One of the most popular stories on my Blog currently is one I wrote just over a year ago, announcing the planned opening by Chef Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen of Restaurant KLEIN JAN, the baby brother restaurant to its well-known and Michelin one-star JAN Restaurant in Nice in France.
Last week Restaurant KLEIN JAN opened its doors in the Tswalu Private Game Reserve in the Kalahari Desert, between Hotazel and Vanzylsrus in the Northern Cape. It plans to showcase the food highlights of the Kalahari.
The restaurant building Boscia House is almost a hundred years old, lovingly restored for this restaurant project. Adrian Davidson was the project architect.
‘Kleinjan’ was the name given to Chef Jan-Hendrik by his grandmother Maria.
At R2500 per person for an eight-course Tasting Menu Restaurant KLEIN JAN must be our country’s most expensive restaurant!
In his JAN Journal Chef Jan-Hendrik describes his new baby:
‘I realise what an impact the last year has had on our industry. Restaurant JAN in France has been closed for nearly 8 months now. But so many restaurants in South Africa and across the globe have had to close their doors permanently. Over the last year, my team and I have been working hard to sustain our love for this industry and our passions. I am humbled to be creating something new, sustainable and innovative in this time with a team that knows how important it is to hold on to hope and to look to the future to make our dreams a reality. Klein JAN – a celebration of the Kalahari’s untapped culinary potential – is undoubtedly one of the biggest achievements of my career, and I cannot be prouder of what we have created. Bookings for Restaurant Klein JAN are now open for day visitors and guests of Tswalu.’
The restaurant is open for Lunch on specific dates, with reservations taken up to three months in advance. Exclusive Group bookings of up to 20 persons can also be made. Entrance into Tswalu is open to day visitors. Reasonable dietary requirements can be accommodated with notification in advance.
The JAN website provides further detail:
‘RESTAURANT KLEIN JAN IS SITUATED ON ONE OF SOUTH AFRICA’S LEADING PRIVATE GAME RESERVES, TSWALU KALAHARI, A REFUGE – UNTAMED, UNTOUCHED, UNSPOILED – THAT CELEBRATES THE SIMPLE, AUTHENTIC SPLENDOURS OF THIS MAGICAL REGION. KLEIN JAN TELLS THE STORY OF SOUTH AFRICAN CULTURE THROUGH FOOD, FROM THE WAYS OF OLD TO THE NEW.
Creating Restaurant Klein JAN has been Chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen’s great homecoming project. Growing up on a farm in South Africa’s rural Mpumalanga province, he felt an instant connection to the vastness of the Kalahari and knew that the time had come to return the spirit of JAN – his Michelin-star restaurant in Nice – to home soil.
The Kalahari felt like a blank canvas with unlimited possibilities. The region’s underexplored ingredients were the perfect inspiration to open a new restaurant and bring fine dining home – giving the food from the Kalahari the global stage it deserves’.
Restaurant KLEIN JAN has opened to exclusively serve guests of Tswalu Kalahari during April. From May onwards local day visitors are welcome to book and visit the new restaurant.
POSTSCRIPT 9 April: Chef Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen provided more information today about the Root Cellar which he has had built at his Restaurant KLEIN JAN, as well as about the sourcing of his ingredients :
’Creating a new culinary experience in a place as remote and untouched as the Kalahari requires great sensitivity. Every ingredient must be carefully considered. Where it comes from, how it gets to Klein JAN and how it is stored and preserved, are all-important — not only for the sake one’s conscience, but because in the vastness of the desert we depend on the land to survive — far more so than in the comfort of the city.
The Klein JAN root cellar is located four metres below ground, and is accessed through an almost hidden door in the side of a plaasdam alongside the iconic, hundred-year-old Boscia House. At the bottom of a helical staircase lined with a curtain of water infused with petrichor (the smell of rain falling on dry earth), you enter a 20-metre-long, arched hallway lined with shelves. The concept of this underground root cellar dates back to the 18th century — a time before electrical refrigeration — which was really an incredible concept for that time. In this climate-controlled space, the humidity averages 80% while the temperature remains at a steady 5 °C, no matter the temperature outside.
Having a root cellar like this in the middle of the desert means Klein JAN’s impact on the fragile surrounding environment becomes all the more sustainable. But the best part is sharing the root cellar with our guests, who, through interacting with the space and tasting the ingredients, get a tactile experience of just how valuable something as simple as a raisin is in this part of the world.
THE BOUNTY OF PRIESKA
Although the Kalahari is often thought of as an arid no man’s land, it is actually teeming with life — particularly along the banks of the Orange River. We source many of our ingredients from the region surrounding the town of Prieska, about a 4 ½ hour drive south of Tswalu Kalahari. The farm Lowerland is one of the most prolific in the area, and supplies Klein JAN with a range of ingredients, including pumpkins, wheat, and even wine.
Paging through JAN the Journal Volume 6, you would have come across the pistachio’s fascinating journey to South Africa, and how close our pistachio industry came to the brink of collapse. But thanks to a handful of farmers, like Rina Coetzee and David Muller, who decided to build on the work of their predecessors, our pistachios are back… and thriving!
THE RICHES OF AUGRABIES
When journeying along the Orange River, it is staggering to see what variety the region has managed to conjure. Apart from the famous falls, the town of Augrabies is also well-known for its incredible table grapes, which are shipped all across the country and beyond at a time when the Western Cape’s grape harvesting season has already come to an end. It comes as no surprise, then, that all of Klein JAN’s grapes and raisins hail from here.
But when we came across one particular resident in the town, it felt almost too good to be true. After a career dedicated to the farming of table grapes — and a lifetime of craving good cheese — Tiaan Visser discovered a passion for cheesemaking. Now, he produces a staggering collection that he makes on his stove in the same 20-litre pot, ranging from cheddar and feta style cheeses to fromage created in the Gruyère, Camembert and Brie styles, most of which have also found a home in Klein JAN’s root cellar. Read more about Tiaan and his cheesemaking journey in JAN the Journal Volume 6 and visit the Kalahari Cheesemaking Company online.
THE CULINARY KALAHARI
Beyond Prieska and Augrabies, however, the Kalahari is a food lover’s paradise, with dates grown by Kanoneiland and Southern Farms, and staples like potatoes and onions cultivated in Vryburg. We get a lot of our meat from Upington Slaghuis and a beautiful dry-aged beef from Kuruman. Not all our ingredients are sourced from the greater Kalahari, however. We also forage our own tsamma melons, springbok cucumber and gemsbok cucumbers right here on Tswalu.
Arriving in the Kalahari for the first time, it’s not uncommon to expect scarcity, but where life finds a challenge, it finds a way, and the Kalahari is anything but a barren wasteland. Quite the opposite. It is a place of cultural and culinary abundance!’
Restaurant KLEIN JAN, Tswalu, Kalahari, Northern Cape. www.janonline.com Reservations via @dineplan_app Twitter: @janhendrikvdwes Instagram: @restaurantkleinjan
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whaletalesblog.com www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein @MyCapeTownGuide