Thirty-four year old Juan van Deventer is the head chef making magic in the kitchen of the acclaimed restaurant at the Groot Phesantekraal wine farm in the Durbanville Wine Valley.
To get more personal with the rather shy van Deventer I asked him some probing questions.
What is your food philosophy?
When I start working on a new menu the first thing I do is find out what will be in season. That’s when you get the most amazing taste out of each product. Getting the dish to taste amazing is more important to me then plating it up to look like a piece of art. The presentation is important, but if the food doesn't taste great the presentation is useless.
What kinds of foods do you think are underrated?
Courgettes. I love using them. From pickled to using them in a batter for baby marrow and corn cakes. They are so versatile.
What are your favourite three dishes on your current menu?
The panfried hake with parsley pesto risotto and carrot puree; the pork belly with fondant potato and pineapple; and the chicken salad. (it's amazing - even if I do say so myself!).
Your success speaks for itself and you are without a doubt an inspiration. What are some of the qualities that a Chef must have in order to not only realise his or her vision, but also lead a team?
I am a strong believer that respect is only earned when you set the example to follow. If the floor needs scrubbing, I scrub the floor with my team. If the kitchen needs cleaning, we do it together. I don’t go sit in the office and expect them to do it by themselves. I hardly ever shout. If they make a mistake I show them how to correct it. If your staff is happy it will show in the food and the service and it will trickle down to the client. Customers can see when people are genuinely happy to serve them and they are not just working for a pay cheque every month. We treat our staff as family and not as bosses and employees.
What do you believe are the latest food trends?
I don’t really follow trends. So it’s difficult to say. I guess being in Cape Town with the water crisis, chefs have become being more waterwise. Cooking with different techniques using less water. Steaming, raw food, pickling etc. I’ve seen a lot of chefs experimenting with fermenting, and that’s pretty cool.
What other chefs have inspired you?
My friend Kyle Burn (head chef at Jordan wines). He works crazy hours and he hardly ever complains. He also has two boys which must be a handfull. I follow most chefs around South Africa and the Western Cape on social media. They are all a inspiration.
What is the one dish you still want to master?
A glazed Entremet Cake - which is a multi-layered mousse-based cake with various complementary flavors and varying textural contrasts.I’ve never seen anybody in South Africa make it.