The first chef on the African continent to be awarded a coveted Michelin star, Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, South African born and raised on a rural farm in the north of the country, has garnered a reputation as one of the most regarded chef’s in the world.
Apart from the outstanding culinary Oscars-equivalent-accolade he received last year, the 33-year-old extraordinaire has opened a restaurant in The French Riviera, written a book, and created experiential dining concepts second to none. How he’s managed to fit it all in continues to flaw us all, especially given the fact that he’s self-taught.
There’s nothing half-baked about this man. With incredible skill, determination, passion and above all innovation, the self-confessed perfectionist makes it all look so easy. He’s a Breath of French Air, much like his book title. Hendrik single-handedly wrote all the content, designed the menus, plated the food and styled the entire book, or should we say culinary covenant?
But, what we love most about the star, apart from his maestro menus, is the art of humble serving and warmth that he brings to his heritage on a plate. Fuelled by the authentic South African cuisine he was cognisant as a young boy, his seasonal menus frequently featured dishes inspired by his guiding forces, his mother and his grandmother. Light dishes include traditional Cape seed loaf, curried line fish, white wine mussels and biltong boards. His hearty mains, however, would transform the most impassioned advocators of Atkins, from slow-cooked lamb shank simmered in a coffee pinotage sauce to sweet South African memories such as malva pudding topped with Madagascan ice cream to end it off. Being the entrepreneur that he is, Hendrik continually looks to revive South African dishes that will appeal to a wider market and a more polished palate – ‘Mieliepap and Truffles’ pairing maize with what he calls ‘the diamond in the kitchen’ being one of his more recent creations.
Not only does Hendrik boast three talented South African staff in his kitchen – Kevin Grobler, Rutger Eysvogel and Scott Armstrong, he includes only the best South African export wines on his wine list.
His book, JAN – A Breath of French Air, is a memoir and revelry of his renowned French restaurant, JAN, through which he offers pop-up dining experiences and (get this) personalised tours with the man himself on the Italian and French continents.
We’d say, if you haven’t yet booked your European summer holiday, pay this man’s institution a visit, or take a tour with him, before the much-anticipated Cape Town winter arrives.
And to Hendrik, we salute you.
Toutes nos felicitations. Congratulations. Veels geluk. Sivuyisana.