Two Hours In The Presence Of a Michelin Star Chef

A while ago I told you about the Good Food & Wine Show. And now I cannot wait to share more about the Chef’s Table that I attended at The Maslow Hotel on 28 July 2017. It was the most awesome & unbelievably inspiring two hours spent in the presence of the one & only Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen – South African-born Michelin Star Chef & owner of Restaurant Jan in Nice, France.

For the last two years, I’ve been rather smitten with Jan & all his doings. To take one of his bespoke culinary tours & to dine at his restaurant became my top bucket list items.

The name Jan is as South African as can be. As local as biltong, freshly made mosbolletjies & braaivleis. As proudly South African as Jan Hendrik himself but with a Breath Of French Flair!

A special journey 

Jan grew up on a farm in Mpumalanga. After his culinary & photography training, a stint as contributing food editor to ELLE magazine followed & paved his way to Paris. He then moved to the South of France where he worked as Executive Chef for the Champagne house PIAFF & later held the position of head chef on board a luxury vessel in Monaco. In 2013 he opened Restaurant Jan, & has since added two cookbooks & a Michelin star to his impressive resume! (Read more about what it means to get a Michelin star over here.)

As with many South Africans, our oumas taught us about food & inspired us to cook. In Jan’s case, his Ouma Hessie (on his mom’s side) was an adventurous cook who experimented, whilst his Ouma Wessie was the more traditional cook who kneaded & baked her own bread. She was also a huge Jan supporter & encouraged him to follow his dream. Sadly, she passed away two weeks after he received his Michelin star.

Jan fondly remembers how, as a child, he moved their lounge furniture into an airplane formation; complete with take-off sounds made by a hair dryer. He then served boerekos on a trolley.

A Chef’s Table To Remember

Back to the Chef’s Table with Jan to which I treated myself.  My friend Lydia joined me & we considered ourselves so lucky to meet & eat with Jan.

We watched as Jan cooked & chatted away about recipes, his journey & the joys & pressure of a Michelin Star. We asked him all kinds of questions & he was delightful, honest & charming. The menu was similar to the one served at Restaurant Jan.

Upon Arrival: Cucumber & Buchu Macaron, Trout & Lettuce paired with Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose NV

Starter: Mosbolletjies, Roasted Banana, Marmite & Biltong Butter paired with Pierre Jourdan Ratafia NV

Main: Tuna, Burnt Onion, Mieliepap Panna Cotta, Chakalaka paired with Haute Gabrière Pinot Noir Reserve 2014

Dessert: Cauliflower, White Chocolate, Amasi, Lemon & Fennel paired with Haute Gabrière Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2016

At Jan in France, 60% of the wines on the menu are South African. He also boasts the largest South African wine collection in France. For the Chef’s Table each course was paired with Haute Gabrière wines.

On being a Michelin Star Chef

Although he is calm & delightful, it is clear that the Michelin Star territory comes with pressure & sleepless nights too. With his husband, Grant Bacon; family & friends all still in South Africa, he commutes between South Africa & Nice on a regular basis. He has the utmost confidence in his team – who keep things running 100% smoothly in his absence – but finds that patrons can become critical when he is not at the restaurant in person 100% of the time.

Restaurant Jan has been recommended by the likes of Hollywood star Julie Styles, but his most special guests will always be his parents!

When asked about the most interesting thing he has ever eaten, he nervously tells of the time he & his husband were served blow fish testicles in Japan at a Michelin Star restaurant!

What’s next for Jan?

His next exciting project is the opening of Maria; space where similar food will be served as in the restaurant, however the space will cater for bigger groups. Construction of Maria is already underway.

On being responsible

Yet another thing to love about Jan is that he is passionate about not wasting food & remaining responsible in his ways.

With the South African cuisine on offer at Restaurant Jan, many special products & ingredients are needed, but he stays conscious of the footprint in an attempt to get the ingredients. “We use South African methods, but with French ingredients,” says Jan. The focus is also to develop dishes with seasonal ingredients. He chuckles as he explains that every time he flies between South African & Nice, he packs mielie meal in his suitcase.

The way of Jan

“I need to do something extraordinary every day,” he says, as he strives for excellence in every tiny thing that he does.

And when asked whether he is a villain in the kitchen, Jan Hendrik says that the taste of food that was prepared with impatience, abuse or screaming, is compromised. He is a new generation chef who believes in giving his staff sufficient time off, showing respect but demanding hard work. He also works with each team member to develop dishes according to their specialty.

Naturally his friends & family are his hugest critics (apparently, he even gets judged when making scrambled eggs these days) & most loyal fans.

He is constantly working to develop new products & dishes like his own blend of Rooibos & Buchu Tea.

And where does he get his inspiration & ideas? “…anything from a women’s dress, a piece of fabric, a beautiful pleat, a painting…”

Dankie Jan. We love you.

Yolandi ♥

Images by myself & supplied.

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