Chef Juan van Deventer and his wife Maret (front of house) of Groot Phesantekraal
As a child, what was your favourite food?
Juan: Anything on a braai. Funnily enough my, mum and dad weren’t really foodies growing up but I remember us going crayfish and perlemoen diving around Hermanus and the West Coast. My grandma used to cook real boerekos. They had a hole in the backyard and my grandad used to do potbrood. That was awesome.
What is your favourite food now?
Juan:I love pasta. We eat pasta almost every day. For some reason, while I like cooking at work, I don’t like cooking at home. Stuff takes long at home. I don’t have gas, there’s cleaning, no assistance, so Maret cooks. Sometimes other people’s food just tastes better.
Who is your role model?
Juan:I wouldn’t say they are role models but I have other chefs I look up to. Especially the fine-dining ones. Eric (Bulpitt) is good. Kyle (Burn) from Jordan is good. Michael Deg at Cavalli. Gregory Czarnecki at Waterkloof. I’m not going to do what they are doing because I am not into fine dining, but they are at the top of their game. In terms of mentors, I feel like I take something from everyone I work with, from the golf estates to a diner in the US. You can always take something from each place that you’ve eaten or you’ve seen. Like Diners, Drivers and Dives. It’s such a stupid TV programme, but sometimes I get so many good ideas from it.
What has been your biggest disaster?
Juan: Recently I made a spuma Parmesan cream on a fish risotto. I warmed it up and I kept it next to the pass (long surface of plated dishes) so it stayed warm. I shook it, thinking it was empty and it exploded everywhere, all over the kitchen. We have CCTV video footage of that happening.
Have you had any accidental successes?
Juan: I made what was supposed to be a light vanilla sponge, but ended up as a heavy vanilla cake, so I dried it out and blended it into a crumb for desserts.
Do you have any favourite restaurants?
Juan: Obviously it has to be in the budget because a lot of these places aren’t cheap. We went to Foxcroft in December. That was very nice, very good service and the food was good. We’ve been to Kyle at Jordan quite a few times. Overall I like his food, not because he’s my friend, but I like the way he does stuff. His food looks pretty but it tastes amazing too. I’ve eaten at Eric’s when he was at Newton Johnson. He likes to play with basic ingredients like slow-roasting a cabbage overnight. I like Gregory at Waterkloof. He’s got a different European style. You don’t get that contemporary art on a plate anywhere else in South Africa. I’ve also heard good things about The Table at De Meye, but I can never get a table there.
For pizza we go to Matt’s pizza across the road where we live in Graanendal, RocoMamas for burgers and actually, any chef will tell you, we also eat rubbish. McDonald’s, KFC, Chinese – I have the Mr Delivery app on my phone.
What is your favourite tipple?
Juan: Castle Lite. Since I was small I’ve had asthma so I can’t drink white wine, Champagne or craft beer because it effects my chest. Too yeasty. Some of the wine has a lot of sulphur put into it too. I like craft beer, I just can’t drink it. I can cook with white wine, I just can’t drink it. Red wine is fine, I can drink that. I love the Groot Phesantekraal Shiraz.
Maret: The wines from the farm are so versatile with food. We don’t go very far from home when looking for wine. We like our brand, but we do like Springfield Life from Stone and you can’t go wrong with De Wetshof Chardonnay.
What is your fantasy food holiday?
Juan: I’ve started watching this programme called Munchies on YouTube. There’s one specific guy, an American dude, very big, very unhealthy, but he did this episode in France where he spent three days going to all the nice restaurants – really good food with really good chefs and really good wine and winemakers, I thought that would be amazing. A week of good food and wine in France.
Maret: I’ve got a thing that I still want to go to Turkey. The nuts and the Turkish delights, I want to experience all that.
What would be your last supper?
Maret: Massimo Bottura cooking for me and my family, but in New York over Christmas in winter.
Juan: Crayfishing with friends and family. Castle Lite on tap.
WORDS Tudor Caradoc-Davies
PHOTOGRAPHY Francois Pistorius