I ate at KONG Bar & Grill in De Waterkant last Thursday for the first time, at the invitation of its PR Consultant Marina Nestel, and then watched the World Cup Rugby Semi-Final there on Sunday. Not expecting much from the ‘Grill’ part of the name, I was surprised to meet Chef Coenraad Spauner, who heads up the kitchen and who worked at a Michelin Plate restaurant in France last year. Continue reading →
We have been asking for some time how Chef Reuben Riffel can reconcile the international restaurant trend to foraging and growing vegetables and herbs, and endorsing the Robertsons spice range. Now it has become clear that Chef Reuben is just putting his name to the brand for advertising purposes, given that he uses fresh herbs in his Reuben’s restaurants. This is a serious blow to the credibility of Chef Reuben, his Reuben’s restaurants in Franschhoek, at the One&Only Cape Town and in Robertson, the Robertsons brand, as well as MasterChef South Africa, which is sponsored by the spice and herb brand.
At the Franschhoek Literary Festival ten days ago we asked Chef Reuben a question in this regard, and he had a well rehearsed answer to it, justifying his endorsement of Robertsons on the basis of not all herbs being available all year round, and that fresh herbs and his restaurants are not affordable for all. The question must have irritated him badly, as he wrote a disparaging comment about it on his Facebook page later that day. He must have realised that it would get him into terrible trouble, and he has since closed down his Facebook page. Robertsons’ response to the disparagement and damage to their brand is surprising: ‘We were alarmed when we received this complaint and assure you that we have taken this very seriously. We would like to clarify that as a brand Robertsons does not condone the use of inappropriate language in any forum or in any social media channels. We have however discussed this further with Reuben and believe this to be a personal matter with a deeper history and would suggest that you address it directly with him. Our team of lawyers have reviewed the complaint and advised that contractually there is no breech (sic) or transgression to our contract. Our contract and relationship with Reuben is limited to his chef expertise and his appearance in our advertising, it only governs his opinions in relation to our brand and does not extend to personal opinions on a private matter’. There is nothing ‘personal’ about asking a valid question about Chef Reuben’s endorsement of Robertsons, and the impact it has on his credibility as a chef, a question asked by many of his chef colleagues too. One wonders what ‘personal’ issues Chef Reuben could have been referring to. The endorsement, and the resultant lack of attention to and focus on his Reuben’s restaurants, has already cost Chef Reuben dearly, in that he did not make the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant shortlist of twenty late last year, the first time in Reuben’s Franschhoek eight year history. He achieved a miraculous Top Chef and Top Restaurant accolade in the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant awards six months after opening, an unheard of achievement at the time.
It is the programme for ‘Cook Franschhoek’, to be held in the gourmet village from 15 – 17 June, that is the confirmation that Chef Reuben believes in and uses fresh herbs. The write-up for his outrageously-priced R1500 sessions, information which must have been supplied to the organisers by him, refers to a ‘stroll to our secret vegetable garden to pick fresh vegetables and herbs (Reuben believes firmly that only the finest ingredients should be used for the best results)’, a clear confirmation that he believes that fresh is best! This is confirmed in his latest cookbook ‘Reuben Cooks Local’, which does not have a single recipe in it necessitating any Robertsons herbs or spices. When asked, Franschhoekers said they have no idea where the ‘secret‘ herb and vegetable garden is, which must be in walking distance from his restaurant. Someone jokingly saying it must be his Robertsons’ spice rack! Another local has guessed that it must be the garden of Klein Olifantshoek, across the road from his restaurant parking, but staff of the boutique hotel deny this. It is said that when Reuben’s Franschhoek moves to its new location close to Place Vendome later this year, they will develop a vegetable and herb garden there. Currently Chef Reuben sources his restaurant herbs and vegetables from Roubaix in Franschhoek.
Robertsons has had a bad time in choosing its marketing partners, not only in signing up Chef Reuben to endorse its brand, and in running Masterclass videos with Chef Reuben on the Robertsons’ website aligned to its sponsorship of MasterChef SA, but also in having appointed controversial Sonia Cabano as its Social Media Manager when MasterChef South Africa started in March, and then having to terminate her services when she abused the Robertsons’ Twitter account to settle personal scores.
Celebrities and brand endorsers are not protected from social as well as legal norms in writing what they think about others on Social Media forums such as Facebook and Twitter. Cabano went on a shocking Twitter rage last week, making it unlikely that any brand would wish to be associated with her in future. She is a cookbook writer, and her racist, religious, political, and other views expressed on Twitter last week could cost her potential book purchasers and publishers. Chef Reuben seems disillusioned by Social Media, even though he was looking for trouble in writing his disparaging Facebook comment, and it appears that he has given up on Social Media, writing on Twitter a few days ago: ‘To all real friends on twitter, fb. See you in the real world. Unfortunately people with bad agendas makes (sic) this less enjoyable’.
We have always held Chef Reuben and his Reuben’s Franschhoek in the highest regard, and recommended it to our guests for seven years. Last year we had a particularly bad service experience at the restaurant, and an unsatisfactory response to our feedback from Chef Reuben, and decided to remove the restaurant from our portfolio of restaurant recommendations in Franschhoek. It would be a shame if it were true that Chef Reuben has sold his soul, in endorsing brands such as Robertsons and SAA Business Class on the African and USA routes, in writing books, in doing live and TV demonstrations, all for the revenue, and no longer caring about his Reuben’s restaurants, as the Franschhoek locals and fellow chefs say. Celebrities become the focus of media scrutiny, and even parody, Chef Reuben’s Robertsons’ endorsement being the subject of Another Damned Food Blog last year.
Chef Reuben was praised for his humbleness despite his fame for many years, but as the cover of his cookbook shows, there is a change in attitude with a taste of arrogance, confirmed by those who are looking to do business with him. We wish for the return of ‘old’ Chef Reuben in the Reuben’s kitchen(s) again! He also owes Robertsons and its customers honesty in his endorsement of their brand.
POSTSCRIPT 22/5: The Advertising Standards Authority is an advertising industry self-governing body, and its Code governs what advertisements may or may not say. The Preamble in section I states:
“1.1 All advertisements should be legal, decent, honest and truthful.
1.2 All advertisements should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the consumer.
1.3 All advertisements should conform to the principles of fair competition in business.
1.4 No advertisement should bring advertising into disrepute or reduce confidence in advertising as a service to industry and to the public”.
Expanding upon this, clause 2 in section II focuses on honesty in advertising:
Advertisements should not be so framed as to abuse the trust of the consumer or exploit his lack of experience or knowledge or his credulity”.
Testimonials are addressed specifically in clause 10:
“10.1To be genuine
Advertisements should not contain or refer to any testimonial or endorsement unless it is genuine and related to the personal experience over a reasonable period of the person giving it. Testimonials or endorsements which are obsolete or otherwise no longer applicable (eg where there has been a significant change in formulation of the product concerned) should not be used.
10.2Conformance to the Code
Testimonials themselves should not contain any statement or implication contravening the provisions of this Code and should not be used in a manner likely to mislead”.
POSTSCRIPT 22/5: We accept Chef Reuben’s apology for the disparaging comment on his Facebook page, which he has reinstated (see the Comments to this blogpost).
POSTSCRIPT 22/5: In the Robertsons’ commercial in MasterChef SA last night, Chef Reuben is described on screen as ‘South Africa’s top chef’. As Chef Reuben did not even make the latest top 20 Eat Out Restaurant shortlist, this is a misleading advertising claim.
POSTSCRIPT 23/5: Elizabeth Pretorius, Communications Director: Africa for Unilever, has responded to our feedback and this blogpost as follows, not addressing the real issue: ‘Unilever is committed to conducting its operations with honesty, integrity and with respect to human rights and as such we do not condone any actions to the contrary. We strive to provide our consumers branded products that meet their needs and aspirations, and Robertsons is one of the main brands in our stable, making herbs and spices available to the widest possible consumer base’.
POSTSCRIPT 29/6: The Wall Street Journal today published an interview with Chef Reuben, providing an interesting insight and confirming the essence of this blogpost!:
* he first ate a restaurant at the age of 15
* he would love to have Chef Heston Blumenthal (Fat Duck) cook for him at home
* he loves making interesting sandwiches with unusual ingredient combinations
* ‘making a great meal is one of the nicest gifts you can give’, referring to his home cooking for his wife and daughter
* he would ‘struggle if I don’t have things like garlic and fresh chillies that I grow in my garden’. He admits to having spices in his cupboard at home, specifying ‘curry powder and garam masala‘, not quite the kind made by Robertsons.
* when entertaining at home, contrary to the Robertsons TV commercial, Chef Reuben writes ‘I always try and do steam pots. We have all sorts of raw ingredients and vegetables and a steaming pot of stock and you can cook your own food’.
* He doesn’t work on Sundays, ‘being my family time‘.
POSTCRIPT 8/7: Chef Reuben’s ‘secret vegetable garden’ is at La Motte, where vegetable farmer Dan Kruger grows vegetables to order for a number of Franschhoek chefs, including Pierneef a La Motte’s Chris Erasmus, Haute Cabriere’s Ryan Shell, Ryan’s Kitchen’s Ryan Smith, Delaire Graff’s Christiaan Campbell, Dish restaurant’s Oliver Cattermole, Le Quartier Français’ Margot Janse, and Reuben’s Reuben Riffel.
POSTSCRIPT 11/7: Chef Reuben seems to be written out of the Robertsons’ TV commercials, appearing in only one commercial out of the six flighted on MasterChef SA last night. From Twitter and a comment on this blog we have read that Chef Reuben is now endorsing another Unilever brand, being Rama margarine, an absolute no-no for chefs to be seen to be using anything but butter.
POSTSCRIPT 13/7: What a surprise it was to be in the same tiny Nedbank in Franschhoek with Chef Reuben Riffel today, and an opportunity to connect again. He justified the Rama commercial on the fact that many consumers cannot eat at top restaurants, and cannot afford to use butter. He shared that he and his wife Maryke are leaving for the UK and France to eat at top restaurants on a two-week trip next week, and that a little baby Riffel will make its appearance early next year.
POSTSCRIPT 16/7: Sonia Cabano, recipe book writer and Tweeter for Chef Reuben Riffel, is bashing Chef Reuben’s new Rama commercial in which Rama is added to rice: ‘Putting cubes of Rama margarine in rice is not part of our food culture. I’m sorry, but it isn’t. It’s not only wrong, it’s bad for health’ she Tweeted this evening.
POSTSCRIPT 7/10: The Sunday Times today has clarified what everyone has wanted to know about Chef Reuben’s use of Robertsons’ spices, when interviewed at The Sunday Times Chef of the Year Awards earlier this week: ‘Celebrity chef Reuben Riffel, one of the judges of the competition, told me people constantly asked him whether or not he really uses the spices he endorses. He said he uses them at home but uses herbs at his restaurant’. If this is true, it would be misleading to feature Chef Reuben in a chef’s outfit in the Robertsons’ advertising!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
MasterChef SA is the talk of the country, and we have 9 more gripping episodes to look forward to in the next two months. To spice things up a little, we have launched two competitions, the first being a prediction of who will win MasterChef SA in episode 18.
We are also running a weekly lucky draw for the correct prediction of who our readers think will be booted out of the MasterChef SA every week. For the correct prediction of who will leave MasterChef SA in episode 10 (on 22 May), I ♥ my Laundry has generously offered a food and wine pairing voucher to the winner.
I ♥ my Laundry opened two months ago. The back section is on two floors, and contains the laundry, with washing, dry cleaning, ironing, and collection/delivery (within the City Bowl initially) services offered, not visible from the coffee shop/restaurant on the ground floor. It has been beautifully transformed, with a 14-seater silver grey concrete table top resting on steel legs, comfortable white and black high-back chairs, a wooden counter, and wooden shelving. On the mainly brickwork walls are artworks, which will be rotated over time. The inspiration for the name and concept for I ♥ my Laundry, which is co-owned by Clayton Howard and Mico Botha, comes from The French Laundry in New York, which was first started by a husband and wife team, running a restaurant and a laundry first as two outlets next door to each other, and then opened up to become one entity. The Buitengracht branch is the third to open in the past four months, with branches in Durbanville and Kenridge too.
Free wifi is offered, and a coffee machine makes perfect cappucinos from Brazilian-imported beans by Joga Joga Café, exclusively stocked in South Africa by I ♥ my Laundry. Cupcakes, fudge, and chocolate pops are for sale, as is delicious Dim Sum all day long, at the most unbelievable value of R40 for eight pieces and a cup of coffee or a glass of Chenin Blanc. An exciting subsidiary business is I ♥ my Wine, for which Clayton and Mico host interesting events, in which they bring together an alcoholic beverage supplier and a chef or restaurant to create magical food and wine pairing evenings.
Tweet your prediction of which of the 10 remaining finalists will be booted out of MasterChef SA to @WhaleCottage, or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Closing time for entries is Tuesday 22 May at 19h30, at the start of episode 10. The winner will be contacted immediately after the show ends. There will be a weekly Restaurant Voucher prize draw per episode for the correct prediction of who will be booted out of MasterChef SA, and voting for the following episode can start as soon as that day’s episode has been aired. Should there be no correct entry received, the prize is rolled over to go to another week.
POSTSCRIPT 22/5: Samantha Nolan was sent home in episode 10 today. There was no correct vote for her elimination.
I ♥ my Laundry, 59 Buitengracht Street, Cape Town. Tel 084 660 0777 (Clayton)/083 6020291 (Mico) www.Ilovemylaundry.co.za Twitter:@ILovemyLaundry, Monday – Sunday, 7h00 – 19h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage email@example.com
The seventh episode of MasterChef South Africa last night saw the first out-of-studio cooking action since the Finalists came to Nederburg, visiting the SA Navy ship SAS Amatola in Simonstown, mass cooking for the crew of 100. The Blue Team won by a close shave, and the Red Team collectively had to go into the ‘Pressure Test’ back at Nederburg, cooking a whole pig, each team member preparing a different part of it. Finalist Mmutsi Maseko was sent home when her pork cheek dish did not meet the judges’ approval.
A SA Navy representative said that the meal requirement is that the food be tasty and nutritional, prepared according to a meal plan and calorie count. The meal must be balanced, and the food must add to the morale of the crew. Curry dish kings from the previous episode, Deena Naidoo and Thys Hattingh, were allowed to choose their Blue and Red teams for this challenge, respectively, and Deena chose Samatha Nolan, Sarel Loots, Jade de Waal, Manisha Naidu, Brandon Law, and Khaya Silingile. The rest of the Finalists were chosen by Thys. The teams were given the brief to prepare a meal with a protein, one vegetable, and one starch within 90 minutes. Cooking conditions were less than favourable, the ships’ galley being too small to comfortably accommodate the MasterChef cooks. Samantha was firmly in charge of the Blue team, even though Deena was the team leader, and she chose to make fried chicken, which had first been marinaded, and then covered in batter and deep fried, served with a rustic potato salad and broccoli. She confidently told a judge that she had made this dish many times before, showing once again that there is little that can rattle her, while Deena fetched ingredients that were required by his team. The potatoes were not as well cooked as they should have been, so they were cut into smaller pieces and the water was reduced by Khaya. Thys’ Red team made lamb chops with carrots julienne and potatoes, and he instructed his team to make sure that each dish was tasted before serving, as the Finalists have been taught in previous episodes. The navy crew came back for seconds and more, loving both teams’ food, and had to each ring a bell in voting for their favourite dish. It was a neck-to-neck contest, the Blue Team getting to the majority vote of 51 first. One of the Finalists asked how it was possible for a crewman to vote for chicken when he had eaten 5 lamb chops!
Back in the Nederburg MasterChef SA kitchen, the losing Red team was told that the team is only as strong as its weakest link. The team members had to rank each other by placing a photograph of each into seven boxes, in front of the rest of the team, forcing an honesty from the Finalists that did not make all of them feel comfortable. Guy Clark had no shame in voting himself first, saying classically that ‘this is MasterChef, and not Master Best Friend’! On the basis of the rankings, the seven Finalists were allowed to choose one each of seven pork parts, some of the Finalists visibly shuddering at what they saw. Sue-Ann Allen chose first, having the highest ranking, taking the pork loin, being told that it should not be over-cooked. Thys chose the pork belly, one of the most popular dishes in restaurants. Guy looked for a challenge, and chose the pig’s ear, which he was told by Chef Pete Goffe-Wood ‘has to be braised to get it soft and gelatinous’. Ilse Fourie chose the pork shoulder (right), being lean and fat, and was told that it must be cooked for long enough. Lungile Nhlanhla chose the tail, deciding to make a stew of it, reminding her of cooking chicken neck, slow cooking being required. Babalwa Baartman chose the trotter, reminding her of her mother’s cooking at home. Poor Mmutsi Maseko had no choice, being the last ranked, and had to prepare the pork cheek.
During the 90 minutes that the Red team members had to prepare their pork dishes, the judges came up with pig-related phrases (‘bellyful’, ‘rub shoulders’, ‘trot over the finish line’, and more), which were felt to be corny, judging by the reaction on Twitter. The judges praised the ‘wonderful smell’ of the dishes cooking, saying that they looked forward to tasting them.
Sue-Ann felt confident about her pork loin dish (left), to which she added apple and a honey and mustard sauce, saying that she had thoroughly enjoyed cooking the dish, and once again had realised that she belongs in the kitchen. The judges were less impressed, saying that she had ‘killed it’, despite having chosen the best pork cut, in that it was very dry. Mmutsi decided to turn her grilled pork cheek into Dim Sum, something she had never made before, having been inspired about the dish in seeing it on TV, which elicited a cheeky response from Chef Andrew Atkinson! He judged the pastry to be too thick, and the cooking time to have been too short, there still being too much fat, one mainly tasting the fat and oil. Thys braised the pork belly in a red wine sauce, which Chef Pete sounded like ‘Glühwein’ from its ingredient list! He wanted it to ‘take one to Sunday’, and he succeeded, according to the judges. Ilse had added mash, and a citrus, cherry and star anise sauce, to her pork shoulder dish. Having only received accolades up to now, she must have been disappointed by Chef Pete’s initial feedback that her plating looked very brown, but after tasting the dish he judged it to be the ‘hero of the afternoon’. Guy said that he had never prepared pork ear before, but had once seen a recipe for it, flavouring it and deep-frying it, preparing it whole (right). Chef Pete said it had been an ‘adventurous choice’, but he was not that happy with it, saying that it had not been cooked properly and was very ‘chewy’. Lungili was proud of her dish, saying that the pork tail meat was falling off the bone, as she wanted it. Chef Benny Masekwameng could not wait to taste it, saying she had prepared a big platter, having brought chakalaka into her pork tail dish. Chef Benny was beaming after tasting it, volunteering to be the man her mother is looking for for her, to much laughter and applause! Babalwa’s trotter dish was judged to be a ‘good attempt’ by Chef Benny.
Ilse and Lungile were judged to have made the best pork dishes. The two worst dishes were those by Mmutsi and Sue-Ann, and in the end it was Mmutsi that was sent home, given that she had landed in the ‘Pressure Test’ twice before. She was sent home with the comforting words that she is a winner to herself and her family, and she said that she is leaving ‘better prepared’ and ‘as a more confident cook’.
Interesting was the debate on Twitter after the show about MasterChef SA discriminating against Jewish and Muslim contestants, in having allocated so much time to pork preparation last night.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage