Reuben Riffel Whale CottageYesterday I met Chef Reuben Riffel for a Day of Reconciliation coffee at Crisp in Franschhoek, around the corner from his Reuben’s restaurant, a follow-up from our reconnection at the Mercedes-Benz Eat Out Restaurant Awards.

As he sat down, Chef Reuben apologised for not feeling 100%, starting a cold, and expressing that he is exhausted after a very busy year, but seems to have enjoyed every minute of it. Ironically he and his wife Maryke had planned 2014 last year, wanting it to be a less busy year than 2013, but looking back, he said it was even busier. In the past year he has done the following:

*   filmed MasterChef SA Celebrity Edition, a series we are yet to see, in January 2015, in which he cut his MasterChef judging teeth, apologising that he was still new at being a TV cooking show judge.  Food24 reports that the 10 celebrities, cooking for a prize to be donated to  charity, are Singer Patricia Lewis, Comedian Chris Forrest, Comedian TolAss­Mo, Radio DJ Alex Jay, model Lerato Moloi, actor Terrence Bridgett, TV presenter and actress Sade Giliberti, dancer and TV presenter Lorna Maseko-Lukhele, presenter and model Lunga Shabalala, and photographer Magdalene van der Merwe.

*   filmed MasterChef SA Season 3, the first time that he participated as a judge, taking about three months of his year.  We spoke about the outcome of MasterChef SA, and that winner Roxi Wardman stood out during the show, being shy and nervous initially but growing in confidence as she received guidance and feedback from the judges. He is happy with this end result, saying that Roxi fought for the top spot.  Interesting was that runner-up Sipho Mdlankomo always expressed fear before trying to prepare a new dish, but always did so well in exactly those challenges, having a knack in reading and sticking to recipes.  Some finalists were overambitious in the dishes which they created, which cost them time as well as remaining in MasterChef SA.  Both Roxi and Sipho grew during the programme. Interesting was that Chef Reuben admitted that he did not see all the broadcasted episodes, as he does not like seeing himself on TV, being critical of himself.  We spoke about the criticism of Sipho by UK newspapers, and I shared that I had written about it reflecting racism on this blog. He has not yet been approached by M-Net to judge MasterChef SA Season 4, which Chef Pete Goffe-Wood has told me is on the cards.

*   filmed, and will be filming more Robertsons tutorials.  He has made peace with the criticism about his association with the brand, having been the brand ambassador for the past three years.

*   filmed his 13-programme series ‘Signature Living with Reuben’ (Home Channel 176 on DStv), being a brand ambassador for Samsung, the sponsor of the series, which is still running.  Filming for another series commences in February.

*   worked with long-standing client of five years Compass, doing chef training locally, as well as their branches in the Middle East, including Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, and Dubai.  Many South Africans living in these cities make an effort to see him when he is there.

*   participated as an Eat Out judge for the first time this year.  He told me that he had taken another ‘non-foodie’ person with him to evaluate the top restaurants (except in Gauteng), to get another perspective on the restaurant experience.  He did not take notes, preferring to ‘sleep on the experience‘, valuing it experientally rather than analysing the food per se.  He said that he had no preconceived ideas when evaluating the restaurants.

*   participated in the Cape to Dar es Salaam Expedition with Land Rover Africa and Sedgwick’s Original Old Brown, a trip he enjoyed, in cooking with chefs at the hotels at which they stayed, but in which he almost drowned when the boat they were in on the Zambezi River capsized and he was caught underneath it.  This trip will not be seen as a TV show.  Travelling in Africa made him realise what opportunities our chefs have in South Africa, to travel, to improve themselves, and to enhance their careers.

*   Chef Reuben says he receives approaches all the time for him to participate in projects and brand sponsorships, and increasingly he is declining them.

*  lovely was hearing about the Reubenellas ‘fan and cooking club’ Chef Reuben has in Johannesburg, cooking recipes out of his cookbooks.

*   opened the first retail outlet of Kitchenaid in Africa, next to his Reuben’s Franschhoek.

*   there definitely will not be a restaurant opening in 2015, but he does enjoy the idea of becoming a restaurateur, opening restaurants without his name attached to it.

*   Chef Reuben will end off the year with one episode in the 4-part series ‘Feast’, which kicks off with Chef Pete Goffe-Wood tomorrow, in the MasterChef SA slot of 19h30 on M-Net.  Chef Reuben’s episode should be aired on 1 January.   It will give insights into his life and his family, how he and his family will be celebrating Christmas, and what he will be cooking for them. Chefs Benny Masekwameng and Marco Pierre White also have an episode each in the series.

In what Chef Reuben has experienced this year, he has realised how much he enjoys TV appearances, and becoming a restaurateur, being more than a chef, yet he loves to cook.  He himself has learnt a lot in what he participated in this year, and met ‘amazing chefs‘, some at the top end of their game, and others being MasterChef SA home cooks at the brink of new careers.  This has put the world into perspective for him.  The sudden passing of Chef Bruce Robertson made him realise that any past relationship issues should be addressed and put behind him, and this was the reason for our coffee date.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Tel (021) 433-2100, Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook:  click here