On 17 November, at the Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards, Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient‘s chef Chantel Dartnall announced she would be stepping aside from the Top 10. Here’s our response, along with an invitation to chef Chantel.
New talent, and new faces on the list
We love and salute the sentiment behind Chantel stepping aside for new talent, because there’s so much out there. There are 11 new entries on the list of nominees this year, including six headed by chefs who have never featured on the list before, so it’s great to see more chefs getting featured and receiving the recognition they deserve.
Included in the 11 new entries are two restaurants (Rust en Vrede and Pierneef à la Motte) that fell off the list some years ago, and now they’re back, so we’re delighted that the list is increasingly dynamic, with the accolades going beyond the same restaurants year on year.
This year there were also six next-generation chefs nominated for the Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star award – with this award we aim to showcase the new talent that’s rising through the ranks. The award went to Katlego Mlambo of The Marabi Club in Johannesburg.
Restaurant Mosaic at the awards
We were lucky enough to have Restaurant Mosaic‘s food feature at this year’s awards – Chantel cooked one of the courses at the ceremony. Though we’ll be sad, we completely respect Chantel’s choice if she opts not to participate at the awards ceremony next year.
However, we have to maintain our integrity as listing the best in the country, so we’ll obviously continue to include Restaurant Mosaic (this year number nine in the Top 10) in our process – we can’t simply ignore one of the top fine-dining restaurants in the country.
Unlike many awards in South Africa, Eat Out judges all restaurants without exclusions: our awards are not based on nominations, restaurants don’t pay to be included, we pay for meals in full and our judges dine anonymously.
On different awards systems
Eat Out has evolved constantly over its 21 years, and we look for ways to improve all the time. With her global experience, Chantel has so much to add, so we’d love her to be part of discussions on how we can improve the process even more and ensure continued integrity.
One of the major recent evolutions is a second awards system that focuses on more casual restaurants, so that the Eat Out spotlight isn’t limited to fine-dining chefs. The Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Best Everyday Eateries’ judging system is also different – they’re more of a people’s choice: winners are determined by a 50-50 composite score of public reviews and ratings from our professional critics.
Eat Out’s judges
We have a very solid selection and thorough judging process, and we’re confident it accurately highlights the best in the country. Our judges are all culinary professionals whose credentials include extensive experience in multiple Michelin-starred restaurants. They eat at restaurants around the country throughout the year.
Aside from our chief judge, Margot Janse, who has an international reputation as a judge, our judges remain anonymous so that they don’t receive special treatment – it’s important that their experience is the same as any other diner’s.
The Cape vs Gauteng
Tourism is a factor behind the bulk of restaurants in the 30 nominees being in the Cape. As the Cape relies heavily on tourism as one of its economic drivers, the hospitality sector naturally rises to meet that demand. It needs to provide innovation and high quality to both international and South African tourists, as well as locals. So there are a lot more restaurants providing fine dining and more in the Cape as there is a market for it.
Gauteng has thousands of excellent restaurants, but the areas more popular with tourists have smaller pools from which to choose than in the Cape, so naturally, they’re less likely to dominate. If there were a best game lodge competition, for example, a couple of places in the Cape may make the list, but it would naturally be dominated by Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, as that’s where the bulk of the contenders are.
That said, you can argue that the cuisine is slightly different in Johannesburg and Gauteng because the market demands are different, and maybe we need to devise a way to be more inclusive of that. We are constantly working towards improving our awards and judging process, and we invite Chantel, with her 10 years of experience with Eat Out, to be part of this.
On the team being Cape-based, and whether that skews the results
The Eat Out team is not Cape-based; only the core management team is based in Cape Town. Eat Out’s team of 55+ reviewers are spread around the country, with a fairly equal split between Gauteng and the Cape. There are roughly 22 in the Cape and 24 in Gauteng and the north, with the balance in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. (Figures are not precise, as some reviewers travel extensively and monitor the restaurant scene in more than one region.)