Growing up around the kitchen table with an expansive family that insisted on spending time together and eating well, our Chef de Cuisine Reuben Riffel has grown up experiencing how food can bind people forever.
Although luxuries were few and circumstances humble, there was always a great abundance and variety to choose from at the table. His grandmother, mother and aunts would spend hours preparing feasts, always using the freshest fruit and vegetables grown by his grandfather on a small piece of land in the fertile valley of Groendal, Franschhoek.
While the women were toiling away, with a young Reuben stealing his first secrets, many of which can be found in his cooking today.
A young chef in the making
After a brief stint in the building trade, Reuben swopped trowels for tea towels and joined the waiting staff at Chamonix. He soon migrated to the kitchen, where under the brilliant, classical chef and hardcore disciplinarian, Christoph Dehosse, he learned the first basics about food preparation and essentially embarked on his own culinary journey.
Much preferring to work behind the scenes than waiting tables, he worked his way up the ladder skipping rungs as he did. His hard work payed off and he soon found himself with responsibilities at the Sunday buffet, where among other duties, he had to ensure that the lamb was cooked and carved to perfection.
When his first mentor moved on, the highly creative and eccentric Richard Carstens took over and made the young Reuben his sous chef. Reuben quickly mastered the art of preparing vegetables and sauces and learned the secrets of running a tight kitchen. As he learned, he experimented with different foods and texture combinations.
Without warning Richard failed to show up one day and Reuben found himself left to run the kitchen on his own. He graciously stepped up to the plate and the compliments started pouring in from the tables. He was hooked forever. Richard never returned to Chamonix and Reuben simply took over where he left off.
…And then Reuben’s became a household name.
After stints at various restaurants, Reuben was once again reunited with his old mentor, Richard – this time at Monneaux, and continued to experiment with different textures and flavours. This, and a few trips abroad has helped to trust his palate and he learned to cook instinctively and with a feel for what is required from the individual ingredients.
While at Monneaux, Reuben was invited to run the kitchen at a restaurant in Cambridge, England. Accompanied by his partner, now wife, Maryké, he jumped at the opportunity.
With his skills learned on the building sites with his father, he helped to finish construction on the building before he could take his position as head chef at what became Bruno’s Brasserie.
By digging in his heals and insisting on creating “extraordinary” food, Bruno’s attracted a following amongst Cambridge’s upper crust despite its’ less glamourous setting in a lower rent part of town.
This experience has not only helped the young chef broaden his horizons through frequent European travels and working with English, Irish and Eastern cuisine, but also helped him appreciate the tastes and flavours that he grew up with.
When friends offered him the opportunity to run his own restaurant bearing his own name in his own home town, Reuben and Maryké bid England adieu and returned to Franschhoek.
The Reuben’s sign went up, the doors opened and accolades came flowing in from near and far. Reuben seems unaffected by the limelight preferring to create fine yet unpretentious cuisine that evokes memories of the early days growing up in Groendal.