From kneading dough in the farmhouse kitchen of his childhood in Mpumalanga to running his own restaurant in Nice, France, Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen’s culinary journey has taken many unexpected turns.
We asked South Africa’s first Michelin-star chef (as well as talented cookbook author and photographer) for his expert take on the food trends and ingredients that will shape 2017.
Firstly, congratulations on your recent Michelin Star! How does it feel to be the first South African chef to receive this prestigious award?
What an honour for my team and I to represent South Africa in the Michelin Guide. Being the first South African adds even more “trots”! Michelin is not represented in South Africa and I always say that if they would have been, there would be other Stars without a doubt. It is my mission to bring to their attention the talent that our country has to offer.
Your restaurant, JAN, is located in the south of France – a renowned gourmet hotspot. What’s big on the French culinary scene at the moment?
As always, seasonal cooking. Knowing and using what is available at the market and to be more educated as to where your produce is coming from. Other than that, the marriage between intimate dining experiences and eating with locals in their environments.
What do you think of SA’s local food scene?
I cannot get enough of it! Seriously, SA does not have to stand back for any other country. Young talented chefs keep reinventing the food scene.
Which food trends should we look out for in 2017? Will you be incorporating any of them at your own restaurant?
I am not a trend follower but what I do pick up in the foodie scene here is the hunger of moving back to simple, accessible food. Foams, gels and flowers are becoming less popular and including big shared plates, for certain courses. Voluptuous and honest.
Are there any ingredients and flavours we can expect to see more of on menus?
The French like something they know, not so much change but rather quality and consistency. My ingredient for 2017 is without a doubt Buchu. Smoked or sorbet, I’m addicted to the flavour.
How does the increasing awareness around health and sustainability play into your own food philosophy?
I support healthy eating 100%, however, the media and advertising play such an important role and can be so misleading to what is good for you and what is not that I encourage consumers to be on top of their produce. Know your facts, read the labels, and don’t believe everything you read on a label or on the internet. Again, back to basics. Eat as much as you want of something, as long as you make it yourself from scratch. You’ll be amazed what the outcome is.
People are turning to food as a way of experiencing new cultures. Which country or culture’s cuisine do you think will steal the show in 2017?
Japan. I’m going there for my honeymoon in March and cannot wait to explore the Japanese cooking. I’ll be keeping you updated on my Instagram account.
How can readers update some of their usual family favourites to be on trend?
What might be a trend for some might not be for others. For example, I would hate for my mother to update her home cooking. It’s my favourite! If you want to impress, I suggest trying a different carrier for your dish. Big leaves, a salad on a round cut watermelon circle, or bake a bobotie in a pumpkin.
Do you have a favourite Le Creuset product?
Can’t go without my Cast Iron Casseroles.
What’s next for Jan Hendrik?
I’m a believer in doing what I love and following my dreams. For the moment my focus is at JAN in France but I also spend my time cooking, styling and developing recipes for my blog. I’m also shooting a TV series early 2017 packed with cooking, travelling, and all things delicious, inspiring and beautiful.
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