Going to a good restaurant these days is essentially dinner and a show. Open-plan kitchens and a new found fascination for the Way of the Chef has become as interesting, and now available to everyone as it has been to me my whole working life. Even though I changed careers from working in the kitchen to photographing it, the underlying passion – watching kitchen life go by – never left me. I can tell you as a result of my work that I have tasted many, many dishes and components of dishes, but I don’t often go out to many different fancy restaurants for fun.
The reason is that in comparison to actually getting to shoot the kitchen in action and have front row seats to the show, simply having the dining experience is boring. In the dining area, I just wait, ogling all the waiters to see if they are carrying my heavenly dish or not. Of course you may have excellent company and drink some wine, but ultimately for me I go for the food and not the conversation, unless it happens to be about the food, and maybe how to photograph it – or how it inspires me to make another dish or reminds me of a dish I once ate (There are a lot of us who do this, I’m sure of it). This is a one-track mind passion.
When a new restaurant opens up in town with an exciting chef at the helm, like this one, Janse & co, I don’t jump in and book a table (maybe I should). I ask the universe sweetly to open up a spot in the fabric of space and time and create a harmonious situation for me to be invited or commissioned by the chef or media to spend a day shooting and making new friends in the kitchen world.
TASTE magazine answered the call with this one and the images shot at Janse & co accompany an article in the magazine on shelves from February 26. I’m so grateful to the universe for always having my back.
This was a wonderful experience for me to shoot Arno Janse van Rensburg and his wife, Liezl, in their kitchen, doing some new and crazy interesting things to hero ingredients. New for me was bladder kelp, unripe and pickled strawberries, and green mangos. It’s also such a joy to see chefs I’ve shot in other restaurants who have moved around and progressed. Junior sous chef Schalk Vlok was that guy this time around as we had met at Boschendal when he and Chef Christiaan Campbell treated me to one of the most beautiful mushroom hunts! Somehow the less cottagey environment suits Schalk better here than down on the farm. The environment is slick and dark and reminds me of a charcoaled Japanese tea house.
I am visiting an artist in his studio, a sculptor in his warehouse, a musician on stage, a yogi in meditation.
The space and food is simple. Simplicity is something quite complicated because ultimately it requires elegant restraint. I have seen many chefs these days pare down the amount of flavour combinations opting instead to hero the ingredients on the plate. This is actually quite inspiring to see as there is more of a confidence in the quality and knowledge of the ingredients, and oneself.
There was a time when things like deep fried rosemary branches were put on a plate for no reason other than trying to be fancy. These last few months I have seen less and less fancy for no reason, and more minimising and focusing, showcasing one bold new technique and two other supporting role flavours, letting the ingredients shine individually. Somehow, this makes the dish fancier.
At Janse & co the rule seems to be 5 ingredients or less… I’m talking Kohlrabi, Fennel, Lemon, Olive Oil and Leek, Beurre Noisette, Smoked Almond, Crème Fraîche.
The evolution of chefs at work holds neverending fascination for me, since a child watching the pass waiting for my food, I have needed to know what they were doing in there. Why? What will I do with this information? I’ll just keep watching and I guess eventually I will find out.