Bringing Braai to the UK: Big 5 Catering

Bringing Braai to the UK: Big 5 Catering

Directly channelling his South African heritage, Darren Andrews has cooked up quite a storm with his hospitality venture Big 5 Catering. After relocating to the UK in 2001, circumstances led Darren into hospitality where initially he ran a business selling sandwiches before graduating into a café operation.

As often happens, a foray into the sector reveals wider possibilities and new paths to explore, and Darren found himself helping out with a friend’s pub. Around this time, he’d been asked to cater for a wedding where he put on a lamb spit roast, similar to what would be commonly done back home. It was a ‘great experience and really sparked my excitement for cooking like that.’

The seeds were sewn and not much later a request was mooted for Darren to prepare a South African style menu for the pub to cater a 70th birthday party of a lady who’d been an anti-apartheid activist back in the 1980s. The results convinced Darren of the possibilities of bringing the live-fire barbecuing he’d grown up with to hungry mouths in the UK, and Big 5 Catering was born.

Big 5 is an old hunting term used to describe the five most dangerous animals to hunt in southern Africa (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) and they are now the most sought after animals to see while on safari. Significantly, the name ‘also evokes memories of warm evenings spent around the BBQ, or braai as it is organically known back home’ and this was exactly the experience he wanted to replicate.

A braai is an essential part of South African culture – traditionally it is cooked on local wood, or more modernly with charcoal: but no gas cooking.

The word ‘braai’ is Afrikaans, originating from the Dutch word ‘braden’ which means ‘to roast.’

It is significant symbolically as the braai is not specific to any particular group or culture in South Africa, meaning it transcends the turbulent past and has the pure ability to bring everyone together.

There are specificities to how the fire is created – this is considered something of an art form, the fire itself is symbolic and everyone will gather around it. A braai is typically a casual, social affair, populated with well-cooked meats.

Naturally, the climate in South Africa caters for outdoor, open fire cooking just a bit better than our perpetually dour skies can. For Darren, ‘growing up in South Africa, it’s just such a common part of life, most people barbecue most weekends.’

There is a tangible focus on authenticity with the business: ‘I create the flavours and marinades I was used to when growing up in South Africa and try to make the culinary experience for my customers as South African as possible. We also use hard woods (sourced from Namibia) that are used across South Africa for braai’ing, to add to that experience.’

Barbecuing continues to be popular in the UK, and Big 5 Catering has been well-placed to capitalise on the ever-growing interest in sampling exceptional food experiences, as well as embracing new cultures.
Darren has scooped up some awards while carving out a prestigious reputation with Big 5 Catering, he has also launched and sells a successful range of flavoured barbecue sauces known as Big 5 Sauces – which simultaneously allows folks to sample the delectable Big 5 experience from the comfort of home and adds an extra dimension of profitability to the business.

The Big 5 Catering website features a strong excerpt to the tune of ‘just because someone owns a BBQ, doesn’t mean they know how to barbecue.’ When asked to elaborate on this, Darren does so with the apt analogy that ‘you could buy yourself a McLaren, but if you don’t know how to drive it, you’re gonna end up in a crash.’ Particularly in the UK, we’ve probably all experienced the dangers of our family’s self-appointed ‘grill master’ getting it wrong with questionable barbecuing attempts and rightly so there is no shortcut to the skill involved when it comes to creating the desired effect – especially over a live fire where there can be a lot of variables to contend with.

Over the last decade that Big 5 Catering have been trading, Darren has seen first-hand a lot more people turn their hand to barbecuing which in turn has acted to raise the standards.
Having initially cut his teeth and spread the word trading at markets and for friends, Darren focuses now primarily on corporate, private events and weddings, as he ‘loves cooking for big groups of people. Also just to be part of someone’s big day, to contribute to something special like that is a privilege. I always hope the food is memorable, as a day like that should be.’

Darren takes real pride in the experience he offers and wants to make sure that every time someone samples his services, they are getting the absolute best: ‘I’ve always been conscious that if someone books me, they get the A-team, not the B or C team.’ Reputation counts for a lot in catering and this quality over quantity approach has served the business well, putting them in a position where they currently have bookings for as far ahead as 2026.

Darren isn’t stressed about filling the calendar, and takes things one event at a time. In quite a humble and telling quote, he reminds his staff that ‘we are literally only as good as our last event.’ Wise words indeed!
Further sage advice is touted when talking of how longevity is achieved in hospitality, as Darren mentions how important it is to keep things simple when it comes to a catering venture – certainly for yourself as much as for the business. He realises that ‘it takes time to build that confidence in yourself and in the business, but the simpler you keep things the less there is to worry about.’

And the less you worry, the chances are the better you will perform with the business – and importantly, the more you will actually enjoy the venture, which should not be overlooked.

As well as providing an organic opportunity to channel his heritage and bring South African cuisine to audiences in the UK, as we often see with independent hospitality ventures, this vehicle has provided him other life affirming opportunities. Success in Darren’s words is ‘all about having a balance between work and your private life. It’s important to me to be able to have time off, to spend time with the family.’

Also enjoying the freedom of being one’s own boss, Darren appreciates the chance to explore his burgeoning hobby of sailing, which he readily admits he needs more practice at but is enjoying nonetheless.

You can find out more about Big 5 Catering here, and follow their journey here.

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Note: The NCASS office will be close from 2PM on Friday 14th June for staff training.