World Chefs: Riffel looks to expand South African cuisine

Tue Apr 12, 2011 6:00am EDT
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By Richard Leong

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Relying on the past is not enough for chef Reuben Riffel, who wants to incorporate more local influences beyond his childhood in his exploration of South African food.

His namesake restaurant in Franschhoek, a town in the wine region of the Cape province of South Africa, has been consistently ranked as one of the country's top restaurants. He opened another eatery at the One & Only hotel in Cape Town at the end of 2010.

The 36-year-old chef spoke to Reuters about his native cuisine and his reluctance to become a chef.

Q: Have you seen a pickup in interest in South African cuisine since the country hosted the World Cup last year?

A: "There has been a steady interest in South African food over the years. With the World Cup, you had people with certain perception of South Africa in terms of crime and what it would be like. If I look at those people who came to us at Franschhoek, people were pleasantly surprised.

"With South African chefs, you used to have more European-style food. We are now seeing them looking more inward. We realize we have something different and unique we should try to explore. I think we had lost that a little bit. People who visit South Africa insist on the South African (food) experience."

Q: Describe that experience.

A: "We shouldn't kid ourselves into thinking we could simply draw from our parents and how we grew up because that's not enough. My parents used to cook in a way. It was food that was probably more Dutch and a mix of a bit of Indian influence and a bit of Malay influence. Look we should be open and say we have more influences than that in South Africa.   Continued...