SA’s first Michelin-star chef gives pap a gourmet makeover. Try his recipes

Chef Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen’s creative take on the local staple leaves food writer Sbu Mkwanazi gobsmacked

11 July 2021 - 00:02 By Sbu Mkwanazi
Chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen's restaurant, JAN, in Nice, France, has retained its one-star Michelin Guide rating for five years in a row. (File photo.)
Chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen's restaurant, JAN, in Nice, France, has retained its one-star Michelin Guide rating for five years in a row. (File photo.)
Image: Ihsaan Haffejee

March 23 1983. That is when I was born. June 2 2021. That is when I was born again, in the culinary sense. Do the maths and you will see just how long it has taken me to realise that mealie-meal dishes are only limited to what our imaginations are capable of.

Like most Africans, I have been taught that staples such as mealie meal are only good for everyday uses such as pap, porridge and what is also known as phuthu or krummelpap (a crumbly rendition of pap, often eaten with sour milk and milk).

Enter SA's first Michelin-star chef, Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen, who won the star in 2016 for his restaurant JAN in Nice, France. I found myself lucky enough to enjoy an online masterclass with the food genie, who recently retained his Michelin-star grading for the fifth year in a row. What made this more than intriguing was that it was meant to showcase humble mealie meal as a gourmet ingredient. Yes, mealie meal.

The inimitable Van der Westhuizen started off the engaging evening by telling us tales of his childhood, where maize was always in the picture. Whether it was braaiing with friends and pap was the side dish, or when family members would dish up too much pap for supper, he is a fan of mealie meal. He believes that, depending on your imagination, it is one of the most versatile ingredients available.

Van der Westhuizen started off the White Star Masterclass by taking a sip of wine — a good place to start before demonstrating how to make pap caviar with chakalaka, balsamic vinegar and a hard Swiss cheese, Tête de Moine, which he scraped into fine rosettes. A-maize-ing. Van der Westhuizen's greatest gift is being able to look at common ingredients and break them down into the most appealing individual culinary creations.

This dish opened the door to his second offering, an Italian-inspired pap arancini — normally these are small balls of rice stuffed with a filling, which are crumbed and deep-fried. It is pure genius how substituting rice with pap makes a world of difference, as the texture of the grain elevates the dish to new heights, putting a gourmet spin on it.

And just as we thought this was probably as stellar as it would get, the Michelin man left us with what I thought was the star of the night.

Pap French toast omelette.
Pap French toast omelette.
Image: White Star

At some or other time, most of us have had some adventurous omelettes, and this is usually due to their fillings or toppings. Not this one. Van der Westhuizen delicately guided us in making a pap French toast omelette that will take a while to be toppled from my “best omelette of all time” list. This is a creation like I have never tasted, and this is from someone who has been writing and talking about food for more than 10 years.

At first, your brain tells you that humble pap has no place in gourmet stakes like these on the breakfast table, but once you see the pap French Toast omelette served with a selection of berries, yoghurt and drizzled with honey, nuts and dates, your mind shuts up and your taste buds shout “Hallelujah!”

As delectable as Van der Westhuizen's maize-based recipes are, they are more than just world-class food. They are an assurance that African food is gourmet. They affirm that African chefs are just as creative as those from so-called culinary powerhouse nations such as France, Italy and Spain.

They are a reminder that we all need to think more of our humble staple and join the world stage.

TRY VAN DER WESTHUIZEN'S RECIPES

PAP FRENCH TOAST OMELETTE

Serves: 2

Pap French toast:

250ml (1 cup) water

5ml (1 tsp) salt

125ml (½ cup) maize meal

3 eggs, beaten

60ml (4 tbsp) butter

Salt

Toppings:

Berries, yoghurt, honey, toasted nuts and dates

Method:

  1. First make stywe pap. Pour the water into a saucepan and add the salt. Bring to the boil.
  2. Once the water starts to boil, reduce the heat. Gradually add the maize meal and stir with a balloon whisk until smooth.
  3. Cover the saucepan and reduce the heat to the lowest setting on your stove. You can give the porridge a stir every now and then. After 30 minutes it should be done.
  4. Spread the stywe pap onto a standard sized baking tray. Let it cool.
  5. Slice the stywe pap into squares.
  6. Beat 2 of the eggs in a bowl. Dip the slices of stywe pap in the egg mixture, as you would do the bread if making French toast.
  7. Beat the remaining egg.
  8. Melt the butter in a crêpe pan and pour in the beaten egg and the egg-coated pap slices. Leave till the egg starts to set and then start folding over the eggs as you would to make an omelette.
  9. Place the pap omelette on your serving plate and top with berries of your choice. Spoon honey on top and drizzle with yoghurt. Finish with dates, toasted nuts and more berries if desired.
Pap arancini.
Pap arancini.
Image: White Star

PAP ARANCINI 

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

500ml (2 cups) water

5ml (1 tsp) salt

250ml (1 cup) maize meal

3 circles feta cheese, crumbled (optional, leave out if preferred)

150g mozzarella cheese

125ml (½ cup) cake flour

2 eggs, beaten

100g dried breadcrumbs

500ml (2 cups) canola oil, for frying

Method:

  1. First make stywe pap. Pour the water into a saucepan and add the salt. Bring to the boil.
  2. Once the water starts to boil, reduce the heat. Gradually add the maize meal and stir with a balloon whisk until smooth.
  3. Cover the saucepan and reduce the heat to the lowest setting on your stove. You can give the porridge a stir every now and then. After 30 minutes it should be done.
  4. If you are using the feta cheese, add it to the porridge in the saucepan. Mix well.
  5. Allow the pap to cool.
  6. Slice the mozzarella cheese into blocks.
  7. Spoon some of the cooled porridge into the palm of your hand, then place a block of mozzarella in the centre and cover the cheese, forming a ball. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
  8. Place the flour, beaten eggs and crumbs in separate bowls. Roll the balls first in the flour, then in the egg and finally in the crumbs.
  9. Refrigerate the balls for 30 minutes.
  10. Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the balls till golden and crispy.
  11. Drain on kitchen towel and serve warm with a napoletana sauce for dipping, if desired.

Van der Westhuizen transports viewers to the Kalahari and his latest restaurant, Klein JAN, in the third season of his show, 'JAN'. Catch the premiere at 8pm on July 22 on VIA (DStv channel 147) and Showmax.


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