Home' InDaily : May 28th 2010 Contents www.independentweekly.com.au
May 28 - June 3, 2010
The Independent Weekly
Ann Oliver email@example.com
Having been among the first
really big wave of female
chefs in Australia in the
80s, I look at the S. Pellegrino top
100 restaurants in the world and
wonder: Where are the women?
Margot Janse, executive chef of Le
Quartier Fran ais in South Africa,
is one of only three stand-alone
female chefs in the list. At number
31, she is 20 places in front of the
nearest female contender, Annie
Pic made history in 2007 when
she became the first female chef
to win three Michelin stars.
Her restaurant is the signature
restaurant of her family s historic
hotel in Valence, which is between
Paris and Marseilles.
The next stand-alone female is
Carme Ruscalleda from Restaurant
Sant Pau in Spain, who took 68th
While Elena Arzak, at number
nine, is widely believed to have been
responsible for the revived reputa-
tion of her family restaurant Arzak
in San Sebastian, Spain, she still
shares the head chef position with
her father, Juan Mari Arzak.
Janse s 31st place is a remarkable
achievement and with the global
publicity and accolades come
the expectations on which great
chefs thrive because it pushes
them harder, but it can also bring
unreasonable dining expectations
that are impossible to fulfill.
When Marian Clarkin inter-
viewed Spanish chef Ferran Adri
in Melbourne in October 2008, he
was frank about the expectations of
diners and pointed out that being
number one didn t necessarily
mean everyone who ate at his
famous elBulli restaurant adored
its food. He wisely acknowledged
that every diner s appreciation of
the overall dining experience is
For Margot Janse to achieve a
rise of six places is further evidence
of Janse s stability as a chef.
The top 100 is an interesting
mix that encompasses almost
every philosophy and style of
cooking. The molecular exponents
are represented and applauded,
with the elBulli team having been
number one for two years. It has led
the wave of modern cooking and
about 20 per cent of the top 100 have
adopted its culinary approach.
What is especially good about the
S. Pellegrino list is that it does not
get stuck on a single style. Chefs
obsessed with produce, organics
and regionality are equally well
represented across the board.
This is one of the most important
differences between the S.
Pellegrino awards and Michelin
Although Michelin is broadening
its scope, the S. Pellegrino judges
appear to place more emphasis
on the food and simpler but still
exquisite modern decors, such
as that of Copenhagen s Noma,
which is number one this year.
Until recently, the idea of a
Michelin-starred restaurant not
having tablecloths would have been
unthinkable but, because of the
success of the S. Pellegrino awards,
Michelin judges have been forced
to slightly modify their criteria and
look further afield.
Le Quartier Fran ais offers
absolute luxury and is a member
of the prestigious Relais Chateaux
group. Janse s restaurant has kept
the focus on the food -- it is regional,
local and seasonal.
Born and educated in Holland
as an actress, Janse was 20 when
she fell in love with an exiled South
African journalist and went with
him to Zimbabwe. They were finally
allowed into South Africa to cover
Mandela s release.
"We were there when Nelson
Mandela was released and some of
my photographs were published
with my then-partner s stories,"
"It was a very exciting time in
South Africa; everything was so
full of promise and hope, but South
Africa had so much catching up
to do in terms of being up there
with the rest of the world. As a
trained actor, I had some vague
idea about starting a puppet
theatre and somehow I just fell into
learning about photography at a
tiny school. When a senior lecturer
left, the job was broken into four
placements and for a while that
was my life. From that tiny school
came photographers that are now
internationally famous, but I just
knew it wasn t what I really wanted
At 23, Janse approached
highly respected Johannesburg
restaurateur Ciro Molinaro for a
traineeship. Molinaro encouraged
her to apply her creative ability
to her plating, while at the same
time pushing her through long,
hard kitchen hours, teaching her
the chemistry of food and the work
ethic it takes to get to the top.
"It was too far to go home during
the split shifts and I started to play
with food in my break," explains
"Molinaro was marvellous. He
would look at what I had done and
say: Fine, let s put it on the menu
or What if you changed this . He
was just unbelievably encourag-
In 1995, Janse began working at
Le Quartier Fran ais and, shortly
afterwards, she was asked her to
take over as executive chef. During
the 14 years since then, her reputa-
tion has continued to rise, along
with that of Le Quartier Fran ais.
"Susan Huxter, owner of the
Quartier Fran ais for 21 years this
year, is an inspiring individual,"
"She is always challenging me to
find better ways of doing things, but
at the same time she is willing to
invest in us seeing the world outside
of Le Quartier Fran ais. We travel
Huxter and Janse travelled to
Scandanavia to eat at Noma just
four days after it had been named
the number-one restaurant.
"It was amazing, completely
unbelievable and in many ways
unexpected," Janse says.
"We just loved it! They were so
nice and so humble about their
Signature dishes are carefully
avoided at the Tasting Room, her
"We are always working on new
dishes, and don t want to get stuck
with dishes that we no longer have
enthusiasm for. Making the same
thing year in year, year out is not
my style; I like new things and my
kitchen is always open to change,
with new and better dishes."
Janse says being born and
educated in Europe has given her
"I came here at the birth of
democracy in this country. Twenty
years ago, South Africa was stuck in
its own bubble," she says.
"It took a long while for the
country to shake off its shame and
with that came a pride that has
seen an enormous burst of creative
energy in the last four to five years.
"Architecture, the arts, innova-
tion, design and, of course, food
and wine and tourism -- there is a
returned national pride that is like
a bud bursting.
"It has been very exciting. Most
exciting is that people don t feel
held back, they feel it is possible to
succeed and they are much more
willing to take a chance, risk a
The full Interview with Margot
Janse is at www.galaxyguides.com
Queen of the kitchen
Janse s restaurant
has kept the focus on
the food -- it is regional,
local and seasonal.
Margot Janse and her award-winning
Tasting Room restaurant (right).
Photos: Le Quartier Fran ais
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