MasterChef SA Season 3 Reuben RiffelWhat a surprise to read on Friday that Reuben Robertsons Riffel is to replace Chef Andrew Atkinson as a MasterChef SA judge in Season 3, which is to be filmed shortly.  It raises the question as to the role of Robertsons, already the headline sponsor of the reality TV cooking programme, and whether Riffel will continue his endorsement of the bottled herb and spice brand, which would then be a conflict of interest!

Riffel became the Robertsons spokesperson two years ago when MasterChef SA was first flighted, and lost all credibility in selling his soul to Unilever in endorsing Robertsons, and Rama margarine on the side!    As Riffel has publicly declared that he only uses Robertsons spices and herbs in his home, and not in any of his restaurants, he already has no credibility.  Recently Unilever tried to mislead chefs and restaurants by presenting a media release, which made the unsubstantiated claim that an increasing number of chefs are using bottled herbs and spices!

In the past two years serious chefs have distanced themselves from Riffel, laughing behind his back in him being so stupid to associate himself with a bottled herb brand, when it is completely contra the trend to using fresh herbs, ideally planted oneself on one’s restaurant property (on the roof as at The Saxon for Chef David Higgs, as restaurant space dividers at Mondiall, or a fully fledged vegetable and herb garden as at La Motte). Given the powerful role of Robertsons as the headline sponsor, with Riffel as new judge, one cannot help but think that the Robertsons branding will be even more dominant on the show.  Just by having Riffel as a judge, he would be sublimely associated with Robertsons, without even having to refer to it. 

In owning five restaurants, and rarely being at any of them, the month of filming will mean that Riffel has to live at the golf estate outside Paarl with fellow judges Chefs Benny Masekwameng and Pete Goffe-Wood, and that he will not be near any of the five restaurants in March/April!   Riffel’s Reuben’s restaurants in Franschhoek, Robertson, Paternoster, and at The One & Only Cape Town, and his new Racine restaurant at Chamonix in Franschhoek (his ownership of it oddly is undeclared) already suffers a poor reputation for declining standards of service and food,  which could be exacerbated by his complete absence. None of his restaurants have made the Eat Out Top 20 shortlist in the past few years, nor the Best of category finalists, and one can barely call him a chef anymore as he is so busy with product endorsements, writing cookbooks, and any activity that will generate income.

In its media release M-Net explains that Chef Andrew’s departure as follows: ‘he received an offer to fill the full-time position of Executive Chef for a hotel chain in Johannesburg – an opportunity that he could not refuse. Andrew’s permanent responsibilities in his new role mean that he can no longer commit himself to the busy schedule of the filming of the series’.

One hopes that the standard of the M-Net media releases will improve, as the headline of the release announcing Riffel’s appointment contains glaring errors: ‘Award-winning (sic) restauranteur (sic) gets ready for MasterChef 3′!   Reuben’s restaurants have not made Eat Out Top 10 in the past six years, and referring to his ‘award-winning‘ performance last experienced six years ago is a marketing con by M-Net!   At least they are honest in having chosen a photograph of Riffel without chef’s jacket!

Auditions for MasterChef SA start in Durban in a week’s time, moving to Cape Town and Johannesburg over the two weeks thereafter. Being the ultimate cynic, one cannot help but see M-Net‘s politically correct rationale for having chosen Riffel, with a judge of each of three population groups, and an Indian winner in the last two seasons of MasterChef SA!  We cannot wait for MasterChef SA to start!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage