A Decade on 12 Rue Lascaris and the Evolution of JAN
This street. The stories it could tell. The first time I turned a corner onto Rue Lascaris, I was still working as a chef on a yacht off the coast of Monaco. I had a few days off and decided to take a stroll through the streets of Nice. At the time, the street was the Vieux Port neighbourhood’s go-to vehicle repair area – not at all the vibrant hub of eateries it is now – but looking back, I realise that fate had intervened that day and tasked me with shaking things up a bit. Back then, I was still reading signage out loud to myself to practice my French. As I walked up to the shopfront of an abandoned motorcycle repair shop, my eyes caught the words Restaurant possible printed on a sign in the window. I had no idea what the next 10 years had in store for me.
I looked around Rue Lascaris. Had anyone else seen this? Quaint, I thought. Typically French. The way the late afternoon sunlight caught the gritty windows, I could almost see a Vermeer still life materialise on the inside. The rich, saturated colours of a plate of fruit emerged from the darkness. I saw flowers, tables chairs, and then, people. Much of the vision I saw before me that day transformed that industrial space into what, just a few months later, would become Restaurant JAN, and so give birth to the JAN brand…
THE BIRTH OF JAN
JAN opened its doors on 27 September 2013. I don’t mind admitting that opening night was pandemonium. So many things went wrong. But every time I feel overwhelmed by the launch of something new these days, I think back on that night and remind myself, “If you could do that, you can do anything!”
That same year, I published my first cookbook, The French Affair, a collection of recipes from my childhood that really shaped my culinary philosophy as a chef. From the moment JAN saw the light of day, the food I grew up with became a cornerstone of my lifelong culinary philosophy.
2014 – 2015
The success of my first cookbook revealed an appetite for more, and it became clear that – in amongst the crazy hours I was putting into JAN – that if I kept going, I could realise my slash generation dream of being both a chef and publisher. I started working on my follow-up cookbook, JAN, A Breath of French Air, which became a tribute to the dishes we were serving at Restaurant JAN.
THE YEAR EVERYTHING CHANGED
It never occurred to me – to any of us, for that matter – that JAN stood a chance of being awarded a Michelin star. Especially not in France, the heart of Michelin territory. When I received that call from the man at the Michelin Guide that cold February morning, I registered only a few words, but got the gist of it. I needed a drink, and all I had on hand was a cheap bottle of vodka! My life would never be the same again and I knew it. I think in a moment like that, most chefs understand why some hesitate to embrace their star status.
Chefs who have surrendered their stars: Joël Robuchon (1996), Alain Senderens (2005), Alain Westermann (2006), Olivier Roellinger (2008).
Over the next three years, JAN became the toast of the Côte d’Azur; and something that took me by surprise, a source of national pride for South Africa. That star opened so many doors, and I am still so incredibly thankful for what it has allowed me to do over the last 10 years.
In September 2017, exactly four years after establishing the restaurant, the space directly across the street from JAN became available, and we seized the opportunity immediately. Amplifying the experience of dining at JAN, this new space – at first a private dining room – would become so much more than additional floor space, it added another dimension to the brand. I decided to call it MARIA after my grandmother, who we knew as Ouma Hessie in my family and who had a huge influence on me as a chef, but as it turned out, was also the name of Jan van Riebeeck’s wife. One of the things I am most grateful for is that my ouma could be there for the launch MARIA, which introduced a light, elegant, and feminine aesthetic to the JAN brand.
2018 – 2019
IN THE MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
By the end of 2017, I had gathered a small band of creatives in Cape Town with whom I would embark on one of the most fulfilling journeys of my career. We launched JAN the Journal, our biannual food and lifestyle publication, in 2018, which would come to narrate the JAN journey in a series of stories and recipes, chronicling the story of Restaurant JAN in almost every issue.
In July of that same year, we launched JAN Innovation Studio in Cape Town, a creative base from which my growing team of content creators and chefs could develop recipes and document what we were doing in the Journal and on Janonline.com, which has become an archive of our work ever since. It also became my first homebase where I could host bespoke dinners and masterclasses, extending the JAN experience to South Africa.
At the same time, Planète Chefs – a famous TV show in France – came knocking on my door, asking to capture the JAN journey, which they did. It seemed wrong not to capture it on home turf, and so after crossing paths with the formidable South African TV producer Carien Loubser, we began production on my very first television show for VIA. The show remains one of my proudest moments, and in 2019, won a SAFTA award!
Vogue France selects JAN as one of their top 10 restaurants on the Riviera.
What a year! The moment it became clear that France would be going into a hard lockdown for the foreseeable future, I hopped onto the last plane back to South Africa. While JAN went into hibernation for nine months, I spent lockdown in the town of Paternoster. I felt incredibly blessed with the team I had. We pulled together, knuckled down, and somehow managed to grow the JAN brand during one of the most difficult times the world has had to face in decades.
We completed Journal 5 – an issue dedicated to the culture and cuisine of France, but that also paid tribute to South Africa and its kindness to us during this time – hosted dinners at the Studio from behind masks when hard lockdown lifted. All the while, construction had started on the biggest leap in my career…
Thanks to the aid the French government extended to restaurants during the 2020 lockdown, most restaurants – including Restaurant JAN – were able to survive the financial impact of the pandemic.
Since the first Journal, we had alluded to the JAN brand’s special connection to the Kalahari, which was on the brink of revealing itself. While the world was in lockdown, a small team of architects, draftsmen, project managers and construction workers descended on a remote little farmhouse located at Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa’s largest private game reserve. For the first time, the JAN experience would not just extend to South Africa, but take on an entirely new personality. The family was growing, and about to welcome a little brother.
The irony of the name Klein JAN, launched in April 2021, is not lost on me. It’s anything but little. I’ve admitted in the past to feeling intimidated by Klein JAN’s gravity. It’s not easy living up to the beauty of this place, not to mention the challenge of operating a world-class restaurant in its arid expanse. But no matter how I looked at it, Klein JAN was always going to be its own thing. It would never live in JAN’s shadow, nor would it overshadow JAN. The two are so very different, but somewhere in their fibres, they share a very strong bond.
Later that year, inspired by the elegance and old-world charm of traditional fine dining, I launched my JAN Homeware collection with a range of gold-rimmed dinnerware also used at JAN and Klein JAN, a collection that has since grown to reflect the spirit of JAN, as well as the Klein JAN Cookbook, inspired by the cuisine and hospitality of the Kalahari.
As spectacular as Klein JAN is, to some, it’s just about as accessible as JAN in Nice. When we opened bookings for JAN Franschhoek in September 2022, the first three months sold out in less than 24 hours. For the first time, we had a JAN experience just an hour from Cape Town. Like her older brothers JAN and Klein JAN, JAN Franschhoek had her own personality. She’s a boeremeisie, through and through, and gave us the opportunity to explore South African heritage cuisine in a very literal way – with very few bells and whistles.
Both Restaurant JAN and Klein JAN joined the ranks of the Discovery World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2022.
JAN MET ‘N PLAN
With Franschhoek in her second season and Klein JAN firmly established as one of the world’s most unique and remote restaurants – and JAN ever the apple of my eye – the future is full of optimism. Yes, there’s a plan. There always is. But if there’s one thing JAN has always excelled at since it first came into the world on 27 September 2013, it’s the element of surprise.