It had been rumoured that Chefs Richard Carstens and Reuben Riffel were starting a joint venture after Chef Richard left Tokara Restaurant, after eight years in its kitchen, at the end of September. Despite requesting both chefs for information about the new partnership since then, the collaboration of the two chefs in the restaurant consultancy RiffelCarstens was only formally announced this week.
The media release introduces the chef team as follows: ‘They both share a passion for the culinary arts, are both obsessed with flavours, both hunger for knowledge and both pursuit (sic) excellence in all that they do. Having once worked in the same kitchen they each went on to become award-winning chefs in their own right. As colleagues and friends their relationship has always been based on mutual respect, affection and an unwavering support for one another’.
According to the media statement, RiffelCarstens (a completely separate entity from any of the Reuben’s restaurants) combines the experience of the two chefs in fine-dining, bistro fare, and casual eating. ‘Together they consult, curate and create businesses and bespoke events, whether it be intimate lunches or large-scale lavish dinners’. Both chefs share a creative energy and passion for the restaurant industry, which they love.
I first met Chef Reuben Riffel when he opened his first Reuben’s in Franschhoek in 2004, at the same time that I opened my Whale Cottage Franschhoek, being located close to my guest house, a huge stroke of luck, especially when Reuben’s jumped into the number one Eat Out restaurant slot within six months of opening, a feat never seen before. It was superb in terms of food and service, and kept its position in the Eat Out Top 10, but slowly dropping as Chef Reuben added more Reuben’s restaurants to his portfolio, in Robertson (he no longer operates there), at the One&Only Hotel, and in Paternoster, alongside a second restaurant Racine in Franschhoek. A big move was to buy a building and to renovate it, turning it into the new and improved Reuben’s Franschhoek, and initially Chef Reuben was in the kitchen.
Chefs Reuben and Richard met in the kitchen at Chamonix restaurant, and connected again at Monneaux restaurant, both in Franschhoek. Chef Richard achieved Eat Out Top 10 status at Bijoux restaurant in Franschhoek, and at Lynton Hall in KZN, a restaurant and events venue managed by Hartford House. Despite Chef Richard’s known expertise and passion for Molecular Gastronomy, being a ‘student’ of El Bulli in respect of this cuisine, Eat Out did not once in his eight years of being at Tokara acknowledge the restaurant and its advanced cuisine! Not many chefs stay in a restaurant for that long a period. In his total cuisine career spanning 30 years, the restaurants in which Chef Richard headed up the kitchen made Eat Out Top 10 six times.
I have always been impressed with Chef Richard since getting to know him better when he settled at Tokara, and his Farewell Dinner to El Bulli, on the night that it too held a farewell dinner when it closed El Bulli permanently as a restaurant on 31 July 2011, was magnificent, and one of my dining highlights, the closest I ever got to eating at El Bulli:
To pay tribute to Chef Richard, I and my Parisian friend Aurélie Jullien booked to eat at his second last lunch serving at Tokara, after attending the Cape Winemakers Guild annual Auction. Chef Reuben Riffel (with me in the photograph above, taken at the Tokara lunch) and his wife Maryke were there too, but at that stage I could not have guessed that a future collaboration between the two chefs was planned.
We were spoilt with a six course tasting menu, with excellent dishes but disappointing waiter service, Tokara Manager and Sommelier Jaap-Henk Koelewijn coming to the rescue:
# Bread course, with ciabatta and seedloaf bread, whipped beef fat butter, olive butter, superb mushroom butter, and plain butter. The butters were presented in three different butter dishes. Jaap-Henk spoilt us in bringing an extra portion of the mushroom butter.
# Potato starch fried hake, kombu and soya powder, rice crisp, daikon, home-made bottarga, and Koji lemon kosho.
# The coolest dish of all was the Beetroot, turnip, and goat cheese dish, with Bonita (a Fish) flakes literally dancing in the dish as the Chardonnay cream velouté was poured into the bowl.
# The presentation of the smoked and cured duck breast was most unusual, but the colours on the plate were beautiful. Sadly the duck was tough. It was prepared and presented with saffron braised endive, gooseberries, and a sauce
# The main course was Chalmar Beef, served with celeriac purée and asparagus, tender and tasty. With it we drank a glass of Tokara Grenache Limited Reserve 2015, recommended by Jaap-Henk, and it was a perfect pairing with the fillet.
#. The ‘Morphing’ dessert course was three desserts in itself! There was a three-minute chocolate tart served with orange Buchu ice cream. Then we were offered a Tokara olive oil ice cream, lemon olive cake, meringue shards with black pepper, buffalo yoghurt, and mozzarella. The piece de resistance was Chef Richard’s Signature dessert called ‘Chocolate Handkerchief and Textures’, a fabulous chocolate indulgence of truffles, fruit jelly, chocolate mousse, and Aero aerated chocolate pieces.
Last but not least was a perfectly prepared dry cappuccino, with which a platter of friandise was served, a selection of Tokara Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wine gums, and El Bulli inspired chocolate biscuits.
The first joint project of Riffel Carstens is setting up Reuben’s Café at Val de Vie, which is opening shortly.
RiffelCarstens: Chef Reuben Riffel Cell 082 320-0133 Chef Richard Carstens Cell 084 676-3474
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein