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Le Quartier Français.

Restaurant of a Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux and hotel in a village. South Africa,Franschhoek

Margot Janse

Le Quartier Français Franschhoek 7690

‘My professional career is the mirror image of the dishes I prepare: wilful, magical, without boundaries. I was born in the Netherlands but studied theatre management and photography in Johannesburg in South Africa. At the age of 23, the ‘magic of the kitchen’ beckoned. I was fascinated and enthralled by this work, so much so that I persuaded Ciro Molinaro to train me. He is one of the most highly respected chefs in Johannesburg and taught me the nuts and bolts of the profession and, much more importantly, encouraged me to be creative. In 1995 I felt I was ready and I joined the culinary team at Le Quartier Français as a chef. For the last 18 years, I have been championing a cuisine that is, in many ways, wild. ‘I don't like bland food. I don't like safe food’, that sums up my approach. My dishes are inspired by superb African produce. They are constantly evolving, and bounce off received ideas to produce dishes which are refined yet surprising, unexpected and captivating. I want them to be magical!’

What was your most moving culinary experience?
Without doubt this has to be a very special dinner we held many years ago. That evening, I wanted to make the impossible possible for 60 guests. It was all hands on deck, night and day. We had rented extra ovens. The electricity kept fusing… It was a huge challenge but we did it! At the end of the meal, our guests spontaneously gave us a standing ovation. I was deeply moved by this recognition – my staff had given their all.

The most amusing kitchen incident you ever witnessed?
In September 2000, I spent a three-month internship at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry. This was quite an intimidating experience and the strong American accent didn’t help one bit, quite the opposite… One of the sous chefs asked me to bring him the ‘pastacrap’. I asked him three times to repeat that particular word but was no wiser so I thought that I would probably recognise the thing if I saw it. I had started to rummage in the appropriate cupboard when another sous chef asked me what I was looking for. The ‘pastacrap’, I mumbled. He had no idea what I was talking about. Three attempts later, I finally twigged what was wanted: ‘plastic wrap’. I still laugh when I think of it today.

Your best piece of advice for amateur chefs?
Work with your head down, but with your eyes and ears wide open. Absorb everything like a sponge.

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