MUSINGS ON THE CUSTOM OF WASHING OUR HANDS
The way in which certain customs move in and out of our lives like the tide is endlessly fascinating. But whenever they enter our lives again, we wonder how we lived without them. In a world where we so easily grab lunch on the go or graze whenever we’re hungry – deprived of our ritual of gathering around a table to break bread – we somehow unlearnt our age-old custom of washing our hands before a meal.
The act of cleansing our hands has been a rite of passage since biblical times – practised throughout the Judeo-Christian and Islamic world for millennia – in preparation for the act of eating. While cleanliness as a state of godliness has been the driving ideology behind the tradition, the ritual also creates an opportunity to reflect on the bounties in one’s life and to give thanks. Cleanliness, then, also becomes an act of respect for the one who prepared the meal.
Around 2016, the same year that Restaurant JAN was awarded its first Michelin star, we introduced a handwashing ritual to the experience as our guests arrived. There was something deliciously old-fashioned about it that reminded me of the way my grandparents used to live.
As far as I knew, no other restaurant in France was doing it at the time, but to me, it was a way of transporting our guests to the world of my heritage – one which they would have found familiar, as our European ancestors lived by similar customs. Being greeted by this ritual upon arrival became a port of call of sorts that rather than draw attention to our differences as a culture, reminded them that we are much the same.
As the seasons change, we make minor tweaks to the fragrance and temperature of the water; from a gentle lavender, buchu and cassis handwash in cold water during the summer months, we switch to a lukewarm wash infused with potpourri rose petals and rooibos for our autumn guests.
Since then, this ritual has become so ingrained in the JAN experience – and an anchor point for our guests as they arrive – that it has become a rite of passage at both the Innovation Studio and at Klein JAN, where we infuse the water with locally grown herbs and fragrances. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always found solace in my heritage. The ways of the past might, at times, feel strange in our modern world, but they come with the kind of wisdom that remains untouched by the passing of time.