Being awarded his first Michelin star for Restaurant JAN which is based in Nice, France, has brought South African Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen starkly into the limelight. We asked him a few questions to get to know what inspires him in the kitchen.
How do you think your upbringing influences the dishes you make today?
The food we do at JAN has soul. There is richness and a story attached. Food memories make comebacks and the moment it triggers a place and a time and the nostalgia kicks in, then you know. BOOM!
What is your favourite memory from cooking with your mom and grandmother?
Sitting at the long kitchen table and cleaning endless amounts of green beans which my grandfather just keep bringing in from the garden. In the back there would be pots boiling with water to blanch the beans. That smell. Green cut beans. Priceless.
You’re not just a chef, you have a strong design background too. How do you think a background in design makes your food Michelin star-worthy?
Everything I learned whilst doing my degree in applied design comes to the plate. Balance, weight, white space, height, colour, intensity, layering, size… the list goes on. This is, however, only a part of the Michelin star. Of course, what the food tastes like is important but also the entire experience including service, before and after service and personal attention.
What dish in particular did the Michelin judges like most? Do you know?
I have no idea. They do announce themselves every first visit each year after the meal. But we don’t know when they will visit us again. On the menu for the first visit was salmon, duck, prickly pear, malva and a few more things.
What dish from your kitchen is your favourite?
We change one dish every week which means lots of flavours and favourites happening. My go-to dish I must say is anything with chocolate!
While we’re on the topics of favourites, what South African dish do you love most and why?
Malva pudding with banana ice cream. YUM! Can’t explain that.
Jan Hendrik is set to launch a memoir of his experiences at Restaurant JAN entitled A Breath of French Air in South Africa in March.
He also curates small food gatherings for food and wine lovers in Italy and France. For more information visit janhendrik.com