CRUSH CHATS TO Reuben Riffel
EXECUTIVE CHEF & MASTERCHEF SA JUDGE
Many people don’t know that you worked your way up through the kitchen to become a Chef de Cuisine, rather than studying the traditional way; can you tell us a bit about your journey and how you got started in the industry?
I was born and grew up in Franschhoek, many of my family members worked in restaurants or hotels. During school holidays I used to work in some of these establishments for cash, but to be honest I never really enjoyed it. After I finished Matric, I started as a barman and then moved on to assist in the kitchen on busy days. I realised I enjoyed the kitchen more and the chef at the time asked me to stay on as a trainee chef. I felt more at a home in a kitchen; I was surrounded by creative people and delicious food. I discovered my love for cooking and my passion for the cheffing profession.
You’ve been appointed the newest judge on Masterchef South Africa – how did this come about?
I auditioned initially for Season 1, but had to pull out of the race back then due to other commitments. I was approached again at the end of last year and was in a better place to take it on. I enjoy the concept of the show and it’s done in such a professional way, that I could not resist. Does the thought of judging amateurs with big food dreams daunt you, or do you feel you can relate to them?
I can relate to them, but I’m also more of a realist, so I hope I can give constructive feedback. Typically in these reality-style shows there’s the really critical judge, the kind judge, the crazy eccentric etc, where do you think you’ll fit into the panel? I don’t think the show is formatted like that, as far as I know there’s no criteria dictating that, I’m just gonna be me. There are different sides to all of us and I guess throughout the series all three of us will display a little bit of all of the above.
A Chef traditionally spends a lot of time behind the scenes making the magic happen, how do you feel about being front and centre and in front of the camera?
Times are changing and our profession has evolved as well, I respect the hardworking chefs and cooks in kitchens all over. I grew up as a shy person, with non-existent confidence. I think somehow I’ve pushed myself to be in positions where I challenge myself more in that regard. I enjoy the challenge. Truth to be told, I would probably still end up behind the stoves, doing what I do best.
What qualities do you look for in an amateur chef that makes you think – he/she has the ‘it’ factor and has what it takes to make it?
When a cook can make simple things well, like making an omelette or scrambled eggs, the way they sauté and season, and when they take care even when making hot chocolate or a pancake. People who love food and cooking care more about the person that’s going to taste and eat their food, and they try their best to give those people the best experience possible.
What are your top 5 basic kitchen skills that any aspiring chef should work on and hone?
• Knife skills – chopping, slicing, deboning, filleting
• Temperature control
• Understand caramelisation, sautéing, de-glazing, meat resting
What is on your foodie bucket list? i.e. meal/place/personality
I want to explore the Kyoto and Tokyo, food scenes. I want to visit Peru and Mexico, there are interesting things coming out of there regarding chefs and food etc.
You have achieved so much in your career and you’re about to check off the reality TV box, is there something else on your radar that you want to achieve?
I have many more things to achieve, for now I’m working on being a good husband and parent. : – )
Your advice for those who are about to embark on the Masterchef journey to fulfil their foodie dreams:
It’s important to understand the nature of this competition and to re-evaluate yourself and what you would like to get out of being part of this. Know that it’s tough and that you are only as good as the last dish you cooked. Whether your mom or your family loves your food is irrelevant, you must believe in yourself, cook to your strengths, focus on making delicious food and not interesting conceptual creations.