My introduction to Margot Janse came some 16 years back, from a magazine article. She and Richard Carstens, a former executive chef at Hartford House in Mooi River, were featured in separate issues, the pages of which I tore out to file. I was reading avidly, looking for culinary inspiration. In those days, I was focussed on my career. My knowledge of top restaurants and celebrity chefs was limited but, when job searching, Richard’s name and an opportunity at Hartford House came up – and that secured the position I held for about 12 years. My philosophy of everything happening for a reason was confirmed because I believe one of the main reasons I took the job was because, out of the many articles I had read, the piece on Richard caught my eye - but let’s remember the other article I tore out.
Could it have been the purple-flowered tree (I don’t remember the species!) that caught my eye? Perhaps. But, after reading up about Margot I set my focus – I was inspired. I was just 25 years old when the Hartford House restaurant achieved a Top 10 Dine Award. Anna Trapido was the main judge – and this was my introduction to the country’s top chefs. I felt honoured and privileged to be under the same roof as these culinary greats – cast your eye on the accompanying photograph.
As my exposure grew one would think my confidence would follow but I was all shakes on the day I met Margot. I was - and still am - in awe of her and all she has achieved.
On that day of the awards someone mentioned that it wouldn’t be a good idea to visit the winning restaurants because we, the chefs, were all celebrating at Aubergine in Cape Town. “I disagree,” said Margot with poise. “My team is so well trained that I feel very confident sitting here today. I know my guests will be appropriately and well treated.” She was so confident of her team members that she had no problem leaving her restaurant in their hands. This comment has lived with me, and since getting to know Margot on a personal level, I have been fortunate to glean from her experiences and I have eaten at her restaurant many times.
My last meal with Margot, at Le Quartier Français, was when I was an EatOut judge. Yes – me… I still cannot get over the opportunities that have come my way. I, often, still feel like that 25-year-old looking up at these gifted, culinary celebrities. When judging, I was always careful not to have an extra sip of wine. But in this case, it was such a relaxed, professional dining experience that I might have had a glass too many!
Just before I left Hartford House, Margot made the journey from Franschhoek all the way to Mooi River to experience my culinary ability. It was her first visit to the restaurant. For this I was most grateful so, when she told me she was leaving, I hoped to join her for a last meal but, alas, time has let me down.
I’m so happy with my chosen career for many reasons but most of all for the inspirational, creative and worthy people it has brought into my life.
I wish Margot Janse, my good friend and still my role model, all the very best with whatever the future brings. And more than anything, I hope my students at Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine get the opportunity to work alongside her in the not-too distant future. What a privilege that would be.