For his ability to create fine food that feels laid back and unpretentious, chef and restaurateur Reuben Riffel is the master.
For celebrity chef Reuben Riffel, it’s a combination of passionate people and great ingredients that serve as the inspiration behind his work. Well-known for his role as a judge on MasterChef South Africa, as well as his ever-growing portfolio of award-winning restaurants, Reuben describes his culinary style as a pursuit of simplicity.
“We search for the occasional surprise combination of ingredients, but our focus is on uncomplicated, great-tasting food,” he says.
Reuben grew up in Groendal, near Franschhoek, and says that eating was always a passion for him. A love for cooking was something he discovered later when he began working as a waiter at Chamonix Wine Estate. He learned the basics of food preparation in the kitchen there and worked his way up to sous-chef under the guidance of chef Richard Carstens. “I think my career chose me,” he says. “I was lucky enough to work under a chef that made food and cooking seem cool, and his passion rubbed off on me.”
Although he didn’t receive any formal training as a chef, Reuben soaked up the knowledge and skills of his mentors in Franschhoek, and after some experience abroad, he was able to open his very own restaurant back home in 2004. Now, Reuben has a number of restaurants to his name, and an average day for him is packed with meetings where he discusses menus with his chefs, tweaks dishes, works on the preparation of sauces, pickles and chutneys, and plans for upcoming events. The best part of the job, says Reuben, is working as part of a team.
“It’s a great feeling when the front of house, kitchen, and everyone else is in sync during a busy service.”
Outside of the kitchen, Reuben loves to relax by playing golf, reading, and spending time with his wife and two children. In fact, his wife does most of the cooking at home, unless he has a craving for Asian dishes and noodles — his homemade speciality!
A Taste of Reuben
Try Reuben’s restaurants for yourself…
Situated in the winelands, Reuben’s Franschhoek was the chef’s first eatery and remains one of the region’s favourites. The restaurant recently moved premises and has been beautifully refurbished — think screed floors, walls filled with art, a glass wine cellar, and bistro-style tables. With a selection of local wines and craft gins on offer, the outdoor courtyard is perfect for a leisurely drink and an al fresco lunch or dinner in the summer months.
The menu includes an eclectic mix of contemporary dishes with a local twist, like a poke bowl with beetroot cured salmon trout, wasabi, pickled ginger, compressed cucumber, sesame, and yuzu soy; and pork belly with fynbos honey crème, pineapple atjar, sweet potato and cider jus.
The urban eatery
The One & Only hotel in Cape Town also boasts a Reuben’s, and with its chic and sophisticated interior, makes for a classy night out. The space has a stylish brasserie feel, with classic wood finishes, warm lighting, and modern decor accents.
The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the menu showcases a fusion of local flavours, celebrating the Cape’s culinary heritage and the abundance of fresh produce found in the area. One of the house specialities is a range of artisanal meats sourced from nearby farms — indulge in carnivorous dishes like braised lamb neck with confit garlic and tomato and lavender jus, and roast pork rack with blackberry gel.
The coastal gem
Located in the charming seaside town of Paternoster, Reuben’s restaurant at Abalone House and Spa serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner in a pretty setting. The venue is elegant and relaxed, with beautiful sea views. Reuben spent time in the town as a child and was drawn to the relaxed atmosphere of the place, so the menu draws its inspiration from the local ingredients and culinary culture of the town.
Sit on the outdoor deck to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy innovative, distinctly South African dishes like crispy hake with pineapple and sultana chutney; peppered springbok steak; and rooibos poached pear and apple with honeycomb ice cream and grapefruit custard.
If you haven’t yet had the privilege of dining at one of Reuben’s successful establishments, plan a night out soon and indulge your sense www.reubens.co.za