Malva crème caramel with honeyed apples and gooseberries. Syrah red wine ice cream. Mushroom macarons. Mosbolletjies with roasted banana butter. Turkish delight pavlova. Some might call these dishes, but we prefer to call them works of art, so it’s fitting to call their creator, Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen, an artist.
If you’re familiar with Jan-Hendrik, then you probably know that he is the first South African chef to be awarded a Michelin star, for his restaurant Restaurant Jan in Nice, France. But that’s not the only feather in his cap. You might also have read his bi-annual coffee-table cookbook part luxury lifestyle magazine JAN the Journal. Or you may have immersed yourself in his picture-perfect life by watching his TV series Jan.
However you know him, there’s one thing you’ve probably realised: he’s a chef, author, artist and photographer, but above all he is a creative. Curios and innovative, it seems everything this Middelburg farmboy touches is a masterpiece. Restaurant Jan and his second dining space also in Nice named Maria (after his mother and grandmother) has impressed both critics and patrons alike with Jan-Hendrik’s South African-inspired creations. His aim was to showcase an interesting blend of homegrown favourites and European produce, served with his trademark South African hospitality, and it has worked. It has been so successful that a third restaurant, Klein JAN, is set to open in the Tswalu Kalahari game reserve later this year.
But if you’re not lucky enough to be able to pop in to Nice or the Northern Cape, don’t worry, you’re in luck. Jan-Hendrik has answered our prayers and opened the Innovation Studio right around the corner in Kloof Street, Cape Town.
What is the Innovation Studio, you ask? Is it a restaurant? Is it a kitchen? Is it a fancy storeroom for Jan-Hendrik’s incredible collection of antiques? Well, it’s all of that, and none of that…
The Innovation Studio is a creative space where Jan-Hendrik and his team of magicians – aka chefs, culinary students and food developers – can unleash their imaginations to develop, tweak and perfect the recipes and dishes which will feature in Jan-Hendrik’s restaurants. Luckily for us mere mortals, on some nights it is open to the public for private dinners for up to 16 guests to enjoy a 7-course menu paired with fine and rare South African wines.
Judging by his culinary creations, a dinner at the Innovation Studio is sure to be an incredible gustatory adventure. But the food is not the only feast for your senses at the Innovation Studio. The space itself is gorgeous – classy, opulent, eclectic. Each room is a contrast between light and dark, hard and soft, old and modern. The overriding look and feel is of luxury and timelessness, but most of all, quality.
This same quality is evident in the kitchen and his cooking. “If you surround yourself with good people, you get good results. If you surround yourself with good ingredients, you get a beautiful dish. And it’s exactly the same with a kitchen…For me, it’s totally unforgiving if I would cook with something that isn’t the highest quality”.
The kitchen, for Jan-Hendrik, is a blank canvas, a clean slate on which to be inspired to devise his culinary inventions. He prefers his preparation and cooking areas to be simple with “a dash of wowness”. For a creative mind such as his, it seems important to keep the work space as clean and simple as possible, in order to let his imagination run free. A clean, white surface, too, is the perfect backdrop for the striking colours of the beautiful ingredients he uses. It’s not surprising, then, that he chose the Snow White Caesarstone countertops on which to create his magic.
“When it comes to kitchen trends practicality is a no-brainer. More and more people are realizing the importance of having a functional kitchen, and not just a pretty one. The surface plays such a big role…because you’ve got the texture, you’ve got feel, substance and quality and all that then layers onto a feeling of how you cook.”
Caesarstone is able to live up to Jan-Hendrik’s high standards. The countertops are both beautiful and high-quality. Though they may be crisp, clean and startlingly white, the countertops do not stain and are durable and easy to clean. They not only add an element of wow to his kitchen, but they give him the confidence to work his magic without worrying about the consequences of his cooking.
“You’re only as good as your last service,” Jan-Hendrik tells us. “And in this case I think you’re only as good as your last surface.” Don’t worry, we’ll make sure he doesn’t give up cooking for comedy!