Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen – Wine, food and Michelin stars
06 May 2016
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Jenny Crwys–Williams : Welcome to Old Mutual Live Wine Edition, I’m Jenny Crwys–Williams . When I say Jan Hendrik, I expect the whole of South Africa to know who I’m talking about and some of you might even think of running for cover because you’ve heard so much and it’s fair to say that when he arrived back home right on the heels of being awarded his and South Africa’s very first Michelin star, we just couldn’t get enough of him so let me remind you that his second book, “Jan, the French Affair” is a visual delight. Nothing is too hard for even a very average cook to tackle and just keep in mind he took every single photograph himself. I think they’re works of art. Here’s part of a discussion I had with him when he joined me in my studio.
Tell us a little bit about your two cookbooks because I’ve got your second cookbook here. It is very beautiful and of course I am reminded that you’ve got very strong design background as well as this passion for food.
Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen: The second book is pretty much a journey that continues from my first book, “The Breath of French Air”, it’s a memoir of the restaurant, Jan and it’s got accessible recipes in it that actually everybody can do at home. There would be the odd ingredient in the majority of them which can be replaceable and of course then you’ve got a few recipes, if you want to pull out and just do something really spectacular for a dinner party between press, it’s all in there.
The photography, all done by myself, 95% except for the portraits. That’s probably you know, apart from cooking the actual food and washing the dishes myself I just love doing it all as a one man show and it gives me so much freedom and opportunity to actually express myself and I don’t feel limited.
JCW: Like this marbré de canard with tonka, I don’t know what tonkais.
JHVW: It’s a bean, it’s similar to vanilla, it’s got a very specific flavour, but we do give alternatives for that. That’s a typical restaurant dish. There’s lots of… I mean we replace the tonka sometimes with liquorice which has got a bit of a childhood memory for me coming back in there but I remember actually doing that dish. I ordered four breasts of duck and they sent me four live ducks, so the language barrier was still… and you know it’s 70 per –
JCW: You set them free didn’t you?
JHVW: Yes, with a global knife.
JCW: The affect in France of having a Michelin star, you were saying in a previous interview that the press kind of went mad and they went mad partially because of the different ingredients that you are using. Just take us through that a little bit.
JHVW: Yes. We didn’t only have positive praise and I think that that’s something we’re kind of proud of that it didn’t just all come with a golden spoon. There was Le Figaro, for example, France’s biggest newspaper who gave us a half-page, very harsh crits on page four on a Sunday morning and it was, the title was called “Jan, Star Trek” and there was some line of, “It’s better to return where you come from”, so they were harsh in some times.
They thought the cinnamon was too much on the flan which was actually a milk tart. They thought there was too much sweetness in the meat which was a bobotie. So at the beginning stages of this whole process and that’s exactly what it is, it’s still a process we keep adjusting things to fit to the palate of the French and if I say French I’m speaking also other European nationalities that can actually, the mosbolletjies would be on the table as a raw dough and that would be proving in front of you and we’ll send that back to the oven as soon as the dish needs to come out.
JCW: So if I sit down and I just see this round board surely people want to try and eat it. Do you warn them in advance?
JHVW: There’s a crystal dome over it and my maître D’ comes with a very, very French accent and say “Mosbolletjies which is proving, please don’t eat it” and they always come back to the kitchen all knyped and they’ve been touched and they’ve been smelt and that is amazing that people interact with that raw ingredient beforehand. Things like that makes it interesting and I think that is what the French really like is that they know we’ve taken a Brioche which is so French and the Huguenot’s has converted it slightly and pulled away the egg and just added butter and aniseed and voilà, we’ve returned with a mosbolletjie.
Same with, my grandmother used to burn everything. She used to burn the pap, the melkkos, the jaffles, everything and that’s a thing that I burn the toast literally and that gives you that, I don’t know there’s nothing like the flavour of burnt toast from a koolstoof, you know it’s like blackened, burned bread. It’s so specific or burning a béchamel. I think there’s something specific, not killing it of course but having a slight burn sensation to that. It’s a memory of mine that I’m sharing with the diners and they find that somehow interesting.
JCW: Now I was very struck while talking to Jan Hendrik about his desire to push South African wines and his great difficulty to my disbelief in getting our estates to supply him with some of the great wines that would definitely benefit from the association with him and his restaurant, Jan. Let’s hear what he’s got to say about it.
Jan, I wanted to ask you is there is a strong South African sense with many of these recipes which are mostly going to a French audience, what about the wine?
JHVW: We have a predominantly South African wine list which we’ve been heavily criticised since we’ve opened. It’s been accepted incredibly with the widest open arms. I think it’s got to do something with Princess Charlene from Monaco being right next door to us.
JCW: Does she know about you?
JHVW: She’s never been, I know, there’s always… I just…
JCW: Princess Charlene, are you listening.
JHVW: We need you there and I know you like meat. So there is a rumour that she’s a vegetarian but I know she eats meat. Her French teacher was actually my French teacher as well so there was a… but most restaurants stocked up on South African wines during that period that she became Princess of Monaco and so you would still find one or two very selective South African wines on the list but what we’ve done is we’ve tried to break through to the Hermanuspietersfontein to the Org de Rak from Swartland, unfamiliar farms that really these guys need support and it shows such potential that needs to you know, get recognition for that worldwide.
So I’ve been pushing that incredibly hard. My sommelier which is French has opened a whole new chapter for me as well and he actually is so excited about South African wines that the platter is lying on our shelf, that’s a good reference for us, regular trips to South Africa and to wine farms visiting farms, actually tasting.
We’re hopefully getting a blend made up specially for Jan from Org de Rak in the Swartland. They’re doing a MCC which is, I mean they do wines, it just works really well and we’ve got a tasting menu which we pair the South African wines so you can have a choice of either French wines to go with your tasting menu or you can go for full on South African wines and then we just absolutely promote that.
JCW: How do the South African wines go down to their French audience because the taste obviously is different?
JHVW: Yes, definitely.
JCW: Even in the cool areas like Elgin and whatever.
JHVW: Definitely, I do find the people who has travelled to South Africa has a better understanding of the wine and there’s lots of, the more kind of, I’m still struggling with the older generation. There’s this, you know we get lots of the very, very re-furbed kind of old, mature palettes coming into the restaurant. We’re trying to convert them slowly but surely but the travelling and kind of the travellers that know South Africa as such. They love what we do back in South Africa and they know the quality that we get and you know to compare a South African wine with a Chilean or an Argentinian, just in that category of new world wines, we do stand out incredibly if it comes to blind tasting, definitely.
JCW: Also more so over the last five, seven years possibly, the wines have just, they’re just absolutely extraordinary. If you’re taking wine from the Swartland there’s one that comes in a little bottle like this which is kind of like an 18th Century bottle and it’s called Donkiesbaai.
JHVW: Love it.
JCW: It’s a dessert wine, it’s gorgeous, you’ll just love it, and it’s fantastic.
JHVW: I love it. You see those are the kind of wines that I hope that we will get approached by if we don’t know about them. It is a constant research and it’s a constant, you need to be like out there. It’s difficult for us being in France. We try to follow all the moves. I’m in very close connection with Julian –
JCW: Juliette Cullinan?
JHVW: Exactly, from Monaco and so we try to get to these guys but we really ask them to reach out to us and if they do distribute to Europe and to France as such we would love to list them and have a taste.
JCW: I’m quite sure there’ll be a groove going across the Mediterranean as they rush to see you, absolutely fantastic, thank you very much indeed.
JHVW: Thank you, Jenny.
JCW: Now I thought it would be fun to choose a wine of the weekend and when he was still a sommelier, Patson introduced me to some really great wines. I really relied on him. So I asked him to choose weekend wines for the next four weeks and he’s now the brand ambassador for The Reciprocal Wine Trading Company in Gauteng, the 2014 Tsogo Sun EatOut, and the Mercedes Benz Sommelier of the Year. So what is our first wine of the weekend?
Patson Mathonsi: Look it’s always been my favourite wine. I always speak highly of it. It’s actually called the Eisen & Viljoen. I don’t know if you’ve actually had it before. They are actually situated in Franschhoek right next to Anton Rupert, which is a very, very, very famous wine estate. As you actually go, a [part?] of Anton Rupert’s wine estate going back to Paarl on your left there is a gate that’s actually written Eisen & Viljoen. Eisen and Viljoen is actually, it’s a winemaker and another gentleman who’s very fond of wine by the name of Mark Eisen and then Johan Viljoen so that’s how they got the name, Eisen and Viljoen.
It’s actually a Bordeaux blend style, it’s a Merlot Cab, Petit Verdot blend and they don’t even want to share the components of how many percent is Merlot, how many percent is Cab and how many percent is Petit Verdot because you will definitely love it as it is and actually, their first vintage I think was actually a 2009, a very, very small vintage. They only made 1500 boxes of it. It wasn’t a lot and they only focus on two wines. They also make a rosé which I’ve actually introduced you to before which was the current rosé.
PM: I’m sure you’ve had it.
JCW: That’s well-known I think, yes.
PM: Yes, a very, very well-known rosé. So talking about this Merlot Cab, I think it’s actually a blend of new world and old world style of a Bordeaux blend. The Cabernet Sauvignon actually comes through quite highly on the nose but then the Petit Verdot bring, actually gives it that hint of spice and a little bit of like ripe berries that comes through.
The Merlot, obviously in South Africa we’re not very well-known of making good Merlot but we drink a lot of it, that’s the funny part of it but the Merlot actually gives it a little bit of softness. It actually softens up that grippy tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon and it’s got a lovely blackberry, blackcurrant, light spice that I spoke about or coming through from the Petit Verdot.
The tannins are quite grippy and dry on the entry but very, very juicy mid-palate especially. It’s almost like a cranberry juice flavour that comes through on the mid-palate with that peppery spice at the back, beautiful mild berry flavours that comes through as well, a hint of Cassius, which is a typical Cabernet Sauvignon characteristic and I think it’s an outstanding wine. Obviously now they have actually, they are actually producing more than 1500 boxes and there were only two restaurants that have actually listed that wine in the whole of Johannesburg.
You know my background working at DW 11-13, so DW 11-13 is one of those restaurants and there actually 500 at the Saxon Hotel and you can actually get it from Wine Concepts at BluBird Shopping Centre. They actually stock it. It’s not really very well-known but it’s a wine to watch out for especially considering that we actually drink a lot more Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in South Africa, fantastic wine made in Franschhoek, really, really outstanding.
JCW: Perfect for the cooler weather that we’re now in.
PM: For sure, definitely because look, it’s a big wine but the nice thing about them is that they don’t focus on wood that much you know, so 50% of it is actually new wood and the other 50% is second and third fuel. It’s a garagiste wine if you visit them and fortunately, it’s a small farm so you can’t just walk in and expect to do a wine tasting. You need to make an appointment with them and it’s actually made in a garage so it’s actually a garagiste wine, fantastic wine to look at. I think now they’re making at least about 4000, 5000 bottles every vintage, so 2016 is their –
JCW: I’m going to go out and buy it because it sounds so scrumptious. So that is our very, very, very first wine of the weekend. Mandla Patson, thank you very much indeed.
PM: It’s a pleasure. It’s always good to be with you, yes.
JCW: Thanks for listening to this episode of Old Mutual Live Wine Edition. If you’d like to get in touch with comments, questions, or suggestions you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.