Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, the first South African to attain the highest accolade in the culinary world, a Michelin star, is walking proof that dreams do come true.
His restaurant, appropriately called Jan, in the French Riviera city of Nice is making waves of the best kind. Serving local cuisine and some SA favourites like Malva pudding, as well as SA wines, this is a much vied for dining destination on the Cote D’ Azur.
What one doesn’t see when meeting him is the steely determination and single minded focus on his goal that are nicely masked by a charming easy going personality. Then there is the talent—brilliant chef, great photographer, writer, and artist—it’s all too much as they say in Sea Point. Of course there is only one thing better than a Michelin star and that is two Michelin stars—how about three! Watch this space.
Jan Hendrik grew up in Middelburg Mpumalanga and used to gather mielies on the family farm to sell in the local market. His cooking inspiration comes from his mother and grandmother, and they must have known a thing or two.
Today, when he is not in France, he keeps track of what is going on in the kitchen at Jan with an app on his phone that allows him to look into every pot and every plate before it goes out. Talk about attention to detail!
In town to launch his new book A Breath of French Air and make some personal appearances, Jan was feted at The Private Hotel School in Stellenbosch and walked the honour guard of young chefs in their toques as he arrived with aplomb. The students hung on every word including the advice to “grow thick skins and always be afraid to try new things but not so afraid you don’t do them.” One could see them thinking “If he can do it so can I,” an aspiring message if ever there was one.
His new book, lavishly filled with gorgeous pictures all taken by Jan Hendrik is just the thing to gift wannabee chefs and those with a more serious interest in the fine art of cooking. It includes recipes for homemade butter and ricotta, just in case you run out, as well as for mosbolletjies, a favourite at his restaurant. (Wonder how the French pronounce that?)
Words: Greg Landman
Pictures: Neil Pendock and Supplied