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Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen talks about his Michelin star and shares secrets to the perfect milk tart

The Michelin star chef says, "stick to what you know".

15 Jun 2017

We can't deny how proud we are of having a South African-born Michelin star chef - and when we got to meet him in person at the Cape Town Good Food & Wine Show, we were rather thrilled!

Our editor, Tessa Purdon, caught up with the man from Mpumalanga and spent a few minutes talking about all things Michelin, food and...more food!

1. When people think 'Michelin star', they tend to have associations of the movie Burnt (with Bradley Cooper). Is that the reality?
It's hard. It's really really hard but my kitchen is not a movie set. It's very real, it's very collected. We don't scream at each other and we don't throw things and swear. There are no politics. We are a small team - there are only 5 of us in the kitchen. We're like a family. If someone is doing something wrong, there's no space to really get away from it. It's hectic though - when service starts, it's ridiculous, sometimes you feel like sh*t, what am I doing?!

2. If (and when!) you open your South African restaurant, will it offer the same heritage-style food for which your French restaurant is so well-known?
If I did do something here, I would stick to what I know. And that's really what brought me to where I am today - just trusting and knowing my heritage and knowing my grandmother's recipes, maybe adding a few chef school tricks like a foam here and a spuma there and I think that's a good tip for anybody out there - just stick with what you know. Push yourself, of course! I'm not saying don't be curious. That's the big word - curiosity is magical but for the big finale, people come back for that deeper meaning.

3. You mentioned that the people from Peppermint Crisp delivered two pallets of the chocolate to your restaurant. What's the most innovative thing you've done with it, to date?
We've served it in a frozen parfait but I don't think that's really innovative. Mens moenie rondf*k met a Peppermint Crisp tert nie. It's one of those things you shouldn't mess with. I always want it soft and creamy. We did it once in a very fine crystal martini glass - almost in layers like a Tiramisu. It was nice but I like it the old way...proper biscuits, caramel and if I can get Orley Whip, I use that because that's how I grew up with it.

4. Is there any particular food trend you despise?
I despise the word trend. It pushes people into boxes, it changes consumerism, I mean it pushed up the price of cauliflower! But if I think of something that I don't like currently, it would be matcha. I'm not a big fan, I've never connected to it. I'm over the whole 'smoking' thing too. It takes over the taste and some menus have it bloody everywhere. It's now moving away though in Europe, thank goodness.

5. If you could survive off one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Vetkoek and mince. I LOVE vetkoek and mince. It's a meal that's always made me feel like everything is OK, everything is going to be fine. I also love a simple toastie.

6. If you could give your 20-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Spend more time with your family. Call them more often. I miss them very much. While you're still young, embrace them.

7. What is the secret to making the perfect milk tart?
It's the crust. It's all in the crust. So loads of butter! And then also not to have the filling too sweet. I like to add some treacle sugar into my crust so there's a bit of a crunch. Ja and as I said, not too sweet with the filling. Also - not too much cinnamon. I like a 'high dust' where you sieve it from quite high so it just falls gently. Otherwise it gets stuck to the top of your mouth and you're left almost choking.

Try Jan Hendrik's recipes at home:

Mosbolletjies with roasted banana butter

Sago, meringue, hibiscus and berry dessert

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