On Facebook I saw an article that attracted my interest and attention, being a proud litter cleaner in Camps Bay, about Pick n Pay trialing the use of paper bags in its fruit and vegetable departments, and selling these items loose and not pre-packaged, in 13 of its stores around the country.
Staying in Munich for four days, I did day-time outings to what are regarded food temples of the city, including Dallmayr, Kaiser, and the Viktualienmarkt. Most impressed, others were disappointing.I certainly fell in love with tomatoes on my trip, and the rich red shiny stemmed tomatoes attracted not only my attention, but also that of my Facebook followers. I do not recall having seen such fresh looking and smelling tomatoes anywhere in our country. What was an even bigger surprise was the very reasonable Continue reading →
Social activist Zackie Achmat has managed to get the name of Haarlem & Hope changed to The Company’s Garden Restaurant, three weeks after its opening earlier this month, after he complained that the original name included reference to the Haarlem ship, which brought the first slaves to the Cape!
Achmat wrote angrily: ‘I wish to register my anger and outrage against this unthinking, callous celebration of colonial power. The indigenous Khoi and San people faced genocide. Colonialism is part of our history. We can’t turn the clock back. But many white people’s failure to acknowledge the pain and injustice of colonialism, apartheid and capitalism angers me not simply because it is wrong, but because they are preparing the seeds of increased social violence‘.
The Madame Zingara Group reacted quickly on its Facebook page, posting the following statement: ‘We’ve come under fire once Continue reading →
* Cape Town Tourism CEO Enver Duminy’s response to the axing of Virgin Atlantic’s London – Cape Town flights is embarrassing and appears unprepared, with poor wording, likely to have been a telephonic interview: ‘The slight (sic) cuts will definitely impact on tourism to the destination, especially if you look at Summer where the demand for Cape Town is quite great (sic), especially from the UK market’ !
* ‘Chefs who Share’ is adding two further Auction lots for its charity Gala Dinner on Thursday 11 September, the culinary highlight of the year in Cape Town. The proceeds go to the MAD (Make a Difference) Charity and Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. The additional Auction lots are attendance at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at pit lane level, and VIP tickets to attend the Laureus World Sports Awards in Shanghai. (received via media release from Amplicon PR)
* Col’Cacchio is again giving back to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital this year, in donating R 5 of sales per pizza in its 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
The launch of the herb and vegetable garden on the terraces of the two year old Upper Eastside Boutique Business Hotel in Woodstock on Thursday demonstrated that one does not need a massive garden to work on one’s carbon footprint, and to grow wonderful herbs and vegetables. The hotel has created the first organic rooftop urban hotel garden in the country.
The 183-room hotel and conference centre is large, and all its space is dedicated to the building and parking, with little space for a garden. An approach by House & Leisure to do an article about inner city living introduced the hotel to Ben Getz of Urban Harvest, who brought in an initial 21 plant boxes, soil, and a selection of herbs and vegetables. The project was so successful that the urban hotel garden has doubled in size, to 92 square metre, with 42 different varieties of herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers. Natural ‘pesticides’ such as lavender have been planted to keep pests away. The next project is to create a green wall, in affixing plant pots to a prominent hotel wall.
Caroline Coates, Upper Eastside Hotel’s Marketing Manager, proudly showed us the urban hotel garden, spread over three sections of the first floor terrace, and told us what pride and joy it has become of Executive Chef Simon Kemp and his kitchen staff, who come to harvest rocket, spinach, basil, carrots, fennel, coriander, oregano, thyme, spring onions, rosemary, and many more. But the housekeeping staff, the waiters, and even the hotel guests have taken an interest in the urban hotel garden, all being committed to the success of the project, and feeling that it is ‘a nice thing to do’. Given that the staff spend so much time inside the hotel, the garden is a green lung for them. Ultimately, it helps the hotel to reduce its carbon footprint, said Upper Eastside Hotel GM Francois Steyn.
Ben and his team at Urban Harvest brought in the reclaimed timber boxes, made from off-cuts from a mill, which have not been treated with chemicals, to not affect the plants growing in them. Chef Simon has overall responsibility for the garden, and is proud to bring his herbs and vegetables into his dishes at the hotel’s Liberty’s Restaurant, harvesting weekly. We experienced the produce in the wonderful canapés that were served, to give the guests a taste of dishes for Liberty’s new winter menu, including a white tomato and basil espresso, beef tataki, goat’s cheese bruschetta (below), fennel and Ouzo mussels, Szechuan crispy duck spring rolls, coppa and basil beignets, mushroom bombs, and Gorgonzola ostrich fillet. The rooftop garden reflects Chef Simon’s commitment to sourcing local ingredients and to serve the hotel’s guests fresh, healthy food. After just two months, 80% of the kitchen’s fresh herb requirement is provided from the herb garden harvest for the hotel’s daily catering for 250 covers at Liberty’s and 1000 meals for the conference centre. This means that the higher cost of organic herbs and vegetables is not passed on to the hotel’s clients. The balance of the requirements is sourced less than 50 km from the hotel. Food wastage has been reduced through the project, and no packaging needs to be recycled or thrown away.
The organic rooftop urban garden at the Upper Eastside Hotel is a commendable project, and is a challenge to every other hotel and restaurant to create its own herb garden, no matter how little space they have!
Upper Eastside Hotel, 31 Brickfield Road, Woodstock. Tel (021) 404-0570. www.uppereastsidehotel.co.za Twitter:@UESHotelCape
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage