A cooking class with Reuben Riffel and Fairtrade SA

Posted on 12 March 2013

On my first day as Getaway’s new multimedia journalist, I found myself chatting to Reuben Riffel about whether or not one should salt springbok before searing it.  One of the waiters from Moyo, at the V&A Waterfront, topped up my glass with pomegranate-rooibos grape juice.

I suspect I’m going to love this job.

The occasion was the end of Fairtrade Week, and the official introduction of Reuben Riffel as the newest Fairtrade SA Brand Ambassador. The very busy Fairtrade folks had spent the last five days hosting a variety of events aiming to open South African eyes to the power sitting in our wallets. Here’s one example that floored me: guess how much money could be used by farm workers for education and investment if half of South African wine was Fairtrade? Only half of South African wine, mind. And we’re talking about an extra cost of about 60 cents a bottle for the product on the shelf.

A cool R140 million. Makes you think, doesn’t it? But until we reach these lofty heights, there are still plenty of products you can support, from Bean There coffee to Cadbury’s chocolate (as if you needed an excuse!) You can find a complete list on the FairtradeSA website.

But back to Reuben. I’m going to give you an approximation of his method, because the man doesn’t really hold with strict recipes: ‘allow your palate to guide you,’ he says. The chef who wrote the cookbook has never worked with your stove before, so tweak anything and everything as you see fit.

Reuben riffel fairtrade wine

Reuben started by searing the springbok, adding some butter and whole sprigs of thyme as it gained colour. Springbok must be cooked to medium-rare: if someone claims that they want it well done, sneak to your cupboard and cook them up some well-seasoned boot instead.

While the springbok rested, he fried up a mix of roughly-chopped onions and garlic with bay leaves and more thyme. When they’d softened slightly, he added some chopped pancetta, and deglazed with both port and brandy. (I hope you’re imagining the smells round about now.) After he’d added some good-quality stock, it was time for the Fairtrade twist: chocolate. Chocolate sauces on meat no longer raises the culinary eyebrows that they used to, and mores the pity: it’s often a cheap trick for the sake of novelty, rather than genuine flavour. However, if your sauce has a strong enough base, it can carry the chocolate tint: it’s all just a matter of degree.

Reuben strained the sauce and discarded the chunky bits, then carefully stirred in a small bar of broken Cadbury’s chocolate and some more butter. And blueberries, just because.(There was also a pear and celeriac puree, simmered in milk, but I’m quite confident that none of us have time for that.)

After slicing the springbok and laying it out carefully over the puree, each portion was covered with sauce and served with figs on the side. Within a few minutes, all that was left was a hint of chocolate in the air and the sighs of happy journalists. The laws of physics apparently shifted when we were offered dessert, and new space was found in our bellies for a Fairtrade coffee granita, served with chocolate ice-cream and cream.

reuben riffel fairtrade

Concentrating rather hard to identify the different flavour notes.


Fairtrade visits Bosman farm in Wellington


Reuben Riffel: new Fairtrade Brand Ambassador


For more information about FairtradeSA, click here for their website.

Photos by Candice Chaplin

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