Reuben Riffel - Ambassador - His Profile

Posted on Wed November 15, 2017.

Reuben, is one of our incredible Ambassadors, who has taken it upon himself to be a mentor to our students over the upcoming years. Here is his story on how he got to where he is today.

Famed and famous not only in South Africa but all over the world. Born in Franschhoek he has shaped the culinary movement of the Franschhoek Wine Valley. Celebrity chef and honorary Ambassador of The Franschhoek Hospitality Academy.

Riffel worked briefly in the building trade, but soon migrated to the hospitality industry, where his first job was that of a waiter at Chamonix Restaurant. He soon migrated to barman, but one day the kitchen had two no-shows and he was moved to the kitchen to assist. He left Chamonix to work with his uncle in a nightclub, but very soon decided that the environment was not one in which he wanted to remain. In 1994, at the age of 20, he went back to Charmonix.

Under the guidance of Christoph Dehosse, he learned about food preparation. When Christoph moved on and was replaced by Richard Carstens, Riffel was made sous chef, in which role he learned the art of preparing vegetables and sauces and running a tight kitchen. His career began with humility and was forged in the principles of hard work as he earnestly learnt from his mentors, being both women in his life, in the early days and the chefs he worked with at the restaurant. One day Richard failed to show up to work, and he was forced to step into the role of executive chef without warning. Many of the patrons expressed their satisfaction at the meals they ate. When Richard never returned to Chamonix, Riffel stepped up, filled the position and was officially made executive chef. Riffel realized that he wanted to be a chef when a French tourist complimented the meal prepared by him as “the best meal he ever had”.

Riffel did not go through any formal channels or study to be a chef, but applied a combination of natural ability and talent. He also learnt from his family and the chefs he worked with, and his success today can be attributed to this. He worked in a few restaurants following this and was reunited with Richard, his mentor at Monneaux, where he continued to grow his skills in the kitchen and experiment with various textures and ingredients. He also traveled overseas and these experiences were also brought back into the kitchen. After honing his skills for three years at Monneaux,  Riffel moved to Cambridge, England, to run a startup restaurant, Bruno’s Brasserie, which soon drew in the crowds. In 2004, he was offered an opportunity by friends to return to Franschhoek to open a restaurant, named "Reuben’s". Within six months, the restaurant was a success and this was cemented by Reuben winning "Chef of the Year" and "Restaurant of the Year" at the Eat Out Restaurant awards.[9]This elevated the reputation of both the establishment and Reuben alike and the first Reuben’s is renowned in Franschhoek as a culinary landmark. Reuben Riffel became a well-known name locally and abroad.

Riffel continued to see opportunities to bring the offering of his food to a broader market and in 2009; a second Reuben’s was opened at a five star boutique hotel in the Robertson wine valley, The Robertson Small Hotel. The following year, the opportunity arose to take over Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant, Maze, post its demise, at the One&Only hotel in Cape Town. Reuben’s at the One&Only was thus established with Reuben himself as executive chef. In 2013, Riffel opened two new restaurants, one at Abalone House, a five-star guesthouse in Paternoster and a bistro-style offering named Racine, at the Chamonix Wine Estate in Franschhoek, where his culinary career began. Riffel’s philosophy is to keep things simple, bringing out the natural flavours of each ingredient, and to strive for perfect balance in the finished dish. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in 2012, he admitted to, at that point, having over 250 cookbooks as he continues to learn, experiment and create new and flavorful dishes.

Riffel continues to be hands-on involved in all restaurants and thus splits his time between establishments and recently opened Reuben's on the Franschhoek Main Road.