Book – Good-looking cooking

2012-02-24 13:13

In an era where simple and rustic is the fad of choice, South African award-winning chef Reuben Riffel has bucked the trend by producing a complex-looking door-stopper of a recipe book.

A quick page through of Reuben Cooks Local reveals stunningly beautiful images of gastronomic delight that resemble intricate culinary works of art – and it’s extremely intimidating. But that’s to be expected.

Riffel is a serious talent with legions of admirers. His restaurant Reuben’s put the Huguenot settlement of Franschhoek on the foodie map, while the one in Robertson firmly established him as an authentic home-grown talent with international flair.

But it was when he took over the much-hyped Maze restaurant by Gordon Ramsey at the One and Only hotel in Cape Town, that he became a bona fide celebrity chef. That he has been able to hold firm in a space where Ramsey tripped and fell shows that Riffel is also an astute businessman.

But back to the book and the food. Reuben Cooks Local is billed as “a celebration of South African ingredients” in which the chef combines “seasonal ingredients and fresh flavours that reflect his upbringing and the country in which he lives and works”.

Divided into six sections, this is an extensive encyclopedia of South African produce and tastes.
The chapters – from the sea, from the field, from the earth, from the orchard, from the wild, from the vine – contain at least 10 each.

Some are easy (West Coast oysters with long radish, granadilla and fennel); others are challenging (mutton ribbetjies topped with thyme and orange gratin on barley risotto) and most are intimidating (seared miso scallops on creamy mealie purée with carrot and ginger foam).

This is some real Masterchef competition stuff, and Craig Fraser’s gaspingly gorgeous pictures solicit even more awe.

In the chapter from the sea, two dishes had me especially salivating: The pan-fried baby squid on potato purée with tomato concassé and feta salsa, and the gnocchi in fish cream sauce with wakame and lime and ginger oil.

The ingredients are pantry and fridge staples, but there are a lot of them.

And if the methods seem deceptively easy and you worry that your dish will not come out looking anything like Fraser’s pictures, take comfort in the fact that Riffel gives detailed instruction on plate presentation as well.

And you can always be adventurous and try part of the meal on your own dishes. Just think about how delicious the lime and ginger oil would be in a salad or a stirfry.

I also can’t wait to impress with the chicken, prawn and kale broth with spring vegetables which is part of the From the Field chapter.

However, the lamb shin and date curry with hubbard squash, sweet potato and pistachios will have to wait until I’m a little more confident in the kitchen.

Of course, those with an iron stomach can try out the crumbed pig’s ear strips on rocket salad with soft-fried egg and sambal oelek.

I have no qualms regarding offal and would definitely eat this dish.

Like Riffel I believe in the “top-to-tail” approach to cooking, but I just can’t see myself slicing through a rubbery pig’s ear, only because pig skin feels so human.

My one gripe with this acclaimed chef is that some of ingredients are extremely expensive (perlemoen anyone?). If you’re worried about where to find Kalahari truffle, quince, warthog loin and quail, page 240 lists Riffel’s trusted local producers, suppliers and farmers, most of whom are obviously based in the Western Cape.
I enjoyed looking at this recipe book more than anything else; now I’m working myself up to trying some of the challenging dishes. It’s gonna be hot in my kitchen!

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