They say ‘home is where you make it’, and with a Michelin star for his eponymous restaurant in Nice under his belt, Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen has certainly made it on the coast of the French Riviera. But for the chef, whose food is infused with the flavours of South Africa from buchu to biltong, home is also very much the place where he grew up. ‘Some things remain important to you no matter where you go, and ever since I left beautiful South Africa, the concept of coming home has been one of those things,’ he explains. Jan’s return is an ode to the country in two movements: one bush-side restaurant, Klein JAN, emerging from the dusty plains of the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve; the other, an Innovation Studio, a hub for creativity, design and, crucially, skills development.
A gutted former Victorian townhouse found on Cape Town’s well-trodden Kloof Street, this studio is part development kitchen, part chef’s table and part sustainable rooftop garden – a place where Jan can truly meditate on ingredients inherent to the country. ‘My idea is to share and bring back to the continent what I have gathered and learned from the world and also to take our talent back to Europe to show off with the skilful hospitality we have in South Africa,’ the chef notes. The studio’s kitchen has been purposefully designed around this idea. Washed in white, it’s a veritable blank canvas, banishing distraction so all focus is on the food. In contrast, the Farrow & Ball Hague Blue that’s become a signature hue at his restaurant covers the walls of the interior comprising a private dining space, an office and a library, which will house the largest collection of South African cookbooks. ‘It’s a place where we will be inspired and create from what was passed on through generations,’ he says. It’s here that Jan gets to flex the design muscle that he honed as a magazine stylist and artist in his early career, balancing classic style with touches of modernity.
The experience culminates at the building’s rooftop terrace, which does double duty as both a sustainable garden, feeding directly into the kitchen, and an intimate bar. Stretching from the harbour across to Table Mountain, the view whips over Cape Town’s visual highlights, gearing it to summer soirees as the evenings grow warmer. Quoting author Simon Sinek, Jan explains his vision for the studio. ‘What good is an idea if it remains an idea? Try. Experiment. Iterate. Fail. Try again. Change the world.’ Jan’s goals are lofty: to provide a space that will foster talent and creativity, while celebrating its location and heritage. ‘Put simply, it will be a playground where we are allowed to make mistakes and push our limits to new heights.’
Photographs: Karl Rogers and Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen