The first South African chef to reach Michelin-star status, Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, has opened a new private dining room to complement his existing restaurant, Jan, in the French city of Nice. Perfect for group bookings, Maria is named after his mother and grandmother, as well as the wife of Jan van Riebeeck – the pioneering Dutch commander of the colony at the Cape of Good Hope, who cultivated a large variety of vegetables and fruit to supply passing ships in the mid-1600s. As a result, the colonists’ original Dutch cooking customs evolved into what is known as ‘Cape Dutch’ cuisine.
As a child, Van der Westhuizen would often help out in the farmhouse kitchen of his family’s home in Mpumalanga. Here, he learnt the art of creating a warm and welcoming space in which people could relax and enjoy good company and delicious food. He always felt a strong calling towards the Cape, however, and went on to complete both an advanced diploma in culinary art and a qualification in pastry-making there. And, as is the case with most creatives, he couldn’t focus on just one thing, so also completed his bachelor’s degree in applied design.
Thanks to his love of art, food and wine, Van der Westhuizen became the contributing food editor and stylist at Elle South Africa magazine and from there, he was just one flight away from the test kitchens of Elle International‘s head office in Paris. Soon enough he found himself working on a yacht in Monaco which upped his experience in fine dining and propelled him on the path to launching his own restaurant. At the age of 33 years, he opened his eatery, Jan, in 2013, for which he received a Michelin star in 2016.
In contrast to the darker palette at Jan, the crisp white walls, crockery, cutlery and linen in the dining room are broken up with touches of natural wood, gold accents and a hint of greenery. A luxurious Baccarat chandelier and vintage chairs sourced from markets by Van der Westhuizen himself add to the opulence of the space. It’s clear that aesthetics are important to this chef – and it’s his obsession with perfection that makes his eatery so popular.
In terms of menus, Maria offers two. As a sister space to Jan, it offers the same fine-dining menu – a six-course, seasonal selection of South African-inspired dishes. But there’s also the Maria Feast, which intends to replicate a celebration worthy of a Renaissance-era banquet. Imagine a wooden table filled with whole roasted-meat dishes and bowls brimming with local delicacies such as koeksisters and milk tart, and you’ll have a culinary experience to remember.
As for the future? Well, we’re hoping Van der Westhuizen will bring his talents back to South Africa to join the impressive and growing culinary scene… until then, we’ll see you in Nice.
Visit restaurantjan.com for more details.