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Soon you won't have to head to France to taste SA Michelin-star chef's food

Multi-talented chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen is set to open a new restaurant, KLEIN JAN, in the Kalahari bush

12 May 2019 - 00:11 By Allison Foat
Michelin-star chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen at work.
Michelin-star chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen at work.
Image: Supplied

In 2013 Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen opened JAN in the vieux Port of Nice on the Côte d'Azur. Three years later he became the first SA chef awarded a Michelin star - bestowed annually since then - and it continues to be the game changer, on every front.

To Jan and his team, the prestigious approbation was like a stamp of approval to authoritatively promote SA cuisine to gastronomes du monde with haute expectations.

Starry accolades or not, the restaurant business is a demanding one and when your establishment has a twinkly accolade, the pressure is real. Yet where passion underpins effort, the job is a joy, and the satisfaction on both a personal and team level is immense.

JAN in France is flying and the next best thing has just been announced: KLEIN JAN, at Tswalu in SA. He is coming home!

Jan first visited Tswalu three years ago, the Oppenheimer-owned private game reserve in the Northern Cape that protects over 110,000 hectares of grassland and mountains. The contrast between the refined effervescence of the Riviera and the raw splendour of the Kalahari was spectacular. He was instantly inspired and recalls looking out across the plains and thinking: "It's a blank canvas - there's so much I can do here."

Nicky and Jonathan Oppenheimer subsequently dined at JAN in France - the convo evolved organically from there and a global partnership was sealed. Though Jan has received several tempting offers to open an establishment back in the home country, it was their ethos and vision for Tswalu that resonated. "My father, when he was still alive, had this expression: 'daai is eende van ons dam' (those are ducks from our dam) - I identified instantly with their passion for restoring places and things to their former glory. That was the clincher."

Jan is a deep creative, astutely observant and curious. Aside from having a Diploma in Culinary Arts and a Masters in Pastry, he is a food stylist, painter, published author, an outstanding photographer and a wine connoisseur. His layered talent and attention to detail is astounding.

At KLEIN JAN, opening in 2020, he will have carte blanche and his imagination is in overdrive. "When I thought about it, I didn't stop at the food. I was like - experiences! At KLEIN JAN I want guests to be introduced to world-class cuisine in an unforgettable way, where the process will be as important as the dish itself."

At Tswalu he will oversee all culinary aspects and lodge hospitality, from arrival to departure and every detail of his portfolio will be meticulously considered. KLEIN JAN will be framed by an extraordinary locale. Think evocative dune dinners under diamond skies - the substance of dreams.

Tswalu private game reserve, Northern Cape.
Tswalu private game reserve, Northern Cape.
Image: Supplied

Tswalu and surrounds is unexplored culinary territory and Jan is in his element at the prospect. It's a glorious part of the province and KLEIN JAN, minimalist in design and framed by an extraordinary locale, will be its gastronomic epicentre. "The Orange River has the most incredible selection of brandies and wines, melons, dates and macadamias, and the most incredible selection of roots you'll ever find!"

A research team has already gone ahead to find out more about endemic ingredients and what locals love to eat, engaging those who have been living and working in the Kalahari for 50-plus years.

Jan's new Innovation Studio, also in association with the Oppenheimers, opens mid-2019 in Cape Town, and will constitute a huge part of the JAN journey. It will be a playground for experimentation, a space to innovate, create recipes and train chefs, "where people can and must make mistakes".

Graduates will be placed from there into his kitchens in Nice and Tswalu and will constantly move between both. "We want to bring the French to the studio in SA and tap into their culture of exemplary service."