Episode 5 of the JAN TV series of nine episodes broadcast weekly on viaTV, and dedicated to our country’s best chef  Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen of JAN restaurant in Nice, focused on the relationship between sons and their fathers, and more specifically between Chef Jan-Hendrik and his dad. 

The episode was introduced by Jeanette van Manen, the owner of the Apricus Locanda B&B in Apricale in Italy, at which Chef Jan-Hendrik regularly stays when he needs a break from his one star Michelin restaurant in Nice, and which is his home-base for food tours he organizes in the area for mainly South Africans. I stayed at Jeanette’s B&B for three weeks in August, to write The Book about my transformation. Jeanette explained that many men in Apricale have two jobs, perhaps working in the construction industry, but also being olive farmers. There are few vineyards in the area, she added.

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

Chef Jan-Hendrik repeated his view about patrons at his restaurant sitting on their phones while they are eating at his restaurant, and he often sees tables of four not speaking to each other at all. When this happens they switch off the WiFi, to force their guests to communicate. He believes that his patrons should let go and enjoy the food experience, but they should also talk to each other. Food brings the diner peace and serenity, and meal times should be a time to talk to and share good times with friends and family. Social Media has connected us to so many people, yet many people are less connected than ever! 

Chef Jan-Hendrik introduced the Delio restaurant in Apricale, a restaurant which I ate at two years ago with the chef and his mother when she was visiting from Middelburg. In Apricale one walks past Delio when walking to the supermarket, the village Square, and some other restaurants. Chef Delio was a role model for Chef Jan-Hendrik, a top chef who had worked for and with world-famous chefs, and who returned to start cooking in his home village of Apricale, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the city life. Chef Delio had been diagnosed with cancer, and when Chef Jan-Hendrik visited Apricale for the filming of JAN in February, Chef Delio had passed away. His son Robi has taken over the restaurant, having trained with his father in the past eight years, starting at the bottom of the ladder, in washing dishes. He shared that his father was a very tough boss, but he now understands why this was important to his development. Delio is a family restaurant, with many regulars, family members getting together to eat the same dishes week after week. The boar ravioli is very popular.

Chef Delio had taken the recipes he cooked at top restaurants around the world and adapted them, making them local, in their ingredients and cooking methods, with a more home-cooking style. A rabbit stock cooks in the kitchen 24 hours a day, and it can be smelt outside the restaurant, it being a rich sauce. Chef Robi had to step into his dad’s shoes, there being no room for failure for him. He was thrown into the deep end. Chef Robi cooked a rabbit ravioli with pine nuts and thyme, topped with Parmesan, for Chef Jan-Hendrik. The secret to Italian cooking is its deep and rich sauces, Chef Jan-Hendrik shared, cooking up to twelve hours. 

Chef Robi then prepared a specialty of the area, panserole (crisp hollow treat made with pasta, held by Chef Jan-Hendrik in the photograph above, which he described as a type of vetkoek), and Zabliogone, a custard style sauce made with Marsala (which he described as ‘Ultramel on steroids!), and served warm, a delicious treat, which I was lucky to taste during a village festival in the Apricale village square in August.  The yellow colour of the sauce told him that it had been made with organic eggs. Chef Jan-Hendrik spoke about pairing of different items, in what is matched. 

Chef Jan-Hendrik often drives to Apricale, and to Delio, for a meal of the rabbit ravioli, the village being about 45 minutes from Nice. 

Chef Jan-Hendrik repeatedly referred back to his own father, being quite philosophical and even spiritual about father-and-son relationships. He said that a father is a son’s first superhero. He had to learn patience, to ‘get it together’, to forgive and forget, and to move on. The chef arrived in France, and was immersed into a new culture and a new language. He said that he did not think that he would survive, but told himself that ‘you’re in it for the long game’, having to keep working, changing his life. 

In this episode it was repeated that Chef Jan-Hendrik and his mother had kept the fact that he had taken typing, art, and Hospitality and Catering as school subjects, instead of maths and biology, a secret from his father. He laughed when he shared that he was the only boy in the typing class. Chef Jan-Hendrik was not sporty, which meant that he had to push himself even harder, in order to be accepted by his dad. He did not drive the tractor on their farm. When his dad was told eventually, he accepted his son’s school subject choice, giving his son a nod. Chef Jan-Hendrik advised fathers to show pride in their sons, for the benefit of their development. 

Chef Jan-Hendrik spoke about the hospitality industry, saying that one either has it, or not. He spoke critically about there being so many platforms on which to review restaurants, and that ‘everybody is a food critic’ these days. Everyone has the freedom to write on these platforms, reviews which stay on the internet forever, and can be bad for the restaurant. 

It was interesting to hear that Chef Jan-Hendrik enjoys his own company, eating on his own, and going to movies alone. He enjoyed eating at Delio, for its simplicity and not being pretentious, and seeing so much beauty in it. He wished Chef Robi well, and encouraged him by saying ‘everything will be OK’. Chef Jan-Hendrik asked Robi what he wants to preserve from what his father did in the restaurant, and he said the food as well as how his father talked to his guests. In twenty years from now, he would still be in the Kitchen, and will be better than now, he said confidently. He had learnt how to make pasta from his dad, the success of pasta lying in the touch. Chef Robi said that he is determined to continue his father’s legacy. Chef Jan-Hendrik offered Chef Robi his support, saying he is always there for him. Determination is the biggest recipe for success, and he can see it in Robi. 

Chef Jan-Hendrik said that he did not open JAN to win awards, but wants to do well. ‘Nice’ and ‘average’ are not good enough for him, he said. Whilst walking back to his accommodation, Chef Jan-Hendrik hears someone playing the piano. He shared that he loves creativity in all forms, and that he played the piano as a child, and that it enriched him. His love for his parents comes through regularly, and he praised them for always being supportive and for being there for him. His parents are people of ‘gold’. His father taught him to ‘do it properly or don’t do it at all’, when he had to rake leaves as a child. He had arrived when his dad accepted him. In passing he mentioned that he left home at the age of 14 years, going to boarding school. The chef shared that he did not have a particular mentor, as do other chefs, with two or three, which made the Michelin star accolade for JAN restaurant even more remarkable.

JAN Restaurant in Nice awarded 2017 one Michelin star, does SA proud! Start of a French Food experience!

In honour of his father, Chef Jan-Hendrik prepared his father’s favorite dishes, being guavas from the ‘spens’, and chakalaka, a sauce which is truly South African and on ‘steroids’!  Whilst he prepared a Mediterranean chakalaka, with olives, capers, and tomatoes, Chef Jan-Hendrik mused about the lack of men in the kitchens in South Africa, compared to France, where men are mainly in the Kitchen. It is so rare internationally to have women heading up kitchens that the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards recognizes the top female chef annually. The chakalaka dish was prepared with tuna biltong and a mielie pap Pannacotta. Chef Jan-Hendrik said that chefs should be unpredictable and creative, the environment in which he or she cooks shaping the ingredients used for one’s dishes. ‘If you know where you come from, you know where you are going’. 

In preparing his melktert, Chef Jan-Hendrik used Boerenkaas in his crust. He served this with stewed guavas, a genuine South African fruit. The episode was concluded with Chef Jan-Hendrik saying that there is history and secrets in every plate, dish, and ingredient. 

JAN’, VIA channel 147 on DStv, Tuesdays for nine weeks, at 19h30, and Sundays at 20h30. Also on Showmax Online. www.viatv.co.za Twitter: @viatv Instagram: @viatv 

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