Meet Chef Jess van Dyk of Protégé Restaurant: 2021 Top 10 Woman Chef!



Chef Jess van Dyk heads up the kitchen at Protégé Restaurant at Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek. She was previously the Head Chef at La Colombe in Constantia, a huge honour, in it being South Africa’s number one restaurant. She is one of our 2021 Top 10 Women Chefs, and has won a bottle of Adhara Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Jess describes herself as follows:  ‘Small town girl, from the Northern Cape, came to study at Silwood in 2010. I finished all three years, my third year being spent at La Colombe in 2012 (Constantia Uitsig). I stayed on at La Colombe, moving from Chef de partie to Sous Chef by the end of 2014. I left to pursue my dream of working on the yachts, but also spent a few months working with a catering and events company before heading to the Mediterranean. After 11 months on the yachts, I came back as Head Chef of La Colombe in 2018, and moved to Franschhoek to head up Protégé at the end of 2019’.

Cape’s Top 10 Women Chefs of 2021 announced on Women’s Day!

I asked Chef Jess the following questions:
What has been the best thing about Lockdown for your restaurant and your cooking?
I think everyone can agree that lockdown gave us all perspective.  It highlighted what was important in our lives, what we want to spend time on and redirected our focus to what our goals and ambitions are. I had a lot of fun cooking in lockdown, trying things I’ve never cooked, or just cooking the same old classics that makes me and my family happy. I brought that ‘reignited passion’ back to the restaurant and have been playing and cooking new things all the time, keeping myself busy but also teaching my staff new things as one goes. Its been a gruelling year and restaurants have been quiet compared to previous years, which means staff were getting bored and demotivated- it was important to me to try keep them ‘motivated and intrigued’.
What has been the worst thing about Lockdown for your restaurant and for your cooking? 
The lack of patrons, the quiet days, the financial strain, the rules and regulations that change every few weeks. Every time the government implemented new rules, it disrupted an almost flawless new system that was in place that guests, staff and management had just gotten used to. There was constant change, constant stress and no people in our seats to make ends meet.
Its been the worst few months for people and their families they have to feed, but I also think it brought a lot of people closer together. I know the bond I have made with my staff during these tough times, because everyone was ‘in the same boat’. As for my cooking, there was days where the motivation was low, and changing dishes or prepping food for 2 guests felt like a big ask.


Are you planning to change anything in your restaurant/cooking in the year ahead?
I think Protege has found a good rhythm and routine of how its operating, and most of it would stay the same. There might be exciting things coming for my cooking in the near future.
Is there anything else you wish to add? 
I think it is important for people to realise the extent of what the restaurant industry has been through. The 18 months+ of financial loss that would never be ‘made up’, the amount of demotivated and stressed staff cooking behind the scenes every day and the love we have for treating guests to ‘our’ unique dining experience. Be nice, be understanding and be supportive.
Congratulations Chef Jess 👏👏👏

Protégé Restaurant, Le Quartier Francais, 18 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek. Tel 021 492-4048 Instagram: @protogerestaurant @jess_v_d

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein, My Cape Town Guide/Mein Kapstadt Guide Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein @MyCapeTownGuide


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