Chef Reuben Riffel’s connection with the One&Only Cape Town is putting him, and Cape Town with it, on the world map, and he recently returned from a whirlwind tour of New York, with the compliments of SAA and the One&Only Hotel group.
He stepped off the aircraft with his Reuben’s Franschhoek chef William Carolissen, and was whisked off to the studios of the Martha Stewart Show immediately. Despite her poor performance at the Design Indaba a year ago, Stewart remains an icon of American domesticity, and her show is watched by an audience of about 80000. Chef Reuben had to prepare South African dishes in front of the camera and studio audience, and had pre-organised which ingredients he would require for it. He had a time limit of 4 minutes to create Cape Malay pickled fish, and a grilled peri peri beef salad. The Reuben’s slot ran for 15 minutes and had shots of the One&Only Cape Town too, with Stewart endorsing the hotel by stating that it is her favourite resort in South Africa. The show will be broadcast on 9 March.
He was also invited to appear on NBC’s Today Show, with a viewership of 3,3 million on the day of broadcast. Chef Reuben cooked with Today Show personalities Al Roker and Natalie Moralis, and here too he had to prepare two dishes (crisp prawn dumplings with rooibos tea salt, and pan roasted red snapper prepared in a West Coast basting sauce of apricot jam, garlic and soya, served with a salsa of tomato, cucumber, chilli and cilantro) in front of the audience.
Reuben is no stranger to cooking in front of a camera, making more and more TV appearances, on Pasella in particular, so this stood him in good stead to do our city and country proud. Chef Reuben said the American TV staff are well organised. Chef Reuben also prepared food for an One&Only Hotel event for travel agents and tour operators, as well as one for the media (journalists represented the New York Times Style Magazine, Travel+Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, New York Post and Travel Africa.)
Meeting Chef Reuben and his wife Maryke at Reuben’s at the One & Only Cape Town last week was an opportunity to catch up, and to check whether he is still connected to his restaurant in Cape Town, given my observations after my last visit. He laughed when we chatted about how incorrect deductions can be made from bits of staff information one receives, and it showed him how important it is for him to communicate with all levels of staff. Talking of staff, a number of changes have taken place since Reuben’s opened in Cape Town in October: The Manager Samantha Housden has left, after only a short stint, and has been replaced by Kagiso Mmebe. In the kitchen Maritz Jacobs has been joined by Aviv Liebenberg, previously at Reuben’s Robertson, and Chef Reuben is encouraging them to visit the Old Biscuit Mill market on Saturdays, so that they can stay in touch with interesting food suppliers, and they come back with fresh products for a new special “Market Day” menu on Saturdays. Reuben’s staff will ‘cross-pollinate’ between Cape Town and Franschhoek, so that they get to experience the other branch. Camil Haas, who was meant to shadow Chef Reuben in Franschhoek and Cape Town, will be more behind the scenes now, and will manage Chef Reuben’s appearances, and the requirements linked to these, as well as the preparation for outside events.
Chef Reuben explained why the current menu does not have the chefs’ names on it, and why the Reuben’s branding is so low key, in that the hotel had printed it at a time when the regular Reuben’s printer was closed over the festive season. The new menu to be launched on 16 February will go back to its “Reuben’s” look, and its content will have a stronger Cape Town focus, with a new dessert for example called ‘Taste of Cape Town’, with small tastes of Hertzoggies, date slices, melktert, rooibos tea ice cream and a coconut koeksister. In Franschhoek a menu change can be expected at the end of the month, but will have a different focus to the Cape Town one. A Sunday buffet lunch will be introduced in Cape Town on 27 February, costing R 195. The Reuben’s Cape Town menu indicates which dishes contain alcohol (for Sol Kerzner, who does not drink alcohol, and for Muslim guests), shellfish, nuts, and pork.
We spoke about the winelist, which I see as overpowering, and not really suiting a Bistro-style restaurant. Chef Reuben said that Singita is buying up a portion of the wine collection, and he said that they may develop a reduced winelist for Reuben’s. The One&Only Hotel has influenced the operation of Reuben’s in Cape Town, and has meant more paperwork and adherence to systems, but there are benefits too, such as the international marketing that the hotel group does. Chef Reuben emphasised that Kerzner does not interfere with his operation of the restaurant. In fact, there is a good relationship between the hotel and the restaurant management, and they meet regularly to address common issues. Reuben is featured in the international One&Only Hotel newsletter, which was sent out earlier this week.
The decor is evolving, and new multi-coloured glass menu boards have been erected on the columns of the restaurant, to advertise specials. When I visited last week, a West Coast seafood special was advertised, consisting of a number of dishes. The boards help the Cape Town branch make spontaneous additions to the menu, without having to reprint it, a greater logistical challenge here than in Franschhoek, Chef Reuben explained.
A new cookbook is in the pipeline, and will focus on seasons. It will allow Chef Reuben to continue with the format of his first recipe book, and to reminisce about his childhood in Franschhoek, and his mother’s influence on his cooking. Richard Carstens is highly praised by Chef Reuben, and he says that Richard “is one of the best” and that “no one can touch him”.
Chef Reuben says there are definitely no further restaurant openings on his agenda, and he is learning to delegate more, to enjoy a more balanced personal and business life. I left him and Maryke with the feeling that they will make the best of their new relationship with the One&Only Hotel, and that there will be no repeat of Gordon Ramsay’s distant relationship with the ex-maze, the previous restaurant at the One&Only Cape Town, and the resultant demise.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage