A Look at Women Who Inspire Us
Starting from a chef trainee and working her way up the kitchen ranks to become Group Executive Chef at JAN Group under the direction of Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, Antro Davel’s journey is quite remarkable. Her culinary prowess is something to behold, and she is a true testament to how far women have come in the culinary industry. This week, we caught up with her about some of the inspirational women that influenced her career.
Growing up on a small farm in Mpumalanga, Antro remembers there was always freshly baked bread, beskuit, preserved fruits and jams in both her mother and grandmother’s kitchen. This set the scene for Antro to realise at an early age that she thought of food differently to many others – and the rest was history.
Antro has worked in many kitchens throughout her career, but while deep in thought about a dish coming together in front of her, three prominent figures immediately come to mind when her culinary daydreaming is interrupted by the question: “Who inspired you?”
According to Antro, the learnings that she received while working in Dutch chef Margot Janse’s kitchen will stay with her for the rest of her life.
“I remember the first day meeting her. She stood tall in so many ways. I shook her hand for about ten seconds too long. She had grace in the kitchen, and I think she is an absolute superpower – it felt like she could see what was missing in a dish before even tasting it.”
Recently, Antro had the privilege of serving Margot at JAN Franschhoek, ten years since last working with her. For Antro, it was an exhilarating day leading up to Margot’s arrival.
“Margot opened a world for me. A world in which I see food differently. She gave me an opportunity even when I had no fine dining experience.”
According to Antro, walking into chef Chantel Dartnall’s kitchen at Restaurant Mosaic for the first time felt like walking into a different world surrounded by a “castle, giraffes and art”. According to Antro, the absence of modern kitchen gadgets didn’t hinder the magic that was created in this small kitchen during her time there.
For Antro, chef Chantel is a culinary genius, known for her ability to create art on a plate while simultaneously tantalising the taste buds with mesmerizing flavours.
“I have always been a dreamer, and here, it was encouraged. I fell in love with pastry, even though that was never my plan. And even though I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, she made me believe in myself.
According to Antro, Chantel taught her how to be fearless in the kitchen and to appreciate the little things in life. “Yes her accolades exceed her, but it was more than that. For me, she will always be remembered as the person who took the time to look at the moon, find inspiration from nature, and celebrate its magic by making a dish from the little things it has to offer – even fiddleheads.”
STEPHANIE (JACK RABBIT) CERONIO
“The engineer turned chocolatier – how do I start.”
When first visiting Stephanie’s chocolate studio, Antro recalls it being a small space in a garage coated in chocolate with cookbooks colour-coordinated and lined up against the wall. “I knew right away we would become great friends.” Ever since Stephanie has opened a beautiful shop in Amsterdam and is considered one of the best chocolatiers in the world.
“She delivered chocolate bonbons to Mosaic every week, and this was a moment I couldn’t wait for each week.”
Antro says that not only did Stephanie share some of her chocolate secrets with her but inspired her in so many ways.
“I could phone her at 2 am with questions on how to use the compressor to spray my chocolate leaves, and it would turn into a technical geeky conversation about the wonders of chocolate.”
THE NEXT CHAPTER
Working with Jan Hendrik has taught Antro a variety of ways of using whole ingredients. For her, respecting what mother nature offers is vital, and she finds inspiration from it in its totality. Being from the same neck of the woods as Jan Hendrik, Antro says she admires how Jan Hendrik treats and respects natural ingredients in the kitchen. “Jan Hendrik has a sustainable mindset about food and ingredients. Not only does he trust his gut when it comes to ingredients, but he is also completely against wastage, not from a cost perspective…
“Jan Hendrik’s perspective of something as simple as an onion is that it takes six to eight months to grow, and therefore should be used in its entirety – it is this concept that he instils in the minds of all of his kitchen staff and I respect that tremendously.”