Quick questions with Michelin chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen
The acclaimed chef talks RuPaul's Drag Race, duck presses, and braaiing for the queen
Who is your food icon? It keeps changing and I believe it should keep changing — it’s part of the process and I don’t think you should have just one. When I was young, it was a local South African chef and then, moving to Europe, I discovered European standards and status and then back to South Africa again and so on.
If I had to mention one it would be chef Margot Janse — she’s very inspirational and I have learnt a lot from her, especially when it comes to how to work with people. More chefs should have mentors like her.
Top cologne? Les Exclusifs de Chanel — Sycomore. I believe everyone should have a signature scent, and that is mine.
We’re also busy putting together a fragrance with a French perfumery for Klein Jan [a new restaurant in the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve]. It’s beautiful, the inspiration for it is that smell of a bush fire, “feu de brousse”.
Tech? My Apple HomePod, I love it, I wake up and the first thing I say is, “Siri, what’s going on today,” and she runs through everything — she knows my music too.
All-time favourite place to eat out? In Nice, it’s a little Thai restaurant that serves vegetarian spring rolls with that cheap sweet chilli sauce. Otherwise, locally, on the N2 going through Riviersonderend there’s a pie shop that does the best roast chicken and mushroom pie.
Item of clothing you bought, instantly loved, and still have in your wardrobe years later? An old sailor’s jacket. I bought it at a vintage shop. It’s thick and heavy and I wear it every winter.
I love to collect. I’m a bit of a hoarder but I think it’s in a good wayJan Hendrik van der Westhuizen
Dream kitchen item? I am lucky enough to have received it. It’s a duck press — a device that was used in the 18th century. It’s the Robot Coupe of the old days. You put the carcass inside and turn it and it squeezes out all the juice from the poultry, which you reduce. It’s just beautiful for jus. It’s a gorgeous, rare, French antique instrument.
Reading? Cookbooks. We keep getting in these amazing old cookbooks for the heritage library at Jan Innovation Studio. The one I’m currently reading is Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book and Household Guide (initially published in the late 1800s).
Series watcher? I’m a big fan [of series]. When I get home after service I make myself some comfort food and watch a few episodes. Sometimes it’s Orange is The New Black and recently I’ve been watching Glow but my favourite, and I guess it’s quite personal, is RuPaul’s Drag Race. I love how these people are being themselves, they don’t care about what anyone else thinks. They’re so out there. It’s fascinating.
Are you a collector of anything? I love to collect. I’m a bit of a hoarder but I think it’s in a good way. I like storing stuff and then revisiting it another time.
There’s a vintage shop a block from me and I think I’m their main source of income. I like, among others, crystal, vintage cutlery, and French linen — especially monogrammed French linen napkins from Normandy.
It’s the story of them. In the past, when washing was done in the rivers, if someone lost a napkin, downstream someone else would find it and know who to return it to because of the initials.
What is the one building everyone should visit before they die? Klein Jan — it’s going to be unbelievable. You arrive at this little white cottage in the middle of the Kalahari where you start the journey and then you literally go underground for the rest of the experience. It’s set to open in November 2020.
Dream dinner-party guests? Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. I want to see her eat ribs or lamb chops — a proper braai — she wouldn’t be allowed cutlery.
I’d also love to meet and serve Elton John as I’m a big fan. And the main actress in Babette’s Feast [Stéphane Audran]. Just the way she looks and engages with food, I’d love to cook for her.
Grocery cart essentials? I can’t choose just one: anchovies, an old, hard cheese like pecorino, fennel, tomato, mozzarella, and a good aged balsamic. I’m a firm advocate of buying good quality balsamic. It’s like wine — don’t buy the cheap stuff.
Place that’s recently caught your attention? A small village called Pigna in Italy. They are known for these small white beans that are only grown there — Pigna beans. They’re incredible. If I had to describe them, I’d say they’re almost like a white dessert bean or butter bean — only rare and scarce and super good.