Episode 4 of the JAN viaTV series was focused on Apricale, and foraging in the area, both for wild-growing flowers and herbs, as well as for truffles. It was special to see Jeanette van Manen, owner of the Apricus Locanda, at which I stayed in August whilst writing The Book.

Why I chose Apricale village in Liguria Italy in which to write The Book!

Chef Jan-Hendrik introduced Apricale whilst church bells were ringing in the background. He describes the village as beautiful, and as having a ‘small town mindset’. He described the locals as ‘people made of good, good flour’, who go back into time. 

Chef Jan-Hendrik shared that he loves traveling, something that he discovered when first going into a lift, and loving its smell. This is how he feels now when traveling in aeroplanes. ‘I’m definitely living my dream’, he says, in being able to travel between different countries, saying ‘I am lucky’. 

At school Chef Jan-Hendrik took Hotel & Catering as a subject. He was very close to his teacher of this subject, Nelly Steenkamp. He often bunked other subjects so that he could spend more time in the kitchen, his other teachers knowing where to find him. He shared that he and a friend established the Cool Cooking Club at the school, and fellow learners had to pay a membership fee, which funds he and his friend used to buy wine to drink at the Spur, he shared with viewers honestly. Chef Jan-Hendrik said that his father did not know that Hotel & Catering, art, and typing were some of his school subjects, and he and his mother had a pact in keeping this secret from his father, as well as his mother buying clothes for herself.  The closeness between mother and son is evident, and his mom always praised his food preparation, he shares. 

The chef also shared that he already loved uniforms as a child, which set the scene for him. He was a perfectionist then already, and he was competitive as a child, wanting to be first, bigger, and best, which pushed him to where he is today. Doubt in one’s ability ‘keeps you focused and on your toes’, he says.

The feedback provided through the Michelin star endorsement of the restaurant has given Chef Jan-Hendrik more authority and freedom now. He learnt from his mother that he should not worry about what others think of him. He takes his diners on a journey through his dishes, each of which focuses on combining two to three unusual ingredient combinations. 

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Every Chef is foraging, Chef Jan-Hendrik said. He introduced Jeanette, and her beagle, which is able to hunt truffles. She had suggested local resident Rudy as a specialist in edible plants and herbs in the area, there being about 80 orchid types in the area. Locals forage for wild plants. Chef Jan-Hendrik said that foraging ‘excites me like a child’. Jeanette shared how healthy the older persons loving in Apricale are, walking a lot, eating healthy foods, drinking wine, and adding olive oil to their foods.

Chef Jan-Hendrik brings groups of food lovers to Apricale two or three times a year. He had first read about the Apricus Locanda five or six years ago, and used the Locando for the setting for the photography for his first cookbook. Apricale means ‘place of the sun’, and the chef was advised to pick the wild flowers open. Chef Jan-Hendrik mentioned Pimpinella specifically, a plant which tastes like hazelnut, growing wild all over. 

Jeanette described Chef Jan-Hendrik as having a great future, who is talented in cooking, styling, photography, in fact ‘everything he touches is beautiful’. ‘He is so creative on so many levels’. Jeanette is from Holland, and fell in love with Apricale, an authentic village, liking the simple life she has here. There are a limited number of shops in the area, meaning that one has to be organized. It is not an Italian habit to buy everything off a shop shelf, but rather to cook one’s own produce. 

Chef Jan-Hendrik said that one learns to appreciate the value of produce when one grows up on a farm. It makes one appreciate organic produce, and walking barefoot in the cow dung on the farm. His parents’ dairy farm operation funded his annual chef school study costs of R60000 in Cape Town. Chef Jan-Hendrik sold bags of mielies in Middelburg, where he grew up, to raise monies for his flights to Cape Town, and pocket money. These were his early beginnings of becoming a businessman. He shares his love for his sister, who runs the family farm. They are a year apart in age, and see each other about three times a year. Chef Jan-Hendrik misses the space of their family farm. 

Chef Jan-Hendrik talked about truffle hunting, sharing that white truffles can cost up to R60000 per kg, being so rare. A truffle is a fungus growing on oak trees, and one can train dogs to find them.Truffles are a simple food and perfectly paired with eggs, Chef Jan-Hendrik preparing a truffle (thinly shaved) and scrambled eggs. 

A talent I didn’t know about is painting, and Chef Jan-Hendrik is shown sitting down with an easel, pouring a glass of red wine. It is a ‘timeless activity to paint’, offering him ‘ultimate relaxation’, as one has to wait for layer after layer of paint to dry.  Beauty surrounds one everywhere in Apricale. 

 Chef Jan-Hendrik made a special dish for Jeanette, a vegan. He talks about the increase in ‘special needs’ requirements of diners, requesting gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, and low sulphuric foods,  making it more difficult to cater for such clients. He made crispy Rooibos tea ravioli with mushrooms and Cognac.  He also is shown demonstrating making cauliflower coated with roasted apple purée, and crumbed with sunflower seeds. 

JAN’, VIA channel 147 on DStv, Tuesdays for nine weeks, at 19h30, and Sundays at 20h30. Also on Showmax Online.

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein