Reuben Riffel’s fired-up life is truly cooking

Reuben Riffel’s fired-up life is truly cooking
Chef Reuben Riffel’s roasted flattened chicken with Rozendal vinegar, green chilli, rosemary and lemon. (Photo: Supplied)

We asked veteran Franschhoek chef Reuben Riffel to take part in our series in which we give chefs an opportunity to share a special recipe with us. He gave us five options, but there was no way we were going to deny you his favourite roast chicken.

Sometimes you’re not even sure a given chef or restaurant is still operating, if a once-celebrated chef is rarely or never seen on the annual awards agenda. But the truth is very different. How’s this for an example of what’s happening in the life of one such chef…

Reuben Riffel is:

  • Still running Reubens in Franschhoek. Twenty years and packing them in. It’s had a good season, as have many Cape restaurants, and in September he will be launching what he calls “a fire concept in our expansive courtyard focusing on wild things touched by fire. Not braai .” Wild is the name. There will be wild boar from Wellington farms, kudu, springbok, guinea fowl, quail, mussels, oysters, Cape fish and more. All wild, all touched by fire. “It’ll have a separate entrance to the restaurant from the Reubens space and will operate separately,” Reuben says.
  • Involved with Frank’s Corner Bar & Grill in the centre of Franschhoek with his partners Ryno Snyman and Frank Rodriguez.
  • A partner with his old friend and one-time mentor Richard Carstens, at his award-winning Arkeste in Franschhoek, but not involved in operations.
  • Running (with his partners) a casual restaurant called Let’s Frite that serves quality burgers and fries at an affordable price. Everything is made in-house from the bun, patty and fries to sauces. Think: “let’s vriet” (vreet in Afrikaans, slang for eat, mixed up with French frites, chips/French fries).
  • Involved in a content creation company with producer, director and videographer Charl Laubscher. They do mostly food content for big food brands, and work with a few wine farms. “It’s still a growing business, and the idea was to create quality consumer-friendly food content.”
  • Busy with a new Braai-Fire cookbook that’ll launch later this year. It’s a sequel to Reuben on Fire.
  • Looking to expand his own range of spices and sauces but needs to find the right partner.
  • Mentoring young students at the Franschhoek Hospitality Academy & Learning Centre.
  • Hosting the annual “Reuben and friends golf day”, where they raise funds for the local Franschhoek hospice. “We are now in our tenth year.”

Chef Reuben Riffel. That smile says a lot about what a great guy he is, humble and down-to-earth, with a ready laugh. (Photo and collage: Tony Jackman)

Of the recipe he chose to share with us, whole roasted, flattened chicken with Rozendal vinegar, green chilli and rosemary, he says: “I, like many people, love chicken. This recipe was originally for a baby chicken version we served in the restaurant. I got the idea from an Italian restaurant that cooked their chicken in a pizza oven, but I could taste that it was more like steam-roasted. I never got their recipe but decided to make my version of it.”

The chicken is steam-roasted by using quite a lot of white wine, he says.

“For a big bird, I use almost a full bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. The chicken gets roasted skin-down first, then when you turn it you add the wine and it goes into the oven. Once the chicken is steam-roasted halfway, I remove it and continue roasting it while separately sorting out the sauce.

“Some time later, I developed a taste for preserved lemons, so I added those and green chilli to it.”

The lovely Rosendal vinegar makes a big difference to the taste, he says. “I serve it with steamed green beans and a creamy potato gratin. Lovely with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.”

Reuben’s whole roasted, flattened chicken with Rozendal vinegar, preserved lemon, green chilli and rosemary


1 whole free-range chicken

2 cups Sauvignon Blanc wine

Olive oil

6 garlic cloves

¼ cup Rozendal vinegar

1 Tbsp butter

½ a preserved lemon

1 fresh lemon

1 chopped green chilli

A dash of brown sugar

Salt and pepper


Cut out the backbone and butterfly the chicken, and season with salt and pepper.

Heat a pan to medium heat, and add olive oil. (No need for it to be sizzling hot, just a nice sizzle once it hits the pan. A good medium heat will allow for a lovely crisp skin without the skin burning.)

Put the chicken skin-down in the pan together with the squashed garlic. This process takes a while, so be patient. At the medium temperature it could take up to 10-12 minutes. Resist turning the chicken too early.

Preheat your oven to 180℃.

Flip the bird over, and carefully remove the excess oil. Now add lemon juice, white wine and rosemary. Pour the liquid around the bird, not over the skin.

Place the pan into the oven for 12-15 minutes. The chicken steam-roasts, it absorbs the wine, releases its own juices into the wine and the skin crisps up more.

Remove the bird from the oven and from the pan and reduce the pan sauce while adding the Rozendal vinegar and a dash of brown sugar to balance the acidity, as well as the chopped green chilli and preserved lemon.

Once the sauce has reduced to gravy consistency, add the butter and stir through.

Cut up the bird and serve in the sauce. DM


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