A self-confessed foodie at the age of 15, Jean Delport began his career cooking for friends and family before studying at the prestigious Zevenwacht Chef School in Cape Town. Jean has honed his career in award-winning restaurants in South Africa and is now Executive Chef at Restaurant Interlude at Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, in West Sussex.
Describe your cooking style and what your key influences have been?
My cooking style is predominantly classic French and English with a modern twist. I love to use my South African heritage and influences in my cooking too.
What do you consider your biggest achievement as a chef so far?
Moving to the UK from South Africa in 2018 after being invited to open Restaurant Interlude at Leonardslee and having to adapt to the lifestyle and working here was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done. It was a massive learning curve for me but also such a fun journey and getting a Michelin-star along the way was a huge bonus! I’m also very proud of being only the second-ever South African chef to have been awarded a star.
Who has been pivotal to your training, improvement and growth as a chef?
My first head chef, Dan Evans, was a big influence in my growth at the start of my career. Dan is an English chef who had settled down in South Africa. He had worked in the peak 1980’s Soho under British self-taught chef, Alastair Little. Dan showed me what true passion was for being a chef, the art of short form menus that would change daily and how to get the best out of local, seasonal produce. The second chef that greatly changed my outlook during my career was the acclaimed chef John Shuttleworth – he introduced me to fine dining and really trained me to have a keen eye for detail in food. This changed the way I wanted to cook forever.
Tell us about Restaurant Interlude, the food and the philosophy behind it?
The idea behind the entire experience of Restaurant Interlude from start to finish is to showcase our estate at Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens through the tasting menus of up to 21 courses. Throughout the meal, we take our guests across the estate showcasing the local, seasonal produce we have foraged from our 240-acre gardens. Every course has something found on the estate, whether that’s honey from bees, eggs from hens, pork from pigs and a variety of other ingredients either foraged or purposely grown on the estate. We source our produce as locally as possible and have developed great relationships with local farmers and producers, occasionally doing specially curated projects together. We like to take our guests on a culinary journey showcasing what we do, how we do it, and where our inspiration comes from during the dining experience at Restaurant Interlude, and that’s what I think makes it so special.
What is exciting you at the moment in food?
In terms of the work we’re doing at Restaurant Interlude, my team and I are very much excited about creating our own style as we become more confident and comfortable in what we do and how we do it well. Local, seasonal ingredients foraged from the estate combined with our South African heritage is what I believe to be key to our success.
How do you create new dishes?
It comes from many forms, but normally a particular flavour or technique gets imbedded and the process starts and grows from there. I like to see where that idea fits and adapt it to fill that space in the menu. The process can sometimes take weeks, or sometimes it works almost instantly.
Its forever changing.
What do you love about your job?
I love that no day is the same and that I’m constantly learning and being challenged, as
this is what makes you grow and improve. I feel blessed that I get to express myself and my South African heritage through my cooking.
What are your current goals on a personal and work level?
Current goals include growing the name of Restaurant Interlude as much as possible and continuing to raise awareness of the amazing work we do here, whilst of course, enhancing and producing one of the best dining experiences the UK has to offer where my team and I can showcase our passion and talent. We are working hard at growing and upskilling our passionate and dedicated team, which should keep us busy for a while.
Why is hospitality a great industry to work in?
Hospitality is great to work in as it’s so vast and very welcoming to anyone that joins it. Working in hospitality, you get to meet such interesting people from all aspects of the business and from all walks of life, and the experiences you gain from working with these people is invaluable and something you can take across the world with you. What I love the most about the hospitality industry is that its constantly adapting and willing to mould itself to whatever issues are thrown its way – a true testament of character of a resilient industry.
What three things would you recommend young chefs doing and practising in order to improve?
Read, read and read some more! You can never learn enough.