Celebrating World Food Day with Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen: A Culinary Journey
It’s World Food Day today, and there is no better way to celebrate this day than by getting to know Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, one of South Africa’s culinary heavyweights. Jan is a popular name across the world of culinary enthusiasts, and it’s not difficult to understand why. Not only he is Michelin-star chef, he’s also a culinary artist, with heart and passion for sustainable dining and very grounded in nature and culture of the place he represents. Join us in exploring Jan’s incredible journey and find out his deepest secrets.
Born and raised on a farm in Mpumalanga in the heart of South Africa, Jan’s path to the culinary world kicked off. Jan grew up on a small family farm, doing all kinds of farm chores: milking cows, driving tractors, planting, and harvesting crops, but Jan’s artistic leaning turned him away from that career track. To get away from the tractor, he got into baking and made delicious desserts which he even sold at school.
However, Jan had more to offer than just his cooking, he found love in arts and was doing some experiments with materials such as old exhaust pipes to make flower vases. The blend of creative thinking and pragmatic approach set the stage for his culinary journey ahead.
Food was always central to his family, Skaap op die spit on kook kos were common at family tables of traditional South African cuisine. Jan’s love for food took root on school holiday jobs at a catering business in Johannesburg. Years of slicing and chopping got him ready for the journey which would ultimately lead him to the top of the culinary game.
Jan Hendrik’s culinary path was one of deep commitment. From the age 13 to his 20s, he saved up all of his money to go to culinary school. He would do any gig; work in any kitchen, just to live out his passion to bring together creativity and flavor at its finest.
He studied in Cape Town and Stellenbosch, where he became steeped in the history and culinary arts. Today, Jan is turning into his fantasy, an illustration of the intensity of everlasting quest and unrelenting passion. He has an unwavering belief in bending reality and in fact, his food creations speak for this conviction.
From his beautiful studio situated in the south of France, Jan’s creativity is endless. Rich in history and almost a decade in the making, this lovely space is a special place. This small farm was meant to be where the couple would occasionally hold dinners in South Africa and has since become a culinary incubator.
It’s not only a workplace for Jan to make his own culinary wonders, but rather a collaborative space. His students and partners work with him to create groundbreaking concoctions. A limitless range of culinary pleasures that gracefully find its place within JAN the JOURNAL, a biannual online publication that ventures into the realms of wellness, lifestyle, art, and food.
One of the coolest things about the studio is its massive and diverse collection of cookbooks, from an initial collection of a few books to over a thousand volumes. These are some of the handwritten ones, or generational ones that they’re passed on through family, but they’re all kind of testament to the food history, the culinary heritage of South Africa.
These are books of inspiration, constantly available to students and visitors who visit the studio. The food they serve has tales to tell from generations before, keeping alive the culinary customs of South Africa. Jan’s quest to gather and pass on this old culinary heritage has ensured the history of South African flavors continues to exist.
And the path has stretched much further for Jan Hendrik than just into his kitchen. He is a keen supporter of sustainability and conservation. Through such endeavors he’s managed to engage with the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) on the topic of waste reduction in food and beverage industries.
Alongside his cooking undertakings, Jan gets included with activities like Taste of Game, advancing game meat as a feasible protein source and reinforcing the African untamed life economy. Sustainability is at the core of everything Jan Hendrik does and speaks. The JAN brand is built on three pillars: eco-consciousness, ethical food and drink, and social and societal progress. These are the principles he applies to his food, his work as an artist, and to life itself.
But for this WWF ambassador, he does with the help of some team and an organization that have the same vision as his in mind for making this world a better place. Today, more than ever, it’s time for change and Jan’s passionate dedication to changing the world using his culinary creativity and protecting our environment is just downright inspiring.
And as we celebrate World Food Day, let’s lift a glass in honor of Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen — a food maestro, a protector of the environment, and a keeper of Southern African culinary history. His passion and commitment may serve as an inspiration for us all, to help create positive change for our world in our own way, one meal at a time.