Celebrated restaurateur and chef Reuben Riffel turned down the judges seat for M-Net’s first MasterChef South Africa because of his affiliation with the Robertsons TV commercials. Two seasons on, he finally gave the nod. Debashine Thangevelo found out what changed his mind…
WITH Robertsons as the main sponsor of the first season of M-Net’s MasterChef South Africa, Reuben Riffel – the face of the brand on TV – would have been a rather apt fit at the judging table. But he turned down the offer.
He explains, “For the first series, I was approached by MasterChef and, at that stage, it was Pete (Goffe-Wood) and me. I decided to pull out because people would assume it was because of my association to Robertsons.
“Then when Andrew (Atkinson) decided to leave, I got a call last December and the MasterChef producers asked if I wanted to take part in it.
“Robertsons wasn’t even aware of it – I broke the news to them.”
As things stand, Riffel isn’t doing any new commercials with them as they are still running with the current adverts.
Minor issue aside, Riffel is elated to join the team – especially with he and Goffe-Wood being good friends.
“Pete and I are good friends. He used to work in Franschhoek and that’s where it started. I met Benny (Masekwameng) back then but I’m only getting to know him now.”
Having watched the first season and bits of the second season – with his wife already a fan of the series – he is au fait with what is expected of him as a judge.
Of his expectations from the contestants, a level-headed Riffel responds, “Look, whenever I think of the show, I like to put it into perspective. The reality is that the show is about people with a passion for cooking. Due to circumstances, they weren’t able to follow a career in that direction.
“Through MasterChef they can follow it as a career via the publicity they get. Or they could follow another career that is still food-related like blogging.
“I will be looking for people who display a knowledge of food. But looking at it from a broader spectrum rather than those that cook a little bit for friends. What they have in their mind’s eye and put on a plate with some kind of skill on how to extract flavour and cook under pressure – that will count. I also want to see how they can organise themselves, their station and their mind. Those things are important.”
With Season 3 auditions having kicked off in Durban at Suncoast Casino, he says, “I was very interested and curious about what they will dish out. I was really impressed by the confidence of a lot of the contestants.
“We had each of them cook a beautiful dish in 45 minutes. Most of the dishes were bold in flavour. It was a good balance. What was quite prominent was the Asian, Indian and Thai influence.”
What makes a judging panel exceptional is the respective fortés of the experts. Sometimes they will agree. At other times, they won’t.
He laughs, “Look, I’m the type of guy who eats almost anything. I’m open to tasting new and different things. I love Asian food – but I’m not alone in that. But if people made a Thai dish, for example, I would be focused on the balance of the dish.
“I would also look at things like the use of fresh herbs; I don’t like it when something is overpowering.
“There should be harmony on the plate. It should have the right texture.”
Constructive, sincere and supportive – Riffel undoubtedly adds a nice flavour to the show. After all, in the world of reality TV, keeping it real is the way to go!
• The Cape Town leg of the auditions are on Saturday at The Cullinan, with Joburg hopefuls getting their chance on March 1 at Montecasino.