Jandri Niemand is the head chef of fine dining restaurant Amuse-Bouche, which is part of Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa in Johannesburg. We did a full review and you can read our takes on the hotel, the spa, and the restaurant.
From his first job of waking up at 3 a.m. to carry whole pigs to the supermarkets, to becoming the executive chef of Amuse-Bouche, Chef Jandri Niemand has always been led by flare, passion and drive to conquer and exceed, and to accomplish all sorts of heights.
Born and bred in the Western Cape, he learned to appreciate the smaller things in life like bonfires on the beach and gazing into the horizon during sunsets, all of which fueled his creative imagination. Although his passion was art, going to school for that wasn’t feasible at the time. Instead, he ended up working at Arabella Western Cape Hotel as a storeman where he caught the eye of Executive Chef Thomas Schmid. After six months, he offered Jandri the opportunity to work as a chef. It wasn’t easy, with 18-hour days and senior chefs constantly drilling him, but his perseverance paid off in the form of a bursary to the Swiss Hotel School, arranged by Chef Thomas.
When Chef Thomas moved to Dubai to open the restaurant Switch, he invited Chef Jandri to join him just a few months later. With all expenses paid, this was a no-brainer and over the next two very intense years, Chef Jandri went from working as a sous chef to becoming the head chef at the age of 22.
Upon returning to South Africa, Chef Jandri worked at Rambling Vine, the fine dining restaurant located at Mount Grace Country House & Spa, with Chef Franc Lubbe, who he names as the chef he looks up to. It turns out Chef Jandri is a bit of a bad boy in the kitchen, admitting that he wasn’t always favoured here and often got in trouble for throwing trainees out of the kitchen and butting heads with the other chefs. But it all stemmed from the desire for perfection and wanting more, which is what he got.
Once in Johannesburg, Chef Jandri spent time honing his craft at 54 on Bath and Tinstwalo at Waterfall (now known as Riboville), both 5-star boutique hotels, before landing up at Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa.
Ed. note: some answers have been edited and condensed for clarity
Since a majority of our audience is located in the UAE, can you tell us a bit about your time working at a restaurant in Dubai? (What were some things you had to get used to and was there anything that you took away from the experience and have applied to your cooking/career since?)
Hard work. The opening of Switch was tough but at the same time, a lesson of endurance and a test of just how far my physical and mental strength could be pushed. I knew I had some creativity, but you need much more than just that to make it. As a young chef there was everything to learn and I set my mind to get involved and learn as much as I could.
In your eyes, what does the Amuse-Bouche/Fairlawns brand stand for—what’s the USP?
Global take on cuisine. When looking at the boutique hotel’s design with each room having a different theme of a different destination, my intentions are to create a versatile menu that’s intriguing and different, with flavours from all over the world. When I started here, my first goal was to re-orchestrate the kitchen, to make it my own in other words.
What are some of the pros/cons/differences (if any) between cooking at a hotel restaurant and a standalone restaurant?
Being at Fairlawns Boutique Hotel for about 5 months, I’ve changed all menus and the style and presentation with regards to everything edible. But as we all know, running a hotel runs a bit deeper than that. There are many different outlets and divisions that equally require close attention to detail. Creating, maintaining and managing – all the functions and roles required by a Chef.
With regards to working in restaurants, the attention to detail becomes too familiar and the day to day business more predictable, in my opinion. Working in a boutique hotel (which is my preference), there is still that same attention to detail that goes into any award-winning restaurant but it’s all on a bigger scale. It’s not just Amuse-Bouche that’s the main concern – it’s the entire hotel, being breakfast, terrace, high tea, Into The Woods, conferencing, menus for functions and special media events…lots of rock n’ roll. Every day!
How did you learn your trade? Is there anyone in particular you credit for shaping your career?
Thomas Schmid, the German Executive Chef at Arabelle Western Cape and Spa who recognised potential in me and assisted in my training. He took me with him to Dubai and I worked for him again at Crowne Plaza. I looked up to him and admired his consistency, perseverance, and strength.
After Dubai, I came back to SA and started working at Mount Grace in Magaliesberg where I worked for Chef Franc Lubbe as Sous Chef. It’s here where my zest for cheffing grew more intimate. Chef Franc assisted me with the “emotional flair” that comes with cooking from the heart and feeling limitless. At Mount Grace, at Rambling Vine, we achieved top 10 restaurant status in the country. Phil De Villiers with whom I worked with at 54 on Bath was, and is still, a great inspiration and I had the pleasure of working alongside him for the 3 and half years that I was chef de Cuisine there.
Are there any “oops” moments in your career that you still remember to this day? (Whether as a serious learning lesson or a funny anecdote you like to share at the dinner table)
Well I normally tend to have fall-outs with mostly everyone I’ve ever worked with. I find this to be quite helpful when trying to get to the point instead of beating around the bush. It’s more time effective and great relationships are built from them. A kind of a mutual understanding of what and who I am, I suppose 😉
What gets the creativity flowing when you’re thinking about new dishes or menus?
Do you have a signature dish? Please tell us about it!
54°C sous vide salmon, ponzu, cauliflower purée, crushed peas, Kimchi and pickled radish, kalamansi gel, dashi flakes, candy and neon beetroot.
What ingredients, flavours, or cooking styles are currently influencing you?
We heard that you’re also an abstract artist, and once considered studying interior design. How do these creative extensions play into your day-to-day as a chef?
Creativity comes naturally…it’s about how I feed and nurture it. Taking something and constructing it in chaos, visually and on the palate, well that’s the idea.
What qualities do you look for in your staff?
How do you ensure that BOH and FOH remain seamlessly aligned?
What do you hope to communicate to diners through your food?
Being to the point on the menu and exceeding expectations (and more) when received.
What’s the best meal you’ve had in the world (apart from yours)?
My mom’s cooking by far!
What are some of your favourite restaurants in Johannesburg (or South Africa)?
I enjoy the creativity and flavours from all the local craft and farmers market, The different aromas from savoury to sweet and spicy. Heads up to all of those people that really cook tasty food!
On your days off, where might we find you and what are you likely to be doing?
Spending valuable time with my beautiful fiancée, Amorica and baby girl Ella, talking food with my chef mates. A cold one in the one hand and a braai tong in the other is one of my favourites!
What’s your cooking style when you’re off the clock? Any favourite dishes you like to prepare for family and friends?
Definitely good old heart-warming meals with a little truffle here and there.
One word to describe you as a leader
One word to describe your restaurant
If you could share one piece of advice for aspiring chefs, what would it be?
Nothing comes from nothing!
1 Alma Road, Morningside, Sandton, Johannesburg