Master Class With James Martin

Before I can tell you why I was so disappointed and let down by my experience at the Master Class With James Martin I am going to go back to 2008 and tell you about my experiences to date.

In 2008 the Good Food and Wine Show offered a hands on workshop with Anthony Worrall Thompson which I participated in. If my memory serves me correctly, the cost of the ticket was R350. (It may have been R380 but the R30 makes no difference to my memory). The R350 included entry to the show as well as entry to all Chefs In Action Theatre shows I wished to attend on that day. The hands on workshop was behind a glass screening wall which meant that the general public could watch, but not hear or participate in the workshop. Anthony was placed at a workbench in front of us, and we could clearly see what he was doing as there were cameras focussed on him at all times. Furthermore, as the general noise from the show could not be heard, we could clearly hear what he had to say. We made a three course meal and got to take it home with us.

Unfortunately, Anthony was not at his best that day, he was hungover, had not slept enough and cut the workshop short as he had a flight to catch, and I complained. The organizer offered me a free workshop for the following year which I took up. In 2009 I attended the hands on workshop with Brian Turner and I believe that the tickets were the same price. Once again, the ticket included entrance to the show as well as the Chefs in Action Theatre shows for the day. The class was again behind a glass screen – with Brian in front of us. We could hear every word and he was fantastic. We cooked a three course menu and took our food home with us. Brian was so good that I decided not to miss another opportunity to do a hands on workshop. Unfortunately I could not attend the one with Gordon Ramsay last year as I was in Johannesburg.

I have been a proud owner of James Martin’s recipe book The Collection for a number of years now and so when I saw that he would be at this year’s show, giving a master class I sent an e-mail to Kate to make an enquiry. The e-mail correspondence took quite some time but eventually Kate replied and I booked on the 1st of April. I did not hear back from Kate but realized my booking had been accepted when I got an SMS notification from Nedbank that my credit card had been debited.  It was only after I had made the booking that I asked whether the R1500 included an entrance ticket? It did not. So, over and above the R1500 I would have to pay to get into the show. I could attend the Chefs In Action Theatre shows on the day – and pay for them if I wanted to see them. The cost of the ticket to see James Martin in the Chefs in Action Theatre was R150 or R300 for a VIP experience.

I arrived at the show well in time to spend some money and then made my way 15 minutes early to the area where the BBC Lifestyle Hands On Workshops were taking place. The area was open to the public and when I got there over 100 people were sitting on the chairs and the floor waiting to see James in action – this was a cooking demonstration they got to watch and listen to free of charge! There was no clear indication of where the 12 people who had paid R1500 were to go and so I fought my way onto the stage and then to the area that looked like people were waiting. The ‘head chef’ from Capsicum Culinary Studio who was in charge of getting the people onto the stage was most rude. There were no official tickets for the James Martin Master Class as the organizers had not printed them. He had to check our names off a list and he was not at all pleasant about it.

Master Class With James Martin
james martin and the audience watching him

James’ workbench faced the audience and we were placed on the sides of the area – with no clear view of James at all. I was shown to a workbench and then rudely asked to move! The attitude of the ‘head chef’ was so bad that I would not move. I could not see James from where I was standing and moving further back would only make it worse. In fact, the lady who was at the bench where they wanted me to be had most of her ingredients missing and fell way behind.

James Martin doing sugar work
james martin doing sugar work

This was advertised as a master class – but it was nothing more than a cooking demonstration with a few people following along. The audience were noisy and commenting the entire time. James was cooking for them and there were no cameras focussed on what he was doing so that we could see what to do. The ambient noise intruded so badly, and the microphone system James was using was so poor that we could not hear him give instructions. The sous chefs had no clue as to what was going on.  The ingredients were not all there, they were not clearly marked and as the sous chefs did not know what to do in the recipes, errors were made using their instructions! There were not enough bowls, pans, whisks, spoons etc and each time we realized we did not have what we needed off a sous chef ran to the back to get it. It was a shambles.

We started with the batter – and not being able to hear James I put all my flour in the bowl – I was told off like a school girl by James! As an accomplished and published chef, this has never happened to me before. I managed to make a great batter, even though I poured all my tonic water into it at once. Thankfully I did this, as the lady behind me had no batter and I gave her the rest of mine to use.

After the batter we made the sponge – and mine was no problem. My workbench partner, Heleen, did not have the same experience. She did not fold in her flour, as she could not hear what James was saying, and so knocked back all the air. We had to mix our batters together into the sponge tin and then that was placed in the oven. The oven for the lady behind us had not been turned on, and so our oven door was opened  for her tin to go in. I asked the sous chef to set the timer but he was not interested. I then had to closely watch the sponge which meant I was not really paying attention to anything else. James showed the audience how to flip the sponge out of the tin, but our sous chef decided he knew better. Heleen had dusted kitchen towel with icing sugar instead of using parchment paper. The sous chef then took the sponge out of the tin instead of flipping it. He was not going to listen to me! This resulted in the sponge breaking and our swiss roll failing!

Our sous chef also decided that instead of each of us making a ganache he would make one – which was not too bad, but it did not come off the heat soon enough. He told Heleen to do the same thing with the white chocolate – which was the wrong instruction. White chocolate mousse is not made by melting cream and white chocolate together! We then had to get more ingredients to make the mousse but as our white chocolate had not been melted in time and then allowed to cool, we had to be extra careful to make sure the mousse did not split. Our assembly of the swiss roll was not going to work from the start as there was a huge crack down the middle and Heleen would not cut it in half. The still warm ganache was placed on the sponge – which soaked it up. Then the mousse, and the strawberries and then disaster stuck. The whole thing fell apart as soon as Heleen attempted to roll it. Heleen had to parade this disaster to the audience!

It was then time to make the mayonnaise – now, I know how to do this and it was simple and easy. So was making the tartar sauce to go with the fish. The fish needed to be floured – and so I floured and battered mine and got it into the oil – no utensils were provided and I had to wait for a slotted spoon. The batter was awesome – the fish however was not!

And, after a two course meal James did some sugar work – which the non paying audience got to see, but I did not. I was most disappointed by this, as I had asked him on Friday night to please include this in the master class!

We could not take our food home with us and I left there feeling so let down and flat. I could have paid R300 for the VIP show and had a far better experience, watching James cook without an audience of talking people, without the public announcements and without feeling like an inadequate home cook which I am not.

Frankly, I would say that the organization was diabolical and I feel that I should be refunded for what was a very bad experience. This was not a master class, it was not a R1500 personal experience and it was totally wrong that our extremely expensive experience was marred by poor organization and lack of knowledge by the sous chefs as to what was cooking. I spent 5 minutes watching Atul Kochhar on the Friday night and no wonder he was so openly frustrated – it could not have been easy trying to get 12 people to follow your instructions if they could not hear you or see what you were doing.

Atul Kochhar
atul kochhar

I have no idea what James thought of the whole experience but I personally found it to be a shame that such an amazing chef thought he was giving a cooking class. I also wonder how the people who paid to see him in the chefs in action theatre would feel knowing that their VIP experience could be had for nothing as they could have watched our master class and come onto the stage afterwards to have their photograph taken and a book signed! This master class was not even worth the R300 VIP experience.

James Martin
james martin

Disclosure: in no way do I feel that James Martin, or the BBC is responsible for the shambles of the hands on workshop – he is a great person who did his best under extremely trying conditions. The situation was out of his control and it was completely due to the way in which it was organized.
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86 thoughts on “Master Class With James Martin

  1. Tandy, thank you for sharing this with us. It is such a disappointment that it turned out this way. You paid so much for a master class and it seems it was anything but. I hope that the organisers have realised their mistakes and will plan properly for next time. It makes me sick to think that they took R1500 from each of the “participants” without giving anything in return. This in addition to all the ticket money and everything else.

    Poor James May. I love him and I hope this will not stop him from coming back to South Africa. I see he’s smiling in your first photo. It’s amazing that with all this stress he still manages to handle it smiling.

    1. I have one photograph of him looking so not amused – not sure if I should show the world that, as the conditions were not his to control.

  2. I’m so sorry to hear how disappointed you were! I was very tempted to go to the Heston show, but when I found out he wouldn’t even be cooking, I didn’t know why they were charging R350 for a “normal” ticket! I hope that the GF&W Show are aware of your experience and will try and reimburse you in some way (although it would seem that it would be the second time!)

    1. I am hearing mixed reports about Heston, but mostly people were inspired by him – and Jonathan Daddia tells me he did cook! The whole show was a shambles.

  3. Oh Tandy, what a huge disappointment and upset right from the get go of Kate’s clear lack of communication and at a huge expense too!
    At least on the up side, you got to meet James Martin AND have your photo taken with him – I am a touch green with envy.
    🙂 Mandy

  4. WOW! I am sorry but I would have flipped my lid at that sous chef! What a joke! Thats a fair amount of money to spend on disappointment! But you are right, its not really James Martin’s fault nor the BBC, its just about organization!

    My head chef was at Heston and even though he says he was slightly disappointed that he didn’t do a cooking demo, it was very informative and got to ask a lot of questions and learnt a lot from the whole experience.

  5. they are all responsible. if you are the ‘lead’ you also have a responsibility to make sure the whole thing happens.

    it’s poor planning, poor communication and poor leadership.

    1. exactly! But as James was an invited guest (and I assume paid) he had no choice or control over the area in which he cooked!

  6. Tandy, thanks for putting this into perspective – I think it’s really great that you offer such a detailed overview, so that the organiser will (hopefully) be able to start seeing where the GFWS seems to go wrong…

    Having never been to one, I am limited in my commentary, but I can say that I have not felt the need to attend purely based on the negative feedback of previous shows – in particular, people being sorely disappointed by the highly-paid-for celeb chef interactions such as the master classes. It would appear that there is a nasty trend taking place and I think that the organisers would do well to nip it in the bud before next year, as the show just grows and grows!

    1. hopefully they can sort this out before they go on to Durban and Johannesburg! There is a lot of money involved and the right people need to be employed to handle this type of event! Thanks for your comments 🙂

  7. Just a thought – have you sent a link to this post to the organisers? I would have thought some sort of compensation was in order. What a disappointment.

  8. I went to the chefs in action theatre and had VIP ticket to see James and Heston. I was also very upset when I found out that my Heston ticket of R850, did not include a door ticket – but that beside.
    I will say that Heston was very informative and I was very happy with watching him. I wish I could have been closer, as VIP was not was VIP as I expected – there were at least 200 of us. Heston’s show was 20 minutes late and did not have any cooking. I had hoped to see some liquid nitrogen in the act.
    James did a 3 course meal and was very entertaining. I enjoyed this show, as I had better seats. Although, as they had not sold out the VIP tickets they filled the space with the other members of the audience – great deal for them.
    All in all I thought this year was very expensive to see the chefs in action and over priced for the value.
    Having said that I would still pay another R850 to see Heston again. But not James, that was over-priced for the foolery.

    1. I was amazed how many people came to Heston – but I have heard that there were photocopied tickets for his show! The VIP people should have got front row seats. The show ran late as the organizers did not allow time to clear the theatre out and refill it between shows – basically they ran back to back without considering a gap between each ‘act’. At least you could see James’ 3 course meal! But, people who came to watch our master class saw him cooking at no charge! It was expensive indeed 🙂

  9. Oh my word, what a horrible experience, Tandy. I would be just livid, too. I hope you get a refund, do persevere. I loathe poor service as a much as you do. Hugs, my friend.

  10. Aijaijai. What a disappointment. Very glad I didnt have the money to afford a ticket in the first place. But if I did I would have gone and been disappointed. Sorry to read all this Tandy. Hope the organizers sort it out. I had a bit of problems with organizing the free Indaba tickets as well. Had to keep asking until finally Kate came back to me. I was told to tell everyone that the tickets would be waiting at the VIP media desk but they knew nothing about them, there was no list of winners etc etc. Was it worth it for the sponsorship? I don’t think so. xx

    1. that is so poor! I cannot believe that they think they can get away with such poor service to the very community whose support they need!

  11. I was watching Tandy and really felt for her. I basically had a better view, knew what was going on, and saw everything from the audience. I would not have liked to have been cooking on stage like that. I think Tandy did really well under pressure! It was a bit like a Masterchef pressure test.Compared to other participants I observed you were doing really well. Even James had to keep asking for equipment and ingredients. I hope you get a refund!

  12. I believe you would have a case for a refund under the Consumer Protection act, specifically
    Part H, which confers the right to fair value, good quality and safety. The goods and services which are provided must be safe and fit for the purpose for which they were intended. I don’t believe that the services you received were fit for the purpose for which they were intended.
    Good luck.

    1. thank you so much for that advice Georgina. I am going to give them another day to respond and then start with taking some action 🙂

  13. Hi, I am one of the “unfortunate” to have experienced the hands on with James. I was the lady in front that was mocked for the mayo/sponge/ganache………. The equipment was 3rd world to say the least. There were not enought bowls to mix the ingredients, my oven only had a top element and was turned high to compensate, thus leaving a swiss roll over cooked on top and still raw at the base. There was no water for us to drink, like previous years, there were no hand wipes or dish towl to wipe counter tops. NO OVEN MITS to remove hot swiss roll. I did not even have a proper swiss roll pan, we had a the deft drip pan????

    I did the hands on work shop last year November with James. At R1000. we deboned a chicken (fresh, free range) and made a ginger cheese cake and did our own sugar work, and took it home. This year, the cost of the ingredients would not be more than R90 and to top it all my fish was stolen of my plate while I was having my photo taken with James. So value for money, all I have is a photo.

    NOW here is the issue. I was the silly person to pay R850 for a VIP ticket to see Heston at 14H00. The show as advertised as a 40 minutes long and an experience not to be missed. Leaving plenty of time for a book signing and maybe a photo with Heston and then moving over to the Hands on Workshop. This was a joke. The Heston show started at 14H45 and I had to “sneak out” from my highly paid uncomfortable seat to rush to the hands on workshop. R850 for only 20 so minutes of talking………… could have watched him on TV

    I arrived flustered and shaking. Unsure where to enter the stage as James was already there. The MC ripped into me when I entered his domain. I had “highly” paid for this right. Last year James walked to each person and greeted them, not this time, or maybe I miss out on that treat. I could not hear him and also struggled to follow him.

    My cost for the show. James Martin R1500. Enterance 2 x R85., Heston VIP ripoff 2 x R850, Lindt workshop R150. Hotel for the night R820. Airflight tickets R2968. (Mango cheap seats). Car hire from Avis R457 (also a cheapie) Now remember I have not bought any goodies or fed myself or my mother or even bought a cup of coffee.


    1. Thank you so much for you response to my blog – I see I am not the only one who feels ripped off! I sincerely hope that you send an email to the organizers about your experience! use this email address: – but please note, I have not yet had a response. James did not greet anyone – in fact, he did not look impressed at all and I have a photograph showing that! Seems all in all, your day was not a good one at all!

  14. Dear Tandy

    We as the organisers do take your comments and everyone else’s extremely seriously and will be investigating the situation. We will be reverting later on today.

    Kind Regards, Kate

  15. Wow Tandy – I must say I was rather excited to read this as I expected you to have an amazing experience! I am so disappointed on your behalf!! And who knows what James even thinks of this “third-world-rate” organisation. So sorry “hugs* – hope you get your money back!!

    1. Thanks Leaine – I am going to do everything I can to make sure I get reimbursed! As you can see from Michelle’s comment I was not the only one who was upset. *hugs* T

  16. Hey Tandy
    I was also p…ted off cos payed R150 to watch James at the Chefs in Action teather and next to me stand ppl that got the tickets FREE…I was so angry…

    1. I can understand you being angry! I saw a whole lot of photocopied tickets for Heston’s show that were not actually valid, but the organizers had not told the security company that 🙂

      1. I was at the show and actually learned that it was the organisers who gave away FREE tickets to see James – those photocopied ones – to fill the auditorium since they didn’t manage to sell out tickets! What a sham.

        1. That is not OK, as that means there was no reason to pay for a ticket if they were giving tickets away free of charge 🙂

  17. Hi Tandy,
    My daughter and I were 2 of the twelve who did the Masterclass with James Martin on Saturday and I couldn’t agree more with you on EVERY point that you made! Once my computer us up and running again I will also be sending an e-mail to the organizers.

    Besides everything you said, we even found members of the audience (and the assistants) eating our food when we got back from queuing to have our book signed!!!! The lady (and her daughter) who were behind you is a friend of mine and besides all the problems that she had, her recipes were stolen while she was having her book signed!

    No wonder James Martin said he didn’t do many of these types of ‘classes’ and that he felt that he’d aged 10 years in that hour!!!! He’s such a professional gentleman and I’m sure he must have been thoroughly irritated with the complete lack of organization!!

    1. Hi Louise, thank you so much for leaving your comment here. I hope you get a response from them when you send the email – use this email address:
      Someone ate our food as well which I found quite strange. I put my recipes away while we were cooking and I will gladly send you and your friend a copy of them if you would like. Your poor friend had such a shoddy day. I must apologize to both of you then for not moving – but I was already hacked off at the attitude of Capsicum Catering staff at that stage I was not willing to do anything but stake my place. I met James in the green room on Friday night and he is a quiet person. Have a great evening Tandy 🙂

      1. I have absolutely no problem with you not moving and must say I would have done the same!! I’ve still luckily got my recipes and have copied them for my friend but thanks for the offer! My daughter and I managed to grab the attention of one of the properly qualified chefs (she’s a lecturer) and she kept apologizing for all the mess ups (and we had plenty)!!!

        1. what a sad state of affairs! I still have to send a copy of this blog post to Capsicum Catering – lucky you to have had a chef next to you who was properly qualified 🙂

      2. Just wish she’d been around the whole time instead of having to step in at the end to help fix a lot of mistakes made by the assistants! Would so love to do it again (but properly organized next time) as I’ve always been a fan of James Martin!

        1. I wonder what would happen if we contacted him directly? I cannot see myself going to another Good Food and Wine Show to do anything other than catch up with my suppliers 🙂

  18. Woolworths who sponsored the food for the master class left me this comment on twitter:

    Really sorry to hear about your experience. We were only sponsors along with BBC, we’ll try to do better next year. Thank You.

  19. I sent a copy of the blog post to BBC Lifestyle Channels and here is their response:

    Dear Tandy,

    Thank you for contacting BBC Worldwide Channels.

    Please be assured that your feedback regarding the BBC Lifestyle Hands on Workshop that you attended at the weekend has been received by us and that we are currently looking into the points you have raised.

    We will be back in touch with you as soon as we can.

    Best wishes,

    BBC Worldwide Channels

    Follow up – Friday 10 June:

    Dear Tandy,

    Thank you for your patience while we are looking into your concerns. Just to let you know that the person we need to liaise with on this has been on holiday, but we have not forgotten your concerns and will be in touch with you with a reply as soon as we can.

    Best wishes,

    BBC Worldwide Channels

    Dear Tandy,

    Thank you again for contacting BBC Worldwide Channels with your feedback regarding the BBC Lifestyle Hands on Workshop at the Good Food and Wine Show and we apologise for the delay in responding.

    We were extremely sorry to learn that your experience at this event was not as good as you had quite rightly anticipated. We are very grateful to you for taking the time and trouble to contact us with your feedback and we would assure you that we will take this into consideration for future events. We are, however, pleased to note that you have received a detailed response from Louise Cashmore and we hope that this has gone someway to reassure you that your feedback has been taken onboard.

    Thank you again for contacting us.

    Best wishes,

    BBC Worldwide Channels

  20. I have sent the link to the blog post to Capsicum Catering and this is their response:

    Thank you for your email.

    I will send it to our Marketing Manager

    Sunel responded as follows:

    Good morning Tandy

    Thank you very much for you email of yesterday.

    Did you forward this information to the organisers of the Good Food and Wine Show? Capsicum assist the Good Food and Wine Show with the running of the kitchens. I read through your block and would gladly assist you to get in contact with the organisers to discuss your concerns.

    If you have time, maybe we can chat over the phone?

    Please let me know how I can assist you.

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    Have a good day.

    Kind regards

    Sunel du Plessis

    National Brand and Marketing Manager

  21. Dear Tandy

    My apologies for the delay in reply. I wanted to investigate your concerns, so I could revert with detailed feedback from all involved;

    I really appreciate your input. Each year, we work hard to improve the Show, updating the exhibition feature areas and adding new ones where applicable to showcase the very latest in global trends. The Get Fresh with BBC Lifestyle arena is as you have seen over the years, an update on the Hands On Workshops forum. When we initially launched the Hands on Workshop concept, the celebrity chefs loved the opportunity to cook with the public, however we had so many requests from participants to have a seating area, where Mom/Granny/my best friends etc. could watch them cook. The general public also enjoyed being spectators to the hands on workshops and the result was a mob of people standing around the Perspex enclosed hands on workshops, blocking the isles and being generally uncomfortable, standing for a long period of time.

    As a result of this, we incorporated a seating area, where the public could watch the workshops and a stage on which the participants cooked.

    I have investigated your complaint thoroughly. The co-ordinator from the culinary school running the area has confirmed that he personally checked that all the ingredients were there, together with the utensils and cookware and James Martin, has confirmed that he felt that the workshop went well and didn’t see any problems. Be that as it may, I am deeply disappointed that you did not have a great experience.

    We are going to make the following amendments for next year:

    – We will grade the workshops – for novices and experienced chefs

    – We will enclose the main stage, creating an attractive barricade to ensure that the seated audience cannot access the main stage.

    – We will include the ticket entry price into the hands on workshop ticket price

    – We will employ an additional home economist to ensure that the ingredients and cookware are double checked before each workshop.

    I would love to meet with you for a coffee so you can share any other suggestions and insights you may have to further improve this opportunity. Please let me know when you are available. I can see from your blog that you have attended these hands on workshops for a number of years and that you appreciate what a great coup it is to cook alongside chefs of this calibre. I would like to offer you a complimentary workshop with a chef of your choice next year.

    I look forward to hearing from you and to welcoming you next year, to an awesome interactive hands on workshop experience.

    Warmest regards

    Louise Cashmore

    1. WOW, how nice to see a well-constructed complaint handled in constructive and professional manner. Well done, both Tandy and Louise.

    2. I am glad that they came back to you! Unfortunately it seems like almost everyone was disappointed with various parts of the show! They will have to get their act together!

      1. I am hoping that with the constructive criticism they have received, next year’s show will be better and bigger 🙂

    3. Based on your description of the event, I think they should have offered you a full refund and a free entrance to the next one.

      You paid R1500 to have people be rude to you – that on its own, without any of the numerous other problems, should entitle you to a full refund.

      Paying customers deserve to be treated with respect at all times, and they forgot that rule.

      1. I do agree with you on this one, but as my husband has pointed out, I did get to cook, and I at least got my recipe book signed! Have a great day, and thanks for subscribing to my blog 🙂

  22. Dear Tandy,

    Loved reading your comment on the hands on Workshop. I was toying with the idea of signing up for the masterclass and decided against it based on cost.Also becuase the masterclasses in previous years had been “behind closed doors” i didnt pay much attention and only realised much later that i could have watched the masterclass live. I have to admit I also would have felt particularly cheated because everyone could watch.

    I did however opt for the VIP ticket on the saturday evening show to see James live. (I’m a HUGE fan). I thought he was great. Funny as heck. What did disapoint me were two things: The first was because there were plenty of empty seats, the non VIP members got moved forward (fair enough) but then to say that the VIP ticket inlcuded a book signing and a photo. What had happend was earlier in the evening (18h15), I was purchasing my book and low and behold James is standing in front of me and signed my book. No VIP ticket needed. And I wasnt the only one. you didnt need a ticket to have a book signed, but those with VIP tickets to the shows “got preference”. while I enjoyed the experience of meeting James ( so much so that I was completely startstruck and instead of all the witty things I could have said, i went mute) I did feel rather cheated. It seems there were a few people who were also disapointed with Hestons show. I am really impressed with Louise Cashmore’s response to your comments. I will be attending the show again and hope to see “Sweet Baby James”
    back in SA soon. His dessert book has inspired this single gal to get back in the kitchen….

    1. thanks for the comment Claire and for subscribing to my blog! The people who watched the masterclass came up to James afterwards and had their books signed and photo’s taken – so if I had paid for the VIP treatment I would too have been a bit peeved at that. I met James in the green room on Friday night but we did not have a long conversation. He keeps quite to himself. Have a great day 🙂 Tandy

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  24. Oh dear what a shame. I went to watch one once in the UK with Anthony Worrall Thompson and he was so drunk he dropped all the food on the floor. it was dreadful.

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