* This is an unedited version of my interview that was printed in the Khuluma magazine
ME: So Jan, you are the man behind the Braai4Heritage initiative?
ME: What qualifies you as being the king of the braai?
J: I dont really view myself as the king of the braai. In his own backyard every man is the king of his braai. However, due to the nature of my involvement with Braai4Heritage I probably braai more than the average guy. So along the way I've picked up a few tips and tricks. I did pick up the nasty habit of talking on another man's hand when he braais, and again, due to the braaiday connection I find that instead of attacking me, the guys tend to listen to the advice. But I only do this to good friends. And it’s more a case of pulling their legs.
ME: Does it have something to do with your wors…?
J: [laughs] [pauses] Boerewors is a prime example of how fantastic South Africa really is. Sausage making skills from Europe, Spices and the knowledge of how to use them from the east, and high quality South African meat, off the South African lands combine to produce one of the truly magnificent culinary experiences in the world.
ME: Agreed, nothing like a good boerewors… So many people around the country have bought into the idea of braaing on heritage day – not that it was a hard decision for South Africans – but how does that make you feel?
J: I really love South Africa. The fantastic thing about braaiday is that you are just asking people to have fun with their friends and family. Nothing more. And by doing that, we are uniting a nation.
ME: Too true…
J: Of course we are not selling a product, we are just asking you to have a braai, so resources are limited. There is absolutely no way to reach 50 million people all by myself with this message. So a large part of the current success is thanks to members of the media (journalists, DJ's) who also love the country, and help me spread the message. A typical example is an interview like this.
ME: You stay in Cape Town is that right?
J: Yes. I stay in Cape Town. Originally form Stellenbosch where I still regularly go to have braai4heritage strategy sessions in De Akker with my friends.
ME: De Akker is Awesome… Which side of the boerewors curtain do you stay?
J: … the combination of walking and trail running in Table Mountain, as well as paddling my surfski in seapoint, just makes it a more attractive place for me to stay. I live in Seapoint, which I think is being infiltrated more and more by Afrikaans people these days. Its part of my ‘Soutie outreach programme’ where we teach English people how to really braai.
ME: [laughs] Is it true that southern suburbs braaiers are inferior to northern suburbs braaiers in general?
J: No, but its still nice to tell them that
ME: [Laughs] Braais are a powerful thing; we often solve the world’s problems around the flames…
J: Yes, that to a large extent is also the braai4heritage message. In African culture, the fire is traditionally the place where people gather. For light, for heat, to prepare food and to exchange news and ideas. Someone also told me that the orange light of a flame releases some chemical in your brain that makes you feel good. So there is actually a scientific reason why one feels so good staring at flames.
ME: Then again it could just be the wine?
J: Possibly. Whatever it is, we need to get the guys in charge of Springbok rugby around a fire. Cause they have problems that they need to solve…
ME: I agree with you... eish! And now we even have an awesome braai song thanks to Die Heuwels… Have you adopted it as your theme song? Perhaps the springboks should listen to it too...
J: Yes, I went to a birthday party of a common friends at Beluga about two yeas ago. Jaco Venter, the polisiekar drummer and me started talking about our alternative careers. I asked him about doing a braaiday song, and in the end it was decided that Heuwels will project manage it. We then got JR and HHP to rap, and Soweto GC to do the choir parts.
ME: I really like it.
J: Thanks. The song is pretty successful. One of the highlights of my year was when all the guys were together in one room to rehearse it for a live performance at SAMA's (South African music awards). So you basically have grammy winners, heuwels, JR in one room, performing this song to a crowd of one – me. I was really proud of SA that day (yet again) and also really wished all my friends could be with me.
ME: So what’s your favourite meat to braai?
J: Tough one. Lamb chops, good quality boerewors, pork neck chops – I don’t really have a favourite cut of steak. It’s more dependant on the quality of the butcher, and the quality of the braaier, whether a steak is good.
ME: And as an avid braaier, is there a secret spice that you use, that you could share with us?
J: If the meat quality is good, I think that some normal sea salt from a grinder should be sufficient on a lamb chop for example. I regularly use soy sauce when in a pinch at the last minute. For a last-minute steak, just applying mustard, as you would apply butter to bread, it does the trick. I think the word for people that put too much spices on, and basically kills the taste of the meat is auto-condimental.
ME: Too much spice can definitely ruin the taste of the actual meat. Have you successfully done the beer-can chicken braai?
J: Yes. Some advice on this: The idea is obviously that the beer will steam and boil the meat. So, the warmer the beer is to start with, the quicker it will boil, and the more will end up evaporating into the meat. This also works really well with coke. You can also drink some of the coke, and fill the can up with Klipdirft.
ME: But who wants to waste klippies like that? How do you think someone came up with the idea to shove a beer or coke can in a chickens bum and put it on the braai?
J: Probably in Australia. This chicken and can is obviously in a man-oven. And not on a real braai. (man-oven = kettle braai)
ME: Those Ausies… Do you think vegetarians have a place at the braai?
ME: What tips would you give them?
J: Stop your nonsense [Laughs]
J: No, on a serious note, braaibroodjies is one of my favourite things to braai. Mielies with butter and salt and then possibly one of the best things about South Africa, a black cast iron pot full of putu pap. These are all things that vegetarians can enjoy at a braai. I really dont see any problems there. But every now and again some or other vegetarian writes a nasty letter about braaiday to a newspaper. This is ok, as most people, other vegetarians included, enjoy braaing as much as I do. But these letters are free publicty, and as mentioned earlier, we need it.
ME: I enjoy all those things at a braai... So, what drink goes best with a braai?
J: The classic really is Klipdrift and Coke. With our national beer, Castle a close second. If you look at those guys braaing on the new Caslte ad, that is just fantastic. Coming from Stellenbosch, I admittedly drink quite a bit of wine when I braai as well.
ME: And the guys in the Southern Suburbs?
J: They sip on a Gin&Tonic when their friends are there, but I suspect secretly drink brandy as well.
ME: [Laughs] If you had to make a three-course meal – that includes a desert – on a braai for your friends what would you do?
J: I find steak a great starter on the braai – the coals are still very hot, the fire is just finished, so braai a few steaks medium-rare and cut them in strips.
J: Alternatively boerewors – thin boerewors, that cools quickly and can be eaten with the hand around the braai. For the vegetarians, a whole cambert cheese each. For mains it would be some or other form of lamb either loin chops or a whole leg, butterflied and marinated for a day. And chicken for the vegetarians [laughs].
ME: [laughs] Because chicken is a vegetable right?
J: That’s what the guys in DeAar tell me…
ME: [laughs] and desert?
J: A banana for each person, braaied whole and in the peel until the peel is completely brown. Served on a plate, with some vanilla ice-cream. After all of this, when I am sure all my friends are stuffed, I would go and get a galjoen that I have hidden somewhere, and braai that for myself.
ME: [Laughs] You’re a great friend! I love a fish braai… What in your opinion is the most ideal way to braai – over coals, wood or gas and why?
J: Wood, I dont think anyone would really differ on that one. Making a real fire, standing around it, the smell, the sound… The question relates to constraints, coals are quicker and maybe a guy does not have wood, and the pertol station is sold out. Gas is not really a braai, but perhaps you are living on the 20th level of a flat, with a very small balcony… so I understand what there are reasons why not every braai happens with wood, but don’t think many will disagree that its the preferred way.
ME: And what is the best type of actual braai, a weber, a built-in braai or a drum?
J: A Weber is a brand of kettle braai. Now a kettle braai, when used with the lig [light] on, is not really a braai. That is effectively an oven. But a manly oven. So I have a drive going that we start calling those man-ovens. So you can say for instance ‘I baked this chicken in my man oven’.
J: Built-in braais usually have a chimney, so that helps with the smoke but then you cannot stand around a built in braai… A drum is best, but not those flimsy little ones. They have no heat retention. My favourite braais are a fixed built ‘altar’ type of braai.
ME: So would you say the southern suburbs people are mostly manly bakers?
J: No, they are usually frustrated-with-the-M3-traffic men
ME: [Laughs] So, do you have a ‘braai room’ at home?
J: Yes, its called ‘garden’.
ME: [Laughs] How is it kitted out?
J: I have some grass on the floor, and then all along the walls there are various herbs. In two of the corners there are lemon trees. There is a sink and tap and a bar fridge with emergency stock. I sometimes drink Gin & tonic during lunch braais, so I need the lemon trees for that.
ME: Nice! So what crucial steps guarantee making the best braai fire?
J: Enough wood, and the wood needs to be dry… I usually get one of those old derelict bakkies full of wood you see on the roads sometimes to deliver a whole load of wood, then the wood can age, and become dry. I don’t think there is anything else crucial to a fire. Please be careful if or when you start your fire with petrol.
ME: What would you do if faced at the last minute with wet wood?
J: Wet wood takes much longer to burn out, so allow more time when you need to braai with wet wood.
J: Also, per piece of wood, you end up with fewer coals. I don’t know why this is, but assume that a scientist will be able to explain it.
ME: Are there secret tips like one of my friends uses teabags soaked in paraffin instead of blitz…
J: [Laughs] My father also does that!
J: I use normal firelighters, and normal matches. If I ran out, or was at some strange place where this is not available, I would use candles and newspaper. Sometimes the woman of the house is upset about her candles, so I try and get the candles from an area in the house where one will not immediately notice.
ME: [Laughs] What different braai cultures have you experienced around SA?
J: These days going to a township for chisa nyama becomes more and more popular. When I saw that for the first time at the tender age of 17 I could not believe that there is such a great idea, and it isn’t more widely available. I also really like snoek and crayfish on the west coast. The strangest braai I have seen must be some freestate farmers who make their fires with the dried cobs of maize, but the coals are so fickle, that you really have to time your braai well, otherwise the meat will not get done. Potjiekos ranks right up there for me.
ME: I love a good Potjiekos... So, could people find you hanging out at Mzoli’s?
J: I frequent it yes. Mzoli is also one of the Braai4Heritage ambassadors. In 2006, the second year of braaiday, I gave him an apron with our logo. Last year, when I got there late afternoon on 24 September, he was busy making a lamb on a spit, in that same apron.
ME: Awesome. Someone once told me that the difference between a Chisa Nyama and a braai was the chicks and salad – what do you think?
J: Admittedly, a chisa nyama does not really have salad.
J: In terms of chicks, I think the quality of South African meat on display at both is of a high standard.
ME: [Laughs] That’s so cheeky!
J: Just for your uninformed readers. In Zulu, Chisa means ‘burn’ and Nyama means ‘meat’. Literally…
ME: Got it… Do you really believe that chicks get the day off when men braai?
J: No… They still need to look pretty
ME: That generally doesn’t require much work though…
J: [Laughs] Also, if you are really running a tight ship and want to serve a quality meal to guests you need to co-ordinate the side dishes to be ready the moment the meat comes off the braai…
ME: So people are always going on about how healthy braaing is, but when you look at the braai masters and their boeps, is it really?
J: Absolutely. I don’t think that the braai can be blamed for the boep. When you fry food in a pan, you are adding fat. When you steam food, you are not adding fat, but you are not taking fat out of the food either. But, when you braai, the fat drips out, onto the coals. Also, meat is high protein. And fat is caused by carbs. There is also no sugar in meat the last time I checked. We already mentioned it, fish is fantastic on a braai, and extremely healthy.
ME: Blame it on the snacks and drinks before the meal then…
J: And lastly on this health matter, a cow is eating grass and leaves and plants and vegetables all his life. He converts this into meat. Eating meat is like eating vitamin pills.
ME: [laughs] What is the funniest thing that has happened to you while at a braai?
J: I am sure there are better stories but what I can remember now is last year on 24 September I was doing an interview over the phone, with some or other very serious lady on one of the radio stations. It was pretty late in the day, and I was attending a braai at a friends house. The interview was live and after a few seconds his dog started barking. And it would not stop. It’s not so funny when I think of it now, but we really had a good laugh at the time
ME: What is the worst thing that anyone can bring to a braai?
J: Frozen chicken. I don’t think chicken should share a grid with other meat, the way you need to braai it is too different and frozen chicken just makes it worse. It will be burnt outside, and raw inside.
ME: [Laughs] Have you ever had people over for a braai and accidentally burnt all their food because you got too caught up the rugby score or something?
J: Never, but one December holiday, just after braaiday started to become big, every single day, the father of whomever friends house I visited would say ‘Aah, you are the braaiday guy, so you will braai for us tonight’. With a little smile thinking he is the first guy to make this joke. So one night I horribly burnt the food, to make sure I don’t have to braai again at that house.
ME: Oh no... Im sure that worked though! And what should never – no matter the circumstance – be said to the person in charge of the braai?
J: ‘Sorry, the klipdrift is finished’.
ME: [Laughs] When someone invites people to their house for a braai, what are the three things that must not run out?
J: Ice, wood and electricity or satellite signal – the things needed to watch whatever sports game is on…
ME: No braai is the same without them... and finally... what are your plans for this year’s heritage day?
J: I will probably start in Soweto the morning. I ordered 100 live sheep that I will hand out there. Then head to Durban around lunchtime, and finish the day in Cape Town.