But in his latest TV role, viewers will get to see a different side of the celebrity chef. In the third season of Masterchef SA, Riffel replaces chef Andrew Atkinson, who was recently appointed as an executive chef for a hotel in Johannesburg. and could no longer continue working on the series. Fortunately Riffel – Atkinson’s long-time friend – was more than willing to take his place.
“I love the concept of Masterchef,” says Riffel.
When the first season of the show was being conceptualised, Riffel was offered the opportunity to be part of the show but was unable to join at the time, so when he was approached again, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
“Ever since the first season, my family and I have been big fans,” he says.
“Meeting people who are willing to work hard at making their dreams come true and watching them develop on the show is very inspiring to me.”
Appearing as a guest on the first season of the reality show, Riffel had an opportunity to test the Masterchef waters and admits that the interaction between himself and the contestants was his favourite part of the show.
“Their enthusiasm and eagerness made me realise how privileged I am to be working in this industry,” he smiles.
Besides being a chef with celebrity status, Riffel owns three successful restaurants in the Western Cape (all called “Reuben’s”) and has also published three best-selling cookbooks. His accolades include Chef Of The Year and Restaurant Of The Year in the Eat Out Awards in 2004, and his restaurant in Franschoek was named one of South Africa’s top 10 restaurants for three consecutive years.
Born and raised in Franschoek, Riffel got his first taste of luxurious restaurant cuisine at a young age. His mother, who worked at various restaurants in the area, would bring home leftovers from the buffets on Sundays.
“A lot of the meals were things that I’d never tasted before,” remembers Riffel.
But his first lessons in crafting wholesome cuisine came from his grandmother, mother and aunts who spent hours preparing meals using fruit and vegetables grown by his grandfather.
Riffel’s culinary journey formally began when he worked as a waiter at Charmonix restaurant as a teenager. Under Chef Christoph Dehosse, he learned the basics of food preparation. After months of hard work he was moved from waiting tables to the kitchen where his main responsibilities were cooking lamb and making sure it was carved to perfection for the Sunday buffet. From there on, Riffel went from restaurant to restaurant, learning on the job and perfecting his skills.
Speaking on what he will be looking for from the Masterchef contestants, Riffel said: “Someone with potential who can also offer a unique way of thinking about food. This is going to be difficult because tastes in food differ.”
As one of SA’s busiest chefs, one can’t help but wonder how Riffel will manage to run his restaurants and be a permanent judge on Masterchef.
“I think I’ve mastered the art of juggling,” he says with a laugh.