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South Africa on the Amstel

After a career of 22 years at The Tasting Room in South Africa, Margot Janse, one of our most successful chefs abroad, is back on Dutch soil. There she tells the story of the Netherlands and South Africa in five dishes accompanied by special wines. SAAM, the name of the restaurant on the Amstel, means together in Afrikaans, is a reference to 'South-Africa Amsterdam' and represents a merger of two culinary worlds. “Not fusion, but a cuisine that creates a new world.”
Esther Quelle

Since November, the catering strip on the Amstel has had one restaurant richer and Loetje, Ron Gastrobar Indonesia, Heisa, India Poort and Paardenburg have a new neighbor: SAAM, an initiative of Koen van der Plas and Henk Jan Beltman, former owner of Tony's Chocolonely. The building has a completely glass facade, in which the sunlight reflects the capital villas on the other side of the water. Behind that glass wall awaits an interior designed by Pubblik & Vos that feels warm, partly due to the various South African elements. Before the design agency started work, it traveled through South Africa for a week and a half for inspiration, at the invitation of Koen and Henk Jan - from slick Cape Town to rugged Johannesburg. The vibrancy and colorfulness of the country are reflected in the interior, from the ocher yellow upholstery and local art by Spier Arts Trust from Stellenbosch, which gives political refugees who have been granted asylum in South Africa a chance to express themselves, to the large-format red lamp in the stairwell to the top floor. The rear part of the restaurant, where the open kitchen is located, catches the eye with a glass roof and an elongated handmade chandelier by David Krynauw from Hartbeespoort, a town above Johannesburg – a real showpiece. This is the territory of Margot Janse and her two cooking companions Jasper Hermans (formerly Aan de Poel**, Basiliek*) and Thomas Kooijman (Bar Alt, Mos*).

The story of the Netherlands and South Africa

In May 2021, Koen and Henk Jan were in South Africa for their charity wine No House Wine (one euro per bottle is transferred to the Homeplan foundation to support the poorest people with 'No House', ed.). The wine is produced by Boekenhoutskloof winery, which is also in Franschhoek, so they took the opportunity to visit Margot. “Although I was very busy, we still spent a lot of time together. I took them with me to my charity initiative Isabelo | Feeding Hungry Minds, which provides schoolchildren with a meal. I started the foundation because I couldn't just deal with nice pieces of meat and beets and carrots while children a kilometer away had nothing at all. That is not possible. Children are the future, you cannot send them to school on an empty stomach. I have a good life there, one white privileged life. Deserved it myself, but I also see it as a task to support people who are less fortunate.” Margot started in 2009 with seventy children, to whom she gave a muffin every Friday. And soon also chicken and milk on Tuesday, and a quiche with fish, egg and spinach on Wednesday. Gradually the foundation grew and more and more funds were raised. Isabelo currently provides 1.800 children with daily meals at schools. “It's a drop in the ocean, but a drop.” Meals were not discussed when Koen and Henk Jan were with her. “It was more of an introduction than a brainstorm. We had a great time together and didn't go into much detail about the restaurant. However, the idea of ​​a kitchen with South African influences already existed at that time. The starting point was not what the people want, but the story we want to tell: in short, the story of my Dutch roots in combination with my love for South Africa, broadly speaking the story of the Netherlands and South Africa. There is a deep history behind this. The Dutch had a major influence on the first cuisine in South Africa. The slaves that the VOC took with them from the Malay archipelago ended up in kitchens where they worked with their spices.”

Braaiwurst

In the run-up to the opening of SAAM, Margot had contact with the kitchen staff from behind a screen in Franschhoek. “That was quite strange. I was part of that team, but I wasn't there. I really was a stranger. Didn't understand things either. My kitchen language is English, here it is Dutch with French terms. All the time I ask, 'What are you saying?' Every now and then I also fumble a lot when I explain something, because in my head it all happens in English. The agreement is that I will be here at least two weeks per quarter. But every time I have to figure out where the salt and pepper are again, haha. If guest chef I have experience with that. Only I am not a guest here, this kitchen is also mine. It feels like a strange mix of stranger and in-crowd. Next weekend I will fly back to South Africa. I'm looking forward to seeing my son again, my dogs, my house, the sun... But at the same time I'm also a bit sad: I really feel at home in this team, we work well together, we're doing a lot of digging. in all dishes and see how the ingredients fit together.” Jasper: “We experimented for three months with the herbs and spices that Margot brought with her. Taste, add together, what can we do with it? Like sour fig, or in South African suurvygie: we have made a dressing from the seeds in the flour and it is for the North Sea crab. That is new and inspiring and it makes a dish sour and fresh in a different way.”

Thomas: “We also find it interesting to make the most carnivorous dishes vegetarian. A good example is the eggplant farmer's sausage. To this end, we rounded a long, thin type of eggplant and seasoned and lacquered it in such a way that it is presented like a braai sausage. That could easily become a signature dish. Yesterday we had a table full of people here who were absolutely raving about it. When they left they were still talking about it.” Margot achieved international fame with The Tasting Room, what are the expectations with SAAM? “I have never stood in a kitchen and thought 'how do we do it to get a star or get on that list?' I notice that people in the Netherlands are very concerned about this.” “We are indeed quite secretly working on that,” Jasper admits. “But for us it is more important that the cabin is full, the guests are happy and we enjoy what we do.” “If you do what you believe in, things will eventually fall into place,” Margot lets her experience speak. “The first time Restaurant Magazine with that list of The World's 50 Best Restaurants came, in 2002, I had just interned at The French Laundry in Napa Country, Charlie Trotter's in Chicago and Jean-Georges in New York. Those were defining moments for me, really super special, wonderfully inspiring. When the magazine came out, I was on the same list as the chefs of those renowned restaurants: Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter and Jean-Georges Vongerichten! We were in 41st place. I immediately faxed it to my brother: 'Look at that: I'm on that list.' Suddenly all kinds of people started congratulating us.”

Hoosers and hooters

It also took some searching at SAAM. Especially because it is a bit of a new culture for Margot, after having lived in South Africa for thirty years. “That time shaped me more - who I am, how I approach life - than the twenty years before in the Netherlands. So I have to listen a lot to the chefs. I was here at the beginning of 2022, when they had set up a caviar tasting to see which variety would be good for the SAAM menu. In the car on the way there, I asked: 'Why are we going to taste caviar anyway? The Netherlands, South Africa… I don't know. Does it fit into our story?' We did the tasting: it was very tasty, but we didn't put caviar on the menu. Jasper and Thomas understood my question, but I also understand that I am dealing with a different audience here. In The Tasting Room, 95 percent of the guests were on holiday, traveling, and really came for that experience. We didn't have business dinners. And when the local people came, it was almost always to celebrate something. In that respect I have to adapt here. But at the end of the day, what we do here is really what we want. In the beginning I had already said to Koen and Henk Jan: 'I don't want any more hooters and bells, no frills, everything has to be a little easier.' Because what is it about? That you walk in here - whether you are a guest or staff - and feel comfortable, there is a good atmosphere and everyone can be themselves. And of course hospitality is important - you can also see South African influences - and the food must be good and honest. But not over the top: just a five-course menu. And that really comes across. People leave happy at the end of the evening. And the staff treats each other as if we have been working together for years. As if SAAM has been around much longer.”

MASTERS MAGAZINE #53

Curious about the entire interview? In the spring edition of MASTERS, three entrepreneurs shed light on the future: Raymon Pouwels (GO Sharing), Merel van Helsdingen (Nxt Museum) and Tim van der Wiel (GoSpooky). According to the latter, ever-accelerating technological progress offers enormous opportunities. “There has never been a better time to have a good idea. The technology is in your pocket!” Sports journalist Jaap de Groot outlines the contours of the new playing field of international sport after the resounding success of the World Cup in Qatar. And futurist Adjiedj Bakas also sheds light on the future. According to him, next year will be all about the search for the economy of happiness. “We are not just going to look at what makes us money, but at what makes us happy.” Perhaps this edition will contribute to this, with a look back at MASTERS EXPO, a road trip with the new Range Rover and interviews with horse pope Jan Tops, Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner, chef Margot Janse and visual artist Spencer Tunick.

MASTERS #53