A Conversation about Diversified Entrepreneurship with Jan Hendrik Van Der Westhuizen
Three years ago, the JAN brand partnered with RMB Private Bank to explore the link between culinary artistry and innovative wealth management through a variety of stories and culinary masterclasses. Whether more abstract or on the nose, our shared ideas have given birth to a range of innovative dishes and some of the most iconic images published over 10 volumes of JAN the Journal. Moving into the next phase of our partnership, we’re looking to the future, and the diversification of our work together. Recently, RMB joined Jan Hendrik in his kitchen to talk about his initial vision for JAN, his view on celebrity, and his plans for the future of his brand.
The JAN brand spans TV, print, restaurants, branded kitchenware, blogs, books and videos – all linked to your personal brand. How deliberate was this overall branding journey?
My grandmother always used to say I’d put my name on her cooking pots if I could. In a way, that has become a reality! To answer your question, yes, it was deliberate. I think I always admired personal brands for how brave they were. It’s not just a question of sticking your name on something. You have to believe in it. And in the process, you create a culture, a certain lifestyle or ideal that, I hope, makes people’s lives better – that makes them feel just that little bit more special when they bring something of that into their lives. I’ve always loved curating and creating things for that reason.
Do you have any other areas of focus you’d like to move into in the coming years?
Aviation has always been at the top of my list, but sadly, my eyesight was too poor to become a pilot. There are big shifts happening in the JAN brand at the moment. My team in Cape Town and I are moving from our Kloof Street Studio into a bigger space where the JAN experience in the Mother City will transform into nothing you’ve seen before. I’m also exploring a few opportunities abroad that I’m not able to talk about yet, but it’s an unbelievably exciting time. Organically growing the business is one of utmost important to us, and if something does not fit or feel right, we change direction quickly.
If you look at other celebrities – be they chefs or influencers – whose diversified brand journey inspires you, and why?
To be honest, I don’t draw inspiration from celebrity. It’s more about what people do and what they achieve – and the great achievers, in my mind, aren’t pursuing fame. They’re constantly driven by their craft and passions. Saying that, fame does open doors to incredible opportunities, so I’m not against the idea of celebrity. But I certainly don’t study the lives of famous people, unless they’re Chanel or Lagerfeld.
In banking we talk about diversification in terms of assets, do you apply this diversified thinking to your money management journey as well?
I wouldn’t call myself an expert in the field, but I definitely subscribe to diversification. My life is built on it. I was never content being only a chef or only a photographer. Why not both? I’m hugely inspired by the idea of the slash generation; the notion of being more than one thing in your career. Of course, there’s merit to being a master in one field, but that doesn’t apply to everyone. I also feel like the world has changed a great deal over the last generation. We have to be more adaptable, and how we manage our finances is no exception
What can you tell us about your latest Journal? What is the theme and focus and why did you decide on this approach for this particular year?
It’s our tenth issue! We started the Journal during a time when a lot of very well-established print publications were closing down, so we always knew it was a risk. But I think by being ourselves, telling honest stories, and not limiting ourselves by adhering to classic magazine formats, we’ve created a publication that has so far proven to stand the test of time. If you’re going to commit to print, you have to produce something that others can hold in their hands and cherish, not forget about after they’ve “liked” it, or left behind in a waiting room. To me, a publication like the Journal honours creativity in a way that few other mediums manage to do.
Can you single out a recipe from the Journal which you are particularly excited about? And tell us why?
There’s a story in Journal 10 called “Small Fish in a Big Pond”, which is about how every time I return to France, I feel humbled by it. Like I’m more anonymous. For the recipes, I explored classic flavour combinations in a lot more depth, really pushing myself to venture outside my comfort zone. One revelation was that shellfish and vanilla go mind-blowingly well together! It really took me by surprise.
Your JAN RSVP TV show on DStv 147 is another exciting venture for you which has been received with great acclaim. What stood out for your about this journey and which of the dishes has proved the most popular at your restaurant in Nice?
JAN RSVP went in a whole new direction from JAN seasons 1 to 3. Instead of chronicling my journey as a chef, I invited a few select guests to dine with me at this beautiful old heritage building in the Franschhoek Valley. Together, we talked about life, love and the universe while cooking together and sharing a meal around a beautifully set table. Many of my guests were heroes of mine, like Ina Paarman, Brümulda van Rensburg, Deon Meyer and Riaan Cruywagen, so it was hugely thrilling to meet them and to have the opportunity to connect with them in such an intimate way. The dishes in the show haven’t been served at my restaurants – they were created for the show.
You’ve also partnered with Checkers for the JAN Academy. Why did this partnership make sense for your brand and how has this brought your approach to cooking to a bigger South African audience?
I see this as an alignment of brands with shared values and hopes to encourage and inspire more people to learn about the food industry, and ultimately to become innovative entrepreneurs within this space. In addition, I was excited to be able to access a bigger South African audience as well as a larger network of sustainable suppliers through my involvement with Forage and Feast – a range that addresses the themes that have always been close to my heart like provenance, quality and story.
Diversification for you also straddles global borders – being both of Africa and also invested in Europe. How does this amplify your experience of both?
Being the outsider means you always have perspective. Seeing the big picture has always been very important to me, but over and above that, straddling multiple cultures keeps you creative, open-minded and adaptable, which I think is so important, especially now