Celebrity chef Reuben Riffel impressed with SA's amateur chefs and the quality of their food

By Karishma Dipa Time of article published Sep 5, 2021

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Johannesburg - As an acclaimed celebrity chef, Reuben Riffel has been exposed to some of the most exquisite fine dining experiences during his sparkling career.

But his latest stint as a judge on local cooking show Aansit has seen him being confronted with everyday South African meals, many of which have been passed down through the generations.

This has not only tantalised his taste buds but also evoked his own culinary imagination as he visited the homes of contestants from across the country to judge their meals.

“I really rate the quality of dishes out there,” he told The Saturday Star from the set of the MultiChoice production.

Riffel, who is also a renowned restaurateur and media personality, explained that during Aansit, a group of six people, who are made up of three teams of two, cook a meal at their homes that must include a main dish as well as either a starter or a dessert.

The contestants as well as Riffel and other guest judges then score each dish, as well as the amateur South African chefs’ meal presentation, table decor and hosting skills.

For the show, which will air on September 16 on DStv’s Via channel as well as on Showmax, the contestants all battle it out for the grand prize of a culinary experience in France worth R200 000.

Celebrity chef Reuben Riffel is a judge on new local reality cooking show Aansit. File image.

“For the show, we basically had to invade people’s homes as they had to cook against the clock, host us and present their meals,” he said.

“I really enjoyed it and the cooking skills out there are amazing.”

The celebrity chef added that it was also very interesting for him to witness how people cooked at home, their standards as well as the utensils and kitchen equipment they used.

“I was blown away by some of the contestants and also them telling a story and adding that to the mix was also something I enjoyed.”

While Riffel admitted that some of Aansit’s contestants took cooking risks which didn’t always pay off, he was delighted when they did and was impressed with the quality of many of the show’s meals.

“I really enjoyed a smoked snoek ravioli dish with burnt butter, a bit of apricot jam and parmesan crisps as a side. The other meals that stand out for me were some of the crayfish and other seafood dishes with seaweed and an oyster emulsion sauce, a Korean ostrich main which was served with sticky rice and even a guinea fowl dish.”

While Riffel is enjoying his time as a judge on Aansit, he admitted that the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns had been a challenge for those in the food and hospitality industry.

While he used much of the countrywide shutdown experimenting with meals and fine-tuning his cooking techniques, he was also forced to master his thoughts during these unprecedented times.

“Keeping yourself motivated is about how you direct your thoughts. I don't think you can completely forget about the impact that Covid has had on our industry and us as chefs.

“You can't just sit and focus on the despair and uncertainty because that won't take you anywhere. You have to think in different ways, be positive and come up with new ideas because things have changed.”

Riffel believes that those who have been affected by the global health crisis, including himself, can’t wait for things to be “normal” before they take action.

“We have to start thinking in another direction and our focus has been on dealing with the here and now and working out what we can offer now to keep us going.”

Catch Aansit from September 16 on VIA is on DStv 147.

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