Get to know Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen! A household name – and for good reason! Being the first South African chef to obtain a Michelin star, Jan is making waves in SA and beyond!
Ask any food enthusiast worth their salt what they think of Jan Hendrik and you’re bound to see smiles and wide eyes. Growing up in South Africa, Jan spent his childhood on a farm in Mpumalanga where he spent time baking to avoid working on the tractor. Fast forward a couple of years and Han has become one of South Africa’s brightest culinary stars, making a name for himself both here and in France – where he obtained a Michelin star. Now, he holds the title of chef, cookbook author and creator to name just a few. We sat down with him to learn more about his career journey and what makes him tick.
Can you provide us with a quick background on how you started and how that led you to be in food?
“I was a busy boy. Always doing things creative around the farm. I baked a lot to avoid being on the tractor and sold the biscuits at school. I then started making flower vases from old exhaust pipes and realised that I love art. Cooking was a big family thing. We always had lots of food like skaap op die spit en kook kos. Working with my cousins in Johannesburg during school holidays in a catering company earned me my hours of slicing and chopping for years. But I wanted to make more than just a bowl of food. I wanted to combine art and ingredients. I’m a firm believer in bending reality, and with that said I really started to focus on those two subjects. Art and food. The history of both, techniques and where I could I was doing an odd job or helping in a kitchen. From the age of 13-20 I worked really hard at every opportunity to save and afford to study these fields in Cape Town and Stellenbosch. Ever since I do what I love. And I wake up blessed for the amazing people around me.
I recently visited your studio and was completely blown away by how beautiful the space is. Please tell us more about the studio. How did it start, what is it for and how did you come up with the design elements?
“I live in the South of France where I started JAN almost 10 years ago. This is home… but that mountain in the Cape has my heart. So on my return very often guests wanted me to do dinners for them in South Africa on occasion. It was difficult as I’m not a caterer. My mother was, and I learned my lesson from her that you either do it seriously or you don’t. So I created a space where I could welcome people. The space got bigger and I took in a few students to help me with recipe innovation. I would be at JAN in France 02.00 in the morning sending a message to a group… and they would jump on it and play. We then started publishing these recipes and many more ideas and stories in JAN the JOURNAL which is now running for its 5th year. A bi-annual magazine focussing on wellbeing, lifestyle, art and food. Today The JAN innovation studio is home to all our media ventures and also home to our South African cookbook selection.
Tell us more about that impressive cookbook collection that you have at the studio. How did that start and what were some of the most memorable books that you received for the studio? They started as a small collection but then grew and I noticed the gems in these old books. Some are handwritten and others are passed on from families. We currently have over a thousand books which is really a huge inspiration for the students and guests visiting the Studio. It really is lovely opening some of the old recipe books, they tell so many stories. It was incredible to see how many people wanted to donate old recipe books to the library and supported our cause of having a safe space for our old SA recipe books.
We also asked people who don’t use certain old cookbooks or have copies to donate to the studio. It is a safe space where we will collect thousands and keep our country’s food traditions alive.
Your JAN Journal is absolutely beautiful. Why did you start it?
I worked in publishing as an intern, running around giving everyone coffee and making copies. I then started taking photographs with my own ideas and pitched them to the direction and they were used. I learned the beauty of tangibility and the touch of paper. The smell of ink and the horror of deadlines. I fell in love with it. I knew one day I would have a magazine and did not realise it would be such a big success. It’s a collector’s item with different volumes.
What is next for you and the Jan Innovation Studio?
The JAN Innovation Academy is our new virtual education project. It’s a growing collection of conversations about the things that matter most to me and my teams across the globe, presented as video interviews with industry experts and a look behind the scenes at JAN in South Africa and abroad. The Academy is also our main avenue for corporate social investment and extends beyond virtual education to the upliftment of students with no formal training at Jan Innovation Studio, Restaurant JAN, and Klein JAN.
What do you cook for comfort?
Toasted sandwich or a braai broodjie if I have a fire going.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career?
Walking into a meeting a few weeks ago and seeing a boardroom of amazing people around me. It took me a minute to get to my senses of what I have created. We are like a tribe.
What top 5 ingredients do you always have in your pantry?
Yuzu juice, Worcester sauce, Mrs Balls, frozen berries or nuts, rice.
Do you have any advice for home cooks on how to make their food look incredible when they have guests over?
Don’t overthink it. Practice a dish before you want to show it off. Get it perfect first. Then keep it simple and elegant. Your dish will only be as good as your ingredients.
SERVES 4| HANDS-ON TIME 30 min |TOTAL TIME 3 hours
- 420 grams (750ml) flour
- 7 ml salt
- 280 grams butter
- 25 ml ice-cold water
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 1 leek, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1 L chicken stock
- 1 chicken
- 20 ml cornflour
- 10 grams finely chopped parsley
PLACE the flour, salt, butter and ice-cold water into your food processor (or Thermomix). Blend until the dough forms, then wrap in cling film. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes or until needed.
IN a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, celery, leek and garlic cloves. Fry until nicely browned.
ADD the bay leaf, thyme, stock and the whole chicken. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover with a lid and cook for 1½ hours.
ONCE the chicken is cooked, remove from the liquid and pick the meat off the bones.
STRAIN the liquid into another pot and discard the solids.
MIX the cornflour with a little of the liquid then add back into the drained liquid.
COOK until thickened then add the shredded chicken. Season again with salt and pepper and add the parsley. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
PREHEAT the oven to 180 °C. Spray a 23 cm x 20 cm oven dish with edible non-stick food spray.
ROLL the pastry out on a lightly floured surface. Divide the pastry in two and line the oven dish with one half of the pastry.
SPOON the mixture on top of the pastry in the oven dish and place the other half of the pastry on top. BRUSH the top with a beaten egg and garnish with off-cuts of pastry.
BAKE for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is golden and crispy.
Cinnamon scented soup with karoo lamb
SERVES 6|HANDS-ON TIME 30 min |TOTAL TIME 3 hours
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 750 grams lamb knuckles
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 tins (800g) whole tomatoes
- 2 tbsp chopped celery leaves
- 2 tbsp fresh coriander
- 1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
- 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
- 1 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight
- 2 L water
- 250 grams angel hair pasta
HEAT the olive oil in a large pot and add the lamb knuckles.
FRY for about 5 minutes then add the onion and cook until soft and translucent.
STIR in the garlic, ginger, black pepper, turmeric, cumin and cinnamon sticks. Cook for about 2 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes, celery leaves and coriander and let it cook for 5 minutes, season.
STIR in the brown and red lentils and the chickpeas.
ADD the water, then close with a lid and bring to a simmer.
LET the soup simmer for 30 minutes and adjust the salt if needed. Simmer for another 1 ½ hours, until the legumes are soft and creamy.
COOK the angel hair pasta according to the packet instructions. Serve the soup with the pasta.
Enjoyed this Get to know Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen article? Tag us @foodandhomesa #cookingwithFH on Instagram!
ALSO SEE: The doctors kitchen with Dr Rupy Aujila