10 December 2013 by Denise Slabbert

A spot of Reuben for Christmas?

Reuben Riffel is synonymous with South African cuisine, and his latest book, Braai – Reuben on Fire, reinvents the traditional South African braai – again and again and again ...

South Africa's super-chef, Reuben Riffel

Reuben Riffel is South Africa's answer to Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Bill Granger, all rolled into one. He's very South African, rather shy, and when it comes to the kitchen or the outdoor braai (barbecue), he excels at what he knows best – how to make local ingredients sing.

No bun needed ...

His story is well known, as local legends go. He learned about fine cuisine from his mother and the women in his family, and has always had a love of celebrating life with food. After studying in the kitchens of Europe, Riffel came back home to his beloved Cape and set up a restaurant in Franschhoek. The first Reuben's was a major success, and now there are four Reuben's restaurants spread around the Western Cape, including the flagship Reuben's at the One&Only Cape Town hotel on the V&A Waterfront.

And while he may have rubbed shoulders with the likes of Jay Leno and Martha Stewart, Riffel is very down to earth. His latest book, Braai – Reuben on Fire, celebrates his love of entertaining, South Africa, and the great outdoors. It is full of brilliant recipe ideas and life stories.

The book is a good buy for travellers to our shores, and a great gift to take home for friends abroad. In his uncomplicated manner, Riffel shares wonderful ways to cook outdoors, how to make a braai something extraordinary, and how to make the most of South Africa's incredible abundance in terms of fresh produce.

When it comes to braaiing and invention, the element of showmanship is strong among us – flames, beers, meat and hero-worship if you get it right.

He says of braaiiing: '[It] is the ultimate way to cook. Social, primal and the most fun you can have with your clothes on as a South African – or anyone for that matter – it's a skill worth perfecting.'

The book is co-written by Tudor Caradoc-Davies, and the easy writing reveals the playful side of Riffel's personality as readers are given a glance into what it means to be South African.

In the intro of the book, Riffel reveals that braais provided a background to many happy days as a child growing up in Groenkloof, outside Franschhoek: '... from the fog of memory I know that the biggest occasions in my childhood were always punctuated with a braai. Like most people, I imagine, our braais were long-lasting family affairs, where the whole clan would get together.'

The Royal Wimpy Rib-Eye (Reuben-style)

Reuben says his family would braai at the whiff of a summer's day, and very often the braai took the form of an expedition, such as an outing to the beach, to the mountains or down to the river.

'The river braais used to be logistical operations where we'd have to carry everything, including Ouma (grandmother), down into the valley so we could be beside the river as we braaied.' (He does admit a bit further on that getting Ouma back up to the car after a day of braaiing was not always an easy task.)

Although humble and unperturbed by the media focus, Riffel is not shy to admit that being good at braaiing comes with temporary rock-star status: 'When it comes to braaiing and invention, the element of showmanship is strong among us – flames, beers, meat and hero-worship if you get it right. The braai is a stage and you're the principal player.'

The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs by Craig Fraser, and no matter what the season, there is something for everyone – from Titanic Meatballs, to the Uber-Chop, to Prawning Glory, to the Donkey's Mielies and beyond.

Braai – Reuben on Fire is published by Quivertree and is available at all good bookshops (did I mention the book makes the ideal Christmas gift for food-lovers?).

Morsels from the deep. All images courtesy of Braai – Reuben on Fire, from Quivertree. Photographer: Craig Fraser

Category: Food & Wine

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