Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen
Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen

Local’s lekker: book on Michelin chef

By Julian Richfield Time of article published Mar 23, 2016

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Jan: A breath of French air

Jan van der Westhuizen

Loot.co.za (R289)

Random House

REVIEW: Julian Richfield

Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen is South African born and, in 2013, opened his own restaurant in Nice called Restaurant JAN.

From this humble start, JAN has earned the reputation as one of the top restaurants in the south of France.

Originally from Middelburg, Mpumalanga, Jan Hendrik studied culinary arts and applied design in Stellenbosch, after which he worked for food publications both locally and abroad.

Jan Hendrik credits the tables of his mother and grandmother for his culinary beginnings, where the notion of true South African hospitality seeped into his consciousness to become the foundation on which he would later build JAN. Here he has successfully adapted South African favourites for discerning customers in Europe. This reputation for gastronomic excellence earned JAN a prestigious Michelin Guide One Star rating in February this year, the first ever awarded to a South African in the whole of Asia and Europe.

Guide Michelin awards stand for consistency and excellence in the food and service industry and are considered the benchmark in the global culinary world. The Guide says this of its One Star award: “A very good restaurant in its category” (Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie).

Chef Jan’s new book JAN – A Breath of French Air picks up from where his first book, The French Affair (2013), left off and serves as Jan Hendrik’s personal call to adventure to his readers.

The story of how this eager young South African lad came to own a restaurant in Nice, France, is one filled with many obstacles, hard work, determination and more than a little luck.

“Today I manage staff members from all over the world and see to it that the standard of our service and cuisine meets and exceeds the early endeavours that won us numerous awards and prestigious listings. I’m reminded of my roots every time I pour a glass of pinotage or serve a plate of food.”

JAN – A Breath of French Air is both a memoir, and a celebration of the restaurant, and offers 90 recipes that cover everything from locally produced breads (boulangerie), amuse bouche, mouthwatering meat and fish main courses, and even what chefs like to eat after a long night’s service in a hot kitchen.

Get ready to get your lips in shape to pronounce the rest of the chapter headings: Marchand Des Quatre-saisons (the sprawling nearby fruit and vegetable market); Boucherie (butchery); Poissonerie (fishmonger, fish market); Fromagerie (cheese factory; Patisserie (pastries and cakes); Mignardise (a bite-sized dessert, sometimes served at the end of a meal); L’Equipe (the team – meals for the staff); Apres Minuit (after-midnight chefs’ eats); and Mise en Place (“putting in place”, all the extra sauces and condiments used throughout the book). Each chapter has a delightful and personal introduction from Jan Hendrik and he is also responsible for the book’s beautiful photography and styling. To misquote the song from A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum:

Something familiar,

Something peculiar,

Something for everyone:

Gastronomy tonight!

JAN – A Breath Of French Air offers much to be savoured, imparting new information to some, with fresh recipes as well as familiar dishes with a twist of JAN magic.

Some recipes may stretch the home cook, but isn’t that one of the joys of being a foodie and a cook?

The book deserves pride of place on the bookshelf of any South African home but, better still, take it into your kitchen and get cooking.

Jan Hendrik comes across as a man who has enjoyed much success but still has his emotional feet and inspiration firmly planted in his home country. I suspect that this will not change, even if he and his team choose at some stage to climb further up the Michelin ladder. Mooi so!

One hears many cries of “Oui, chef” in restaurant kitchens of the world.

I suspect that, in Restaurant JAN in Nice, it might be more a case of “Ja, sjef!

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