One of South Africa’s finest chefs, Reuben Riffel, chats about his love outside the kitchen – the golf course, writes WADE PRETORIUS in Compleat Golfer.
You are an extremely busy man. How much golf do you get to play?
There was a stage when I was completely addicted and probably playing far too much. Now I’m in a healthier routine and play twice a week – early on a Saturday morning and when my restaurant is closed.
And what are you playing off at the moment?
For a long time I was playing off 15 but after a recent trip to Fancourt, where I somehow managed to string together five good rounds, I’ve been cut to a 13.
Tell us about how you started playing the game.
Growing up, I was interested in all sports, but I didn’t get into golf until a friend moved from Somerset West and brought a few irons with him. We didn’t have balls, so we would just swing at whatever was lying around. Many years later, my boss in England was golf crazy and took me along every Sunday when we had time off and that’s how the bug bit.
How much golf have you been able to play abroad?
I started playing properly during my time in England. I have been fortunate enough to play on the Old Course at St Andrews and I might be returning there again this year for the Alfred Dunhill Championship. During a trip to the US, we played Lake Nona in Florida and even spotted Ian Poulter there.
Would there be more pressure cooking for Jason Day or playing golf with him?
[Laughs] Definitely playing golf. I feel at home in the kitchen, so I think playing alongside him would be more nerve-wracking. For us amateurs, you can never be 100% certain that your drive is going to go in the direction you want it to.
So what goes through your mind when there’s a crowd watching you on the 1st tee?
The same thing as always – try not to embarrass myself and make sure I avoid a freshie.
Which courses do you play most often?
I play most of my golf at Pearl Valley, which I enjoy, because the course is fantastic and always in good condition. I sometimes play Boschenmeer, which is also close by.
Do you have any amusing golf tales you’d like to share?
Oh, I’ve got many. But one that springs to mind is when I hit a wayward tee shot on a par three straight into a house; there was a loud bang as the ball smashed into the window frame. Luckily nothing broke. I attempted to play my second on to the green but this time I saw my ball cannon into the roof. Just then the owner, who was outside the whole time, walked over and said, ‘I think it’s time you found yourself a new hobby.’ I was startled and blurted out, ‘I think it’s time you buy a new house.’
But it’s not just about playing for you, is it?
No, I love the game, but spending time connecting with people is what it’s really about for me. I chat to my business partners on the course, play with family and friends, and it’s a great way to relax before entering the hustle of the kitchen. I also use golf to give back to the community through my golf day, which is into its fourth year, in aid of the Franschhoek hospice. It’s a cause close to my heart.
Reuben Riffel is one of South Africa’s most decorated chefs. He has won numerous awards – personally and for his restaurants – published books, hosted his own cooking show, spent time as a guest judge on MasterChef South Africa and has appeared on international TV screens. Born and bred in Franschhoek, he spends most of his time at his restaurant, Reuben’s, and is the executive chef at the One&Only Cape Town, his first urban restaurant.