JAN - A Breath of French air by Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen. Published by Struik Lifestyle, Penguin Random House, 2016.
There can be very few chefs who not only cook and style their gastronomic creations, but complete the process by doing their own photography.
There are even fewer – in fact, just one - South African chef-patrons who can boast of cooking, styling and photographing fare in his renowned French Riviera restaurant JAN, a venue that has just been awarded a prestigious Michelin star.
Meet Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, South Africa’s first Michelin star chef, presently working his way through a hectic programme of launches, talk-shows, dinners and more in Gauteng and the Western Cape. His second glamorous cookery book, JAN, is getting star treatment, along with its author.
It’s a covetable hardback, lavishly illustrated with the chef’s photographs, both culinary and moody shots of antiques, bountiful floral arrangements, timeless French doorways and tiny balconies with curly balustrades. South African pincushions fill a small container, a touch of home in an otherwise Gallic book. Whereas The French Affair, published just three short years ago, contains much that was inspired by his mother and grandmother, this collection is sophisticated gourmet, up-to-the-minute fare, beautifully styled and presented. What adds hugely to each recipe is Jan’s generous instructions, enabling all but the most ignorant to reproduce their choice of his dishes.
From his childhood on a farm near Middelburg in Mpumalanga to the opening of his restaurant in Nice, is a story, he says, “filled with many obstacles, hard work, determination and more than a little bit of luck.” He took over a former motorbike repair shop, and dived into the world of doing business with French. As opening day grew near, Jan continued with his French classes, published his first book and shed a few kilograms. They were fully booked when they opened their doors to diners on a Saturday evening. A little later, with half the main courses yet to be prepared, a power failure led to a comedy of errors, when, Jan relates, there was only thing to do: drink a shot of your dad’s homemade mampoer, offer guests complimentary champagne, take a deep breath and regroup.
Today not only his guests but his staff come from all over the world, and his high standards of service and cuisine have brought plentiful rewards and awards.
The contents of JAN the book follow the menu formula, opening with Boulangerie, recipes for baguette and other French loaves. The Cape with its famous seed loaf, inspired by those served in a Stellenbosch restaurant where Jan had worked as a waiter is there, and another for mosbolletjies, which the French have taken to with enthusiasm. The ideas for amuse-bouche in the next section include squares of pissaladière, mini tarte tatins of fig and blue cheese, his mother’s souttert with sundried tomato jam and Charroux mustard, all easy to copy if you plan a bistro menu. Sophisticated alternatives will please ambitious cooks.
Seasonal dishes inspired by what’s available at the Nice market fill a chapter – salt-roasted beetroot and goat’s cheese crepes, shallot and orange custard, salads of glazed endive, spelt and caramelised sunflower seed and an easy roasted butternut and almond quiche. Meat and poultry are up next, starting with chicken liver and Parmesan mousse (it will be hard to improve on the liver paté in his first book, topped with a Old Brown sherry jelly). Duck, beef, pork and lamb – his lamb shanks look irresistible – precede fish and seafood. Sardines, scallops, and shellfish are given original treatment, alongside good ideas for salmon and trout. Patisserie encompasses several dessert delights – including a luxurious milk tart teamed with muscat-poached pears and quinces, perfect autumn fare for Cape hosts…
Chocaholics will hone in on Jan’s finale of berries and chocolate mousse, his pear and white chocolate hazelnut cake and a chocolate and cassis tart. Buchu sparks his version of classic madeleines with burned butter and honey, and locals will love naartjie panna cotta with white chocolate rocks. Cooking for the staff is a chapter one doesn’t often find in cookbooks but at Jan’s restaurant they can tuck into spag bol, pot-au-feu, courgette fries or a traditional Gallic banana rum and raisin rice cake before or after a busy evening’s work. Alternatively, they make themselves after-midnight snacks before heading home: these could include a banana and salted caramel popcorn smoothie, or Jan’s favourite, biltong, mayonnaise and Mrs Ball’s chutney filling a sandwich of white bread, with crinkle-cut chutney flavoured crisps on the side. Ah, clearly you cannot take South Africa out of this boy! A detailed index concludes the text.
Good food is a popular subject in South Africa, and when a farm lad makes his mark in the glamorous Med region of the western world’s gastronomic champion, it’s a good news story indeed.