Michelin-starred chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen on Cape Town

He was recently awarded a Michelin star – the first-ever South African to receive one. Here, the celebrated chef, 33, talks food trends, left-overs, and why he’d love to live in Cape Town.

I was born in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga and raised in Middelburg, Mpumalanga.

I currently live and own a restaurant in Nice, France.

Winning a Michelin star was a surprise in some ways, but also not. We worked hard to push our limits, but I never thought that it could be really possible. It was so big and so far, and it just hit me this week that anything is really possible with determination, hard work and passion.

To win a Michelin star, I think a chef needs to be daring, energetic and curious.

JAN is a small restaurant in Nice, France, where people can enjoy honest food with an edge. It has dark blue ombre walls, colonial wooden chairs and a bunch of cool waiters, aged between 28 and 55 dressed in Parisian waist coats with the name JAN in gold on their chest. Mosbolletjies with home-whipped biltong butter is on the tables as a first bread course, followed by eight courses.

Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen the inside guide

I keep up to date with what diners want by trial and error. Every Friday lunch we add a new dish to the menu. This has become like a tester for the locals who join us for dejeuner (lunch). One walk through the restaurant and I can immediately sense if it’s what they want or not. I don’t sell my soul, but we do put our guests first. And it kind of has paid off…

The latest trends in food are still “local” and “natural”, which are still very big and growing by the day in France. Street food has become the new fine-dining. Food that has soul, a story and that is traceable.

A new trend in restaurants is for the chefs to be more hands on and in the front. Taking plates out and describing to the clients where it comes from. Kind of make sense, doesn’t it?

The three ingredients I could not live without are honey, cloves, cinnamon. It reminds me of getting home from school and my ouma (grandma) cooking lunch. Oh, and berries. I love berries!

My idea of luxury is anything or anywhere that is timeless and allows me to be myself.

If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be Cape Town. That’s where my people are!

On a typical night in I prepare casseroles in winter and salads in summer. I love a good old thrown-together meal; I have a soft spot for a left-over and am mad about chocolate.

The thing I loved most about living in Stellenbosch was, um, the water.

When I was last in the Cape, I was impressed with the Chefs Warehouse. I also popped into Willoughby’s for a quick Rainbow Reload, had a Horlicks milkshake at Royale Eatery, and great lunches at Tokara and Oep ve Koep!

On my bucket list to still do in Cape Town is a long lunch under the trees with my friends in the Gardens.

The Banting diet is not a trend in France. Not at all! It’s “everything in moderation” here. Except the bread – definitely not moderation. Okay, and the wine. Okay, and the cheese!

My drink of choice is wine, Hendrick’s Gin and Bloody Marys.

On Sundays I try to sleep in but it’s not possible. Market, movies and à Margaux.

Money can’t buy that moment when Michelin called me…

Straight after this, I’m taking a one-week holiday somewhere in the mountains.

When I wake up in the middle of the night I take notes.

One day we’ll look back and realise that we worried too much about things that don’t really matter.

Jan Hendrik’s new book, A Breath of French Air, is out in March 2016. Order your signed copy at www.janhendrik.com
Follow Jan on Instagram janhendrik2016 and
Like Jan on Facebook: JanHendrik

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Time of publication: 10 February 2016