Project Runway host Heidi Klum is famous for saying, “One day you’re in, and the next day you are out.”
When British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal blew the socks off the world with his exploration of food science and molecular gastronomy, we cheered. After all, we are all suckers for a good old trend, but they don’t belong in the kitchen, says Stellenbosch chef Andrew Jordaan (49).
And while he may appreciate the cheffing skills that go into molecular gastronomy, he is happy that the hype is over. Finally, chefs can start cooking good honest food without the gimmicks again.
Trends don’t belong in the kitchen, says Jordaan (49).
His culinary journey began nearly 30 years ago in the epicentre of South African fine dining, the Cape Winelands. Today, he creates food magic at Greengate at Night in Stellenbosch.
He travelled the world from kitchen to kitchen, working his way up from apprentice chef to executive.
Jordaan spent 12 years in the United Kingdom, doing stints at Sir Terence Conran’s restaurants Mezzo and Bluebird Garage and 101 in Knightsbridge.
In 2014, he joined the WildPeacock emporium in Stellenbosch as an executive chef. He was fresh from London. When other chefs went nuts, catching up with trends, Jordaan patiently watched and continued cooking simply.
“Food is best experienced in its purest form, in its healthiest form when it is cooked properly.”
Today, the seasoned chef runs a private chef business he calls AKJ catering. They specialise in producing healthy meals that are calorie-controlled for people who are struggling with weight and looking to make dietary changes.
“My emphasis is on healthy, clean food; food that is properly sourced. I try and get away from all the products that are packed with preservatives and hormones. It is my priority now to give people food with the least amount of chemicals and hormones.”
Noluthando Ngcakani: When did your journey begin?
Andrew Jordaan: I went to the Cape Town Hotel School in Granger Bay in 1991 to study hotel management, but then decided to become a chef. My first chef job was in a small restaurant called Ross. In those days, it was quite a well-known, top restaurant. It was the first fine dining restaurant in Stellenbosch.
“Young chefs, shut your mouth and listen. get a good mentor who will take care of you.”
Andrew, you have accumulated 30 years in the culinary industry. Did you ever imagine you would cook before you entered the industry?
I kind of fell into it. It was an obvious thing in the hospitality industry, but cheffing was never something I thought would be my field. Sometimes things happen by accident. I started working in top restaurants and went overseas for about 15 years.
Those days, a career in cheffing was more about doing apprenticeships in kitchens, working yourself to the top. These days, everybody has got to go to college to get a pastry qualification. I did all my formal training in London. Start from the bottom and work yourself to the top.
ON Molecular cooking: “I understand there are skills involved, but I never agreed with adding stabilisers and gums to food.”
Thirty years is almost a lifetime, right? Working in a sector nearly decimated by a global pandemic, do you ever think of hanging up your toque?
You do. But you roll with the times and re-evaluate your goals. When I was younger, you wanted to be like (the British chefs, restaurateurs and TV personalities) Gordon Ramsay or Marco Pierre White, and work in crazy kitchens.
My focus has completely changed. What I am interested in now, is food that is clean, made with quality ingredients as they are meant to be used. Not making funny gels or foams or clouds with smoking ice.
I am much more interested in produce that comes from sustainable farming. One’s ambitions and what one does in the industry changes for better or worse.
So, you managed to steer clear of the molecular cooking bug?
My inspiration came from traveling a lot in England and (other parts of) Europe and working in different places; working with different cultures. You just learn basic skills and stick to them.
A big change came for me when the molecular cooking wave hit. I just never agreed with it. I understand there are skills involved to do it, but I never agreed with adding stabilisers and gums to food.
I never wanted to take organic carrots, blended, add some stabilisers to it to make it into a bubble shape. It is not what food was about for me. Food is best experienced in its purest form; in its healthiest form when it is cooked properly.
I am probably old fashioned in that sense, but new cooking trends come and go.
How has food culture changed in the face of a pandemic?
People have moved away from molecular gastronomy, for one. But yes, food has always been the best medicine when you eat proper whole foods. Covid-19 showed us the importance of eating the right foods to better our chances against the virus.
“I like simple stuff where you do not lose the quality of the product. Nothing crazy like a bacon and egg ice cream.”
With this terrible crisis, I firmly believe now that if you concentrate more on how you love and nurture your body, boost that immune system, there is a lesser chance of contracting the virus.
A simple web search will tell you Covid-19 is now prevalent in young people and that is purely because of bad diet. Exercise helps, but the quality of food is going to dictate how healthy you are going to be.
Am I the healthiest person in the world? No, but I try to be. There is no quick fix. Every day, you try to be healthier than you were yesterday. You will see a massive difference.
What are some major lessons that have left a long-lasting impression on your career?
It sounds awful, but young chefs, “Shut your mouth and listen. It is important that you get good mentors who will take care of you, otherwise you could get lost in this crazy business!”
Travelling opened my mind to all sorts of things. I spent 15 years overseas, worked with different cultures. In a place like London, you find yourself working in a kitchen with Russians and the French. You go to their houses. They make their food and suddenly you are in their country. It just becomes a much wider experience of culture.
Any advice for young chefs and home cooks?
Before money comes passion. We live and breathe the cooking; it is a tough career.
To home cooks: never try something fancy that you have never made in your kitchen for a dinner party. You know, recipes are just a guideline. Play with food, just enjoy it.
And a simple recipe you make in your own kitchen?
I am Afrikaans speaking, so meat, meat, meat. Just make sure it is grass-fed!
You know, it is so funny because people think if you’re a chef you make extravagant food every day. I like stuff from my childhood. You know, a nice roast chicken or skaapboud (leg of lamb).
Sometimes you need a touch of nostalgia.
I like simple stuff where you do not lose the quality of the product. Nothing crazy like a bacon and egg ice cream. It is a big food trend to make food like something else. To deconstruct it. That drives me crazy. I do not want bacon and egg ice cream. I want vanilla or mint. I guess I am old fashioned…