It was a very special privilege to attend the launch of ‘JAN: A Breath of French Air‘, the second book by Chef Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen, owner of the recently crowned one star Michelin JAN restaurant in Nice, the restaurant which I had the pleasure of eating at in June last year! Fabulous news is that Chef Jan-Hendrik and/or JAN will have a future local presence, Chef Jan-Hendrik saying ‘it will be an honour to come back‘ to our country!
Flying from Munich (via Düsseldorf) to Nice just to have lunch at JAN restaurant was the craziest thing I have ever done! I had got to know about the talented Chef via Errieda du Toit on Facebook, and became his Facebook Friend too. Eight months after opening JAN in 2013, the restaurant was awarded two knives and two forks, an entry level recognition and meant the restaurant was listed in the Michelin Guide. It was the closest that a South African-owned restaurant had got to Michelin star status, and was therefore worthy of a visit. I ate lunch at JAN restaurant two days after the Michelin inspectors had visited JAN restaurant for their 2016 Guide, and the feedback already had been good, complimented as being ‘impeccable‘ by the inspectors! I met Mimi, a former New York Times restaurant reviewer, at JAN, and she insisted that JAN deserved a Michelin star. I agreed! They had six subsequent unannounced Michelin visits of one to six ‘patrons’. Chef Jan-Hendrik was called only a few days before the Michelin announcement day, and was told that he was not allowed to tell anyone. He made calls to special persons, and bought himself a bottle of vodka, he shared! On 1 February Chef Jan-Hendrik and his team collected their first Michelin star in Paris! He fed back that for any chef the Michelin star evaluation is the ultimate reward, the Oscar for the food industry! Chef Jan-Hendrik volunteered that he has raised the price per head by €4 since they received the Michelin star, of which €1 goes to looking after an orphaned baby rhino. They are now booked three months ahead.
Chef Jan-Hendrik has been touring our country for the past three weeks for the book launch, and has been overwhelmed by the response to his Michelin star success. Jean Fryer, his publicist at his publisher Penguin Random House, told me that they had signed to publish Chef Jan-Hendrik’s second book before the news of the Michelin star. His book launch tour has taken him from Johannesburg, to Pretoria, to Mpumalanga (his home province – he comes from Middelburg), Franschhoek, and Cape Town.
Chef Jan-Hendrik thanked Org du Rac wines, Blomboy, and Sxollie Cider. He also acknowledged the One&Only hotel, and their canapés, which were inspired by recipes in his new book. He thanked Fred Viljoen for the design of the book. He thanked his parents for their support and for seeing his potential. His mom Hester was in Nice when I was there. He showed a video which he had produced himself, demonstrating his qualification not only as a chef, but also as a designer and photographer. The video was entitled ‘A South African Dream‘, which became reality in the south of France for Chef Jan-Hendrik. In 2013 Chef Jan-Hendrik launched ‘The French Affair’, and documented the journey of his life from Mpumalanga to Nice. His newest book starts where the first book finished off. He acknowledged his business partner Pascal Szafranski, who made such a big part of his journey possible. It took eight months to shoot the photographs for the book. Chef Jan-Hendrik acknowledged the contribution of Inemari Grobler in the shoot, and of her husband and his Head Chef Kevin Grobler.
‘JAN: A Breath of French Air’ contains chapters for Amuse Bouche dishes, Boulangerie (breads), cheeses, staff meals, pâtisserie, the market of the four seasons, the butchery, the fishmonger, and even midnight snacks. Chef Jan described JAN as a ‘busy little restaurant’, with seating for 28 patrons. He shares the kitchen with his three chefs. They make biltong at JAN, serve South African dishes such as mosbolletjies with the bread plate, Malva pudding, Bobotie, ‘Pap rolletjies‘, Buchu, and use Lucky Star sardine tins. Chef Jan-Hendrik challenged the local wine industry to approach them re listing their wines, only half of the wine list being South African currently. It is clear that Chef Jan-Hendrik is keen to stock more local wines.
In question time someone asked Chef Jan-Hendrik the question we were all thinking: will he be coming back to South Africa? The answer was ‘JA’, but how and when is under wraps! The reaction from the local hotel and restaurant industry to the success of JAN has been unbelievable, he said, and it sounds as if Chef Jan-Hendrik could not have foreseen the impact that the star would have. The interest locally has been phenomenal, but so too in France, despite a degree of scepticism about the South African dishes served.
Chef Jan-Hendrik honestly shared with us his angst about the Michelin star, asking himself whether he is worthy
of it, and will he be able to keep it. They up their game in the restaurant every day. He asked the head Madame of Michelin why the restaurant evaluation system is not in our country yet, he shared. He told us that feedback via TripAdvisor can be ‘cruel as well as rewarding‘, but they use it for feedback. It has hurt yet they had to get used to it. So too national newspaper Le Figaro described Chef Jan-Hendrik as ‘The Alien‘, and questioned his Bobotie dish, but did conclude that the restaurant has lots of potential. I love the photograph (right) taken of Chef Jan-Hendrik at the Grande Provence launch of his book!
I met Chef Jan-Hendrik’s partner Grant Bacon, a Facebook friend.
He lives in Cape Town, breeds cats, markets Org de Rac wines, and is involved in a family deep sea trawling business. They met when Chef Jan-Hendrik was at Zevenwacht, but re-connected via Facebook. He told me that he is so confident about their relationship because he knows that they will be together in Cape Town in future. He told me about a dinner which was held at Emporers’ Palace in Johannesburg, cooked under the supervision and guidance of Chef Jan-Hendrik and plated by him, at which Chef Jan-Hendrik received a standing ovation. Last night the two were in Johannesburg to attend a dinner hosted by the French Ambassador. At the dinner Chef Stephen Billingham, President of the SA Chefs’ Association, presented Chef Jan-Hendrik with a Chefs Association badge, which he wore proudly at the book launch. Grant described Chef Jan-Hendrik as ‘perfectionistic‘ and ‘passionate‘. He hinted at future plans for a wine brand, casual restaurants, or small intimate restaurants, all linked to Chef Jan-Hendrik.
Chef Jan-Hendrik was very patient in signing our books, and wrote personalised messages in each book. I will treasure the message he wrote in my book: ‘Dearest Chris – Love you lots and thank you for your big part in the industry’.
‘JAN – A Breath of French Air’, Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen, Penguin Random House, 2016. Exclusive Books. R403.
Jan Restaurant, 22 Rue Lascaris, Nice. Tel +33 04 97 19 32 23 www.restaurantjan.com Twitter : @JanHendrikvdWes Tuesday – Saturday Dinner, Friday Lunch
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here