A Chat with Chef Jean Delport
Jean Delport at Benguela on Main is a true talent, consistently works with various local and seasonal flavours and brings them together expertly on the plate. We caught up with him and found out what makes him tick.
Crush: Can you tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a chef and how you came to be in Somerset West?
Jean: I’m a very easy going person, but when the pressure is on, the kitchen becomes my playground. I’ve always loved working in the winelands and the scenery is something you don’t see in many other places in the world. An exciting opportunity arose to open up a restaurant in Somerset West, where we could access all the dynamics of our local area.
Crush: Can you tell us about your personal food philosophy and how this is translated on the menu at Benguela on Main…
Jean: My idea and style is to keep the hero of the dish the main attraction and not to over complicate the dish with too many flavours. We always try to stick to our classic old French and English roots. We love to work with fresh, local and indigenous ingredients – adding a creative, modern twist wherever we can.
Crush: We were blown away by the food we enjoyed, course after course, where do you draw inspiration from?
Jean: Haha (blush) thanks very much. My inspiration can come from many things. Lying awake in bed and crunching ideas or walks around the area very quickly get the juices flowing. I have a strong team that are always pushing out ideas and together we really bring out the best in each other.
Crush: The style of Benguela is glitzy and celebratory, how does your food emulate this feel?
Jean: I’m quite lucky with our design as it can take our food in two directions – really classic or really modern. I feel it ties in perfectly whichever way we go, simply showcasing our love for food and flavour.
Crush: Food trends are moving towards heroing ingredients through simplicity, does this impact on how you put a fine dining menu together?
Jean: Definitely! We still stick to our basics and do what we do best but the menu thought process changes a lot. We always aim for a balanced menu that has many cascading levels and spikes, starting with a slow build up to mains and then toning down for a subtle but amazing ending (fingers crossed).
Crush: As a chef it must be tough to eat out without being critical – do you have a favourite spot that you go to?
Jean: I always enjoy food for what it is. I have a few spots that I love to visit, the Hoghouse Brewing Company in Ndebeni being one. But a stop at the parents never disappoints.
Crush: Summer is well on its way; do you have a summer dish that you cook at home for a Sunday braai that is a crowd pleaser?
Jean: There is a special salad that is always a firm favourite which the Mrs goes mad over. No secrets given away but it starts off with fresh garden peas, crispy bacon and aioli… sssshhhh!
Crush: If you won the lottery today, would you carry on cooking or would you retire and kick back?
Jean: I would definitely carry on cooking. It’s my true love and doesn’t keep me away from doing anything else. What would I fill the void with?
Crush: So you won the lottery, where do you jet off to eat first?
Jean: I have two places with the most amazing chefs that I feel I can relate to that I have to eat at in the near future. On top of my list is 11 Madison Park with Daniel Humm in New York and the other is Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham.
Crush: You’re on a reality TV show and you get given the following ingredients – lamb, avocado, Brussels sprouts, dark chocolate, limes, cloves and fresh coriander – in a challenge, to create a dish from. (pantry ingredients such as milk, cream, butter, flour, sugar are included) What do you cook?
Jean: Assuming it is a timed challenge, we would make something of ‘layered salad’ the Benguela way. This is how we will roll.
Avocados, diced into small cubes
Rack of lamb, fat removed and rendered until crispy
Brussels sprouts, pull outer leaves off, keep the hearts and shells, blanch
Dark chocolate, grated – let’s nibble!
Limes, zest and segmented
Whole cloves, freshly ground for dusting
Fresh coriander, picked apart nice and small
Tin of cannellini beans, drained, rinsed and marinated in quick mix
We would start at the base making a savoury soil using the dark chocolate and a small amount of the lime zest and the clove. We would lay a few marinated beans and blanched Brussel hearts on the bed of soil. We would mix the avocado cubes with the lime segments and olive oil and lay the avo on top of the beans. Then a layer of the crispy lamb fat. We would top off the salad with the Brussel sprout shells and coriander and finish with a light dusting of lime zest and clove powder.
Drink at the end of shift? A good whisky.
Food you dislike? Green peppers.
Career hero? Marco Pierre White
Read more about our fabulous meal at Benguela on Main HERE.