Chef Reuben Riffel is a renowned connoisseur of fine dining, and has worked with many food gurus locally and internationally. But Reuben knows that the true heart and art of culinary skills begins with home cooking. And now he’s looking for South Africans with a knack for plating up some truly fancy food in their own kitchens.

The Aansit challenge

Reuben’s latest venture is his new television series Aansit, which kicks off on VIA (DStv 147) from the end of July. In S1 of the reality food competition show, Reuben challenges a trio of home cooks to come up with restaurant–quality meals… from home. In each episode, the judges will visit three home chefs in their own individual kitchens. Each chef must create a food experience that will overwhelm the senses of the judges. The episode’s winner will then go through to the finale.

In the first episode, chefs Reuben Riffel and Oliver Cattermole, owner of Bovine restaurant, drop by Rozelle, Rodney and Annalié's tables in Gordon's Bay. Their task is to create a scrumptious fine dining experience with winter memorabilia being the inspiration for their menu.

“It’s been a while since I hosted a show but it was very inspirational, and to see how well some home cooks know their food and have very good skills. Going from home to home, we met some fun and interesting people who just enjoy cooking for friends and family, but also people who seem to want to change course in careers. We had lots of fun meeting people and tasting their delicious creations,” says Reuben.

There are prizes up for grabs, too – up to the value of R150,000 for the eventual winner. In the time of COVID-19, where everybody is feeling the economic pinch, it’s a great way to bring home the bacon. “It’s already finished [filming], so there were no alterations to the prizes which include a trip to France to go work in a top chef’s kitchens,” reveals Reuben. But the boat trip for 6 to France and the visit to the kitchens of Jan Hendrik van der Westhiuzen’s restaurant, Jan, in France is going to have to wait until borders open up for international travel again. Until then, the winner will have to stay home sharpening their knives and their skills even further.

Watch now on Catch Up

From a snack to the whole meal

The winner of Aansit could look to Reuben for inspiration for how far a passion for cooking can take you. He learnt to create meals thanks to the opportunities presented to him in small restaurant kitchens. “My mom, Sylvia, worked at Chamonix restaurant in Franschhoek. She organised me a job as a barman and waiter. As it happens in small restaurants, it gave me an opportunity to be in the kitchen.” And that was that, you couldn’t keep Reuben’s nose out of the pots.

But Reuben didn’t stop there. “Once you’re successful as a chef and restaurateur, you have to make a decision: Do I keep it as is, or capitalise on this and grow it? Either you make your restaurant bigger, or find other opportunities. Initially I said no to expansion, until I decided to think differently,” says Reuben of his early beginnings.

Thinking differently brought a brand-new element to Reuben’s career. He now focuses his energy on creating cookbooks and cooking television shows, while his team of chefs run the ins and outs of his restaurants. “Being a restaurateur, I often think maybe I should have only one restaurant and have control. But I’m not going to take the safe route. I’m going to challenge myself,” he adds.

Reuben has certainly had challenges a-plenty in 2020! His restaurants have been offering both in-house dining (with responsible social distancing) along with a food delivery service since the beginning of July. But before that, he was actively campaigning against the economic shutdown and going all-out to save his 150 employees’ jobs and their income. In June, he started working with the UCook project to offer live cook-along sessions online to help raise funds for his restaurants. During lockdown, though, Reuben had to close his restaurant Reuben’s at the five-star IVY Villa Hotel & Spa in Johannesburg, while his Franschhoek and Sandton restaurants were struggling. “It’s not like we paused and you can press play and we'll continue as we did before,” he noted in one interview.

And perhaps that’s a note for home chefs: you could already be living your dream, making beautiful food for people you love – at home.

Watch Aansit S1 from Friday, 31 July on VIA (DStv 147) at 18:00 or on Catch Up

How to enjoy Aansit with DStv online

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