.”

I’m also shocked at Eat Out’s short memory. 

Where is last year’s rising star winner, Mmabatho Molefe and her brilliant Emazulwini, on this year’s list? Are they one year later not even worthy of a single star?

Mmabatho Molefe at her restaurant, Emazulwini. (Photo: Supplied)

Accountability

Eat Out, in a self-congratulatory online article published in 2023, gushes at its own “shaping of SA’s restaurant landscape”. The self-importance is quite staggering.

I keep reminding myself that Eat Out, as a restaurant judging body, is completely self-appointed. Neither they nor any of the international awards can exist without us, the restaurants. 

They should celebrate us and support us. They should proudly award South Africanism. Their decisions have an impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. 

They do not shape the restaurant landscape, but they do have the ability to shape the dining public’s opinion. They therefore work for us. And we should hold them accountable.

For too long we’ve been accepting these awards without question. It’s time for change. It’s time to start scrutinising and asking questions. 

Should WE not be appointing the judges, instead of bowing to publishing companies and their corporate sponsors?

It can also only strengthen their standing in the industry. 

It will certainly garner more respect from within the chefs’ community, as well as underscore the awards’ overall reputation, if they put their annual (sponsored) awards party budget to better use and rather invest it in establishing a more rigorous, fair and transparent judging process that celebrates our country and our continent and its diverse and distinct restaurant culture. DM

Kobus van der Merwe is chef-owner of Wolfgat Restaurant in Paternoster, awarded ‘Restaurant of the Year’ at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards in 2019. He has previously received the ‘Chef of the Year’ and ‘Chefs Chef of the Year’ accolades at the Eat Out Awards. In a previous life, he worked as web editor for a fledgling Eat Out magazine.

TGIFood will welcome and publish a response from Eat Out or its editor Abigail Donnelly, should they wish to do so.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Chantal Smuts says:

    This is a very lucid, eloquent and courageous piece. And not the first to question the 2023 Eat Out selections. It will be interesting to see if they take notice.

  • Greg Mcmanus says:

    Well said Kobus. So many awards forget that they influence rather than recognise. While there will always be winners and not-so-winners, objectivity and fairness should reign. Particularly when the business has not entered the awards process.

  • Mike Froud says:

    Interesting that Paternoster’s Wolfgat restaurant is also considered just short of a top rating in the 2024 Gourmet Guide, a Jenny Handley publication. Ditto The Living Room in Durban. Perhaps New Media/Media 24 were on the mark with Two Star ratings of these establishments at the 2023 Eat Out Restaurant Awards. Perhaps Wolfgat proprietor Kobus van der Merwe protesteth too much… Although it would be nice to have more top chefs of Margot Janse’s calibre on the team of judges.

  • Brett Commaille says:

    It’s an old trick, create the standard and then appoint yourself policeman of it.
    I fully agree though, given the sway that these groups seem to have – transparency is essential and adds a layer of trust that should elevate their game. The only reason not to do it is if they know their process is massively flawed / open to influence / overly subjective – and they are not willing to defend the decision. It’s easier if you don’t have to explain it, but if you do, then you need a rigorous process that you stand behind. It doesn’t mean people have to like it, but at least be consistent and transparent on the way.
    There is of course a real positive, in that Wolfgat is now on my restaurant bucket list – but it would be better if the awards left a good taste in everyone’s mouth, like the restaurants they are reviewing.

  • Geoff Johnstone says:

    A balanced, considered and reasonable request. We can do better to support the industry and remember that there are human beings who’ve put in so much blood, sweat and tears in producing their menus. It has been about the respective magazines and the publishing industry – and this can/should change with more input from the restaurants themselves.

  • Alan Salmon says:

    I have been to Summerhill and Wolfgat. Came away feeling hungry, and robbed. Beautiful plating. However,many plates over endowed with edible flowers and various other foraged botanical items, ans in Wolfgats case, seaweed etc etc, left a feeling of climbing up the far away tree to no real substance. Artists, yes, but cooks…no. Pay a fortune for impressionism on a plate. For vast sums of money.
    Charlie Larkin at Maraki, in Hillcrest KZN, get’s tasting menu’s so right. Delicious flavours beyond belief… but real substance, everything on your plate is not an ephemeral disappointment.
    Gillian Salmon

  • Chris Topping says:

    Sounds about the same as Platter’s annual wine book. More and more wine producers no longer submit their wines to Platter’s and perhaps if restaurants banded together to boycott Eat Out the sponsors might take note. Hitting them in the pocket is always an effective tactic.

  • neill hurford says:

    Judging of restaurants is entirely subjective based on the judges’ experience, so choosing the best, and those worthy of ‘stars’ is always going to be contentious. The score cards definitely need to be fully accessible to everyone concerned, not least the restaurant owners. There should be an equal number of independent score cards for each restaurant under consideration, from an equal number of judges to have visited each of the restaurants (ideally they should all be the same judges). It still won’t made everyone happy, except the winners, but at the very least, organisers won’t have to duck and dive when asked to explain the outcome, and avoid the kind of inconsistencies described by Kobus van der Merwe.

    • Andrew Johnson says:

      Neil, I think this speaks entirely to Kobus’s point! How can one assessment be sufficient to judge the performance of a top restaurant? Surely it requires a range of diners with their varying palates to anoint the “best restaurant”? If Eat Out wishes to retain their credibility, they need to ensure a broad church of reviewers and aggregate the scores to develop a top 20/ top 50. Then let the experts visit and rate the experience further!
      But then again, I am just a day to day diner – perhaps I know nothing?

  • Jesse Doorasamy says:

    Wow! Religiously buy Eat Out each year and try to get to as many of their top ratings especially the new comers. Wont be supporting that rubbish again!

  • Butch Rice says:

    The Eat Out awards have lacked credibility in my eyes for a long time. Abigail Donnelly appears to be heavily biased, and not objective at all in arriving at the rankings. Every year, the inclusion and exclusion of certain restaurants raises eyebrows more than a tad. Great pity, as I am sure that it is used as a guide by at least some restaurant goers, and is misleading both positively and negatively. It is inherently unfair and will continue to be so, on her watch.

  • Alison Tucker Tucker says:

    A brave and thought provoking article. Thank you Kobus. Well said.

  • Erwin Lingenfelder says:

    While I have sympathy with Kobus’s constuctive criticism, I believe that the 2023 version was far better than 2022. No more airport lounge steakhouse in Johannesburg. At last the right restaurant in Pretoria receives the one star rating. There are more examples. i suspect the organisers tried to mimic the Michelin guide and that was not always fair
    We arranged a trip to Summerhill last year to have a meal in the restaurant of the year and didn’t find it worth a detour (!). A living room that was just that: poor artworks, open wiring and even dusty. I don’t know how it could be named ROTY.
    While I have been an admirer of Kobus and Wolfgat for a long time, it somehow is difficult to rate. Almost as if it should be in a separate classification. Nevermind in Cape St Francis is much the same. Unique yet totally casual.
    In my opinion La Colombe is an excellent choice as ROTY. We are looking forward to celebrate our anniversary there next month.
    I do wholeheartedly support the quest for fairness and transparency. Every rated restaurant should know how to improve so that we, the diners can benefit.

  • Oom Paul says:

    Spot on Kobus! The same goes for the self appointed scourge of “food critics” flooding various social media platforms. 99% of their supposedly well meant comments do not contribute anything positively to improvement of the industry.

  • Russel Wasserfall says:

    Thank you Kobus, Nail on the head. There are constant rumblings in the industry about awards. Yet owners and chefs struggling to thrive in an impossibly difficult industry remain silent.
    Awards have the visibility and marketing muscle to massively influence public perception. It is vital they adhere to claims of transparency and integrity. I feel judges should understand putting your heart and soul – quintessence of your craft – on a plate and serving it.
    A corporate-funded, brand-driven awards machine feeds on ‘clicks’, not the promotion or success of restaurants.
    Judges may enjoy the frisson of celebrity that attaches to the “shaping of SA’s restaurant landscape”- but at what cost to their livelihood? However there’s a cost to the restaurant and the mental health of owners and staff.
    How do you create a scorecard that compares Olympia Café with Emazulwini. Where do you start to grade La Colombe against Ouzeri? It’s utterly subjective. Giving it to a chef or restauranteur with a decade or two of skin in the game is a start.
    All the glitz and glamour – the hype and hyperbole – seem parasitic. Awards sponsored by, and driven on behalf of, retailers or brands with the intention of selling luxury cars or Chuckles just rankles a bit. There’s a broader corporate responsibility issue here and it should be addressed. Success or failure and being thrust into the limelight is an existential issue for every restauranteur, not a hook on which to hang a marketing campaign.

  • Chris Mill says:

    Thank you Kobus. Your comments are fair. Branding has limits and is mostly BS – but we have semi-academics who make millions through branding, from mostly the rich. Woolies is almost everywhere – thanks to their bags (shooting myself in the foot) – but their products are often mediocre – so are all the other big brands.
    You are right to question how a single restaurant such as yours, and many others, can compete with larger, bigger branded, more heavily sponsored (openly and obscurely) places in larger cities with more mouths, with very disparate palates. I, and many others tend to ignore these awards. But then I’m just me. The judges are obviously more famous (although I’ve not heard of half of them) whose palates are probably better than mine. But can they cook and serve as well as you and your staff, in your restaurant, with your size and space limitations, equipment and budget, and your ingredients, as you have done. Every day? Probably not.
    Menu composition – lets be honest, between Cape Town and Upington – comparable WTF?
    Beverages – Ice tea or what? Get the description right.
    Perceived value? Is the plate full of decent steak and chips, or prawns, or just three dots of odd stuff with a scrape of green paste comparable?
    And Brand promise? Anything to do with the big brands / franchises and ‘brand promises’ – whatever that means, I avoid, unless I’m on a road trip and need petrol, a toilet and a toasted cheese (and in pre-woke days a cigarette).
    The food judges need to get real. They are catering, excuse the pun, for about 5 or 10% of the population. So in the big picture, their views are taken with a pinch of salt by many and never seen by the bulk.
    I know it irks you and some others – but keep going – you guys are doing good. Its the judges who are failing.

  • Keegan McLeod says:

    Me thinks that eateries would do just fine without the money making “awards events”.
    Replace “brand promise” with a “legacy” category.

  • Jeremy Gabriel says:

    Well said Kobus. Personally I think the Eat Out awards are rubbish. They need to explain brand promise, perceived value and ambience. Are they looking at appeasing the Instagram crowd with style over substance. As Tony Jackman commented, “why was Embarc not included”? Such puffery by the judges and what are they basing their ratings on? Local and global experience?

  • Lekha Amod says:

    So glad this has been aired so eloquently by an accomplished chef showcasing local cuisine. Many of us restaurant goers have noticed the bias and lack of integrity in these awards. I’d love to see more local small restaurants celebrated rather than “top” restaurants.

  • Glenda Caine says:

    Well said Mr van der Merwe! We see you “Capecentric” Woolies and your expensive advertorial disguised as a magazine.
    I ate my way through the most delicious food in Joburg last year. Family or chef owned shops, no stars, no frills, just fab food. It’s the same in Durban. Small restaurants, stunning food but never a mention in Taste. And maybe that’s a good thing. As diners we can pick and choose and go where we our palates, honest food and good service leads us. Perhaps it’s counter intuitive. If it got Eat Out stars – give it a miss.

  • Luanne Mc Callum says:

    Well done for calling them out, I mean, who do they think they are? The ANC?
    As a regular buyer of their magazine and products it’s disappointing to hear about their lack of integrity and transparency.

  • David Bristow says:

    Hmmm, something sure smells fishy in how the EatOut awards are being handled!

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Every marketing exercise appeals to a particular market niche. In this instance the message is one of quality. The fact that quality is purely subjective is not relevant, it exists.
    Popularising is the core purpose of marketing which aims to increase revenue, and should be judged by measurement.
    Long live the culinary competitions!

  • Ludovici DIVES says:

    Great article, many poignant facts, in particular the lack of transparency and inconsistency glaringly suspicious.
    Thanks to all our great local chefs.

  • This is a well thought out review of an up to recently well regarded restaurant awards system in SA. In December we engaged with a top restaurant chef – in awards top list- who commented on who should form part of the panel & the transparency of the process. Interesting then to read this article now too. Perhaps lessons can be learnt from the feedback provided to wine makers from the Wine Advocate judging outcomes. It takes courage to speak out & Kobus in his inventive dishes certainly showed courage. Wishing him & his team continued success!

  • Tim Parsons says:

    An excellent, long overdue article. Eat Out is a sponsor led “publication” that designs articles and events to focus upon their sponsors. The judges are self congratulatory, swanning around their own events with little, or no, purpose! I would give Trip Advisor ratings greater significance, despite its potential for abuse. At least it’s current, written by the paying public, who are not beholden to anyone but their pocket. We enjoy the most incredible culinary scene here on the Western Cape. It is such a shame that the industry feels the need to support Eat Out’s largesse, perhaps, this article will reduce the obligation to a personal preference. Wolfgang is a wonderful hands on culinary experience, like so many excellent other restaurants in the area. Fortunately, I’ll never taste “brand promise” or, be influenced by the vacuous Eat Out but, I will support the excellent restaurants in the region, as often as I can.

  • Dain Peters says:

    We need to rethink the outdated notion that subjective judgment is either impossible or unreliable. Culturally and individually we possess substantial experience at evaluating situations subjectively, regularly formulating hypotheses and testing them, whether through slow and deliberate contemplation or with swift intuitive assessments. We have access to a great legacy of such assessment collectively and individually in the arts, philosophy and in our everyday life. In essence, we are adept and resourced at navigating subjectivity and, I think it is unnecessary to continue making any excuses about that.

    It is an entirely different problem when politics, ineptitude or a lack of integrity impacts on the decision-making process, as the article courageously and interestingly details.

  • Erwin Lingenfelder says:

    Judging by the number of comments it is clear that we take eating out seriously!

  • Barry Becker says:

    An excellent article and very brave of Kobus, respect to you sir. I agree with all your commentary and don’t even buy the Eat Out magazine anymore. Well done to all of our S A chefs. 👏

  • Ritey roo roo says:

    Well said! Support you 100%

  • Linde Maduku says:

    The eat out awards has become a show about ego … the glamorisation of these judges and the sponsors!

    NO INTEGRITY! NO CREDIBILITY!

    Totally lost the plot!

  • Belinda Cavero says:

    Give credit to where credit due, but is there really a place for “best” restaurant/ chef awards? There are thousands of excellent chefs around the country who will never make it to any awards ceremony or feature in a magazine. And to be awarded “best” or “1 *” by 1 judge in 1 sitting, sorry, I can’t take that seriously.

  • Citizen X says:

    Maybe rather focus on Woolies packaged meal and cakes. Quality has dropped and prices are exorbitant. Just not worth it.

  • sias says:

    Thank you for the guts to tackle this manipulated facade. We need to remind all that Eat Out is a business for profit whose contents are sponsored – even their articles. The entire enterprise lacks credibility.

  • Debbie Annas says:

    This makes for a very interesting read, thanks indeed Kobus. I would go further and suggest that the scorecards plus judges that dined there, accompany all awards to also provide context to the dining public. Integrity is paramount in this scenario where commercial and other interests can so easily defeat the purpose to educate, reward and support excellence. One would hope that the chef-judges will take note of some positive suggestions.

  • Ben van Heerden says:

    I have long ago lost any interest in EAT OUTs opinions. Living in Hermanus Eat Out merely did a copy and paste job for Restaurants in the Overberg area and one restaurant was always recocmended .
    a Restaurant making pan cakes and salads in the middle of the main road with no view.
    If that was Hermanus best then I don’t know any more.

    Thank you Kobus for stating what we all think.

  • plaasopstal says:

    Last year’s EAT Out awards had 3 restaurants awarded stars that were in business for less than 2 months. Two of them opened by well known chefs.
    Abigail I take it that just because they well known they deserve a star or 2. Or is the kickbacks just so good that its worth not being ethical?

  • Adel Argus says:

    In EatOut, most restaurants grapple with a fickle partner, and some may never receive the recognition they deserve for unknown reasons. All seek and hope for their favour at some point or another, but even when achieved, it can disappear due to dubious reasons by the next judging cycle (The LivingRoom at Summerhill being a case in point). With new contenders constantly emerging on the scene, novelty often overshadows consistency and incremental growth. Restaurants, in their effort to stay relevant, often feel compelled to adopt the publication’s chosen international trends du jour. These trends often have little or no connection to an individual chef’s vision or the broader South African context. Rather than recognising and celebrating authentic South African culinary pioneers who consistently build upon their unique visions year after year, the same favoured individuals are often repeatedly lauded. This typically includes those with multiple restaurants, which further limits space on ‘best of’ lists for those already overlooked.

    • Adel Argus says:

      … (cont) Alongside these established names, a handful of novelty candidates are added to create buzz (as magazines have to be sold), yet the core issue of limited recognition for true innovation and diversity in the culinary scene persists. Increasingly, it seems that the glorification of the judging panel is overshadowing the chefs’ dedication and hard work. Attempts to engage in honest discussions about inconsistencies, such as those detailed in the article above, are often met with obfuscation. The crux of the matter is that the grievances aired by Chef Kobus are not due to accidental bugs in the system, but rather ingrained characteristics of the business model and the financial objectives of EatOut and its sponsors.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Awards given out by critics and judges are useless, and the systems used by Google reviews and TripAdvisor are also flawed and open to manipulation. There is only one way to judge a restaurant and that is whether customers keep going back again and again, and how willing they are to tell their friends. Nothing else matters. And I agree that if you pay a fortune and leave hungry, that is a travesty.

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    I can really recommend the Wimpy in Vanderbijlpark.

    • R W says:

      Redhawk Spur in Plumstead, Cape Town – the guys who are on the grill for breakfast hit the eggs and chips with a BBQ salt. Not all the Spurs do it. This was in special.
      Nothing like a runny fried egg and salty chips.

  • Wanda Hennig says:

    “For too long we’ve been accepting these awards without question. It’s time for change. It’s time to start scrutinising and asking questions.” Well said, Kobus van der Merwe. As he reminds us, what he’s writing about is a super-hyped public award system that restaurants do not voluntarily enter into. If the awards cannot be done in the manner of the World Restaurant Awards, as quoted in this article, with “complete integrity, total transparency and a real sense of inclusivity”, it seems farcical to pretend Eat Out provides much that is of value. Rather appalling to read a single visit by judges was all Wolfgat and TheLivingRoom got. No judge anonymity, no judging transparency — where is the integrity? Good that the workings of this hyper-visible and hyped awards system is now part of the conversation and open to scrutiny. Time to take them with a pinch of salt?

  • Freda Theron says:

    Well Said KOBUS.

  • As someone who owns 2 restaurants, one of which was found to serve one of the top 3 cheesecakes in Joburg by 947’s Breakfast Club, I’ve enquired how one gets considered for the Eat Out awards. To date, I have had no clarity.
    My restaurant has also been voted one of the Top 5 Halaal restaurants in Joburg by the people who frequent it on a website that serves as a valuable reference for Muslim diners: Hungry for Halaal.

  • If Eat Out could tell us how restaurants even make onto the list of restaurants that are considered for an award, that would be helpful

    Someone mentioned that this is reserved for restaurants that advertise with them.
    So we advertised.
    Still didn’t help us understand how to be considered 🤷🏻‍♀️

  • William Kelly says:

    Touched a nerve there? The notion of scoring anything (I score cars) is a subjective one. The integrity lies in consistency, and in transparency. We’re allowed opinions after all. But to judge and to rank is the ultimate test, of integrity: it cannot be done in isolation. It has to be seen to be done with multiple inputs, and of course the bloody scorecards have to be visible to everyone. That’s the point!

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