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Meet The Head Chef Of Restaurant Interlude At Leonardslee

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Designed by native South African Chef Jean Delport (only the second SA chef to be awarded a star), Michelin-starred Restaurant Interlude is located in a 19th century Grade II listed Italianate mansion with panoramic views across the estate and beyond

Did you cook a lot growing up?

I only really started cooking at around 15 at home, getting into cookbooks and challenging myself to cook what was cool at the time. My mum had a bad back when I was growing up, so I used to help a lot around the house, which in turn got me into cooking as I used to prepare dinner on most evenings.

When did you decide you wanted to be a chef professionally?

Cooking and messing around at home really pulled me in. I always felt I needed to do something with my hands, to keep constantly busy. Cooking seemed like a great option as I could take it in many different directions and it was constantly challenging. I put my mind to it early on and before I finished school I was set on a career in hospitality.

Jean Preferred
Jean Delport

How different is the food and drink industry in South Africa?

The food and drink scene in South Africa really has come on leaps and bounds in the last 15-20 years, and can really compete on an international stage. We have a massive diversity in South Africa that is very well catered for, and ever growing on trends. So, I would think anyone traveling to South Africa would be in for a real treat when eating out in restaurants. 

How did you come to meet Penny Streeter?

I met Penny through her son Adam Streeter. He was completing a placement at the restaurant I was then working at for a chef diploma he was enrolled in. I became quite friendly with Adam as we had similar interests and got to know him outside of work. The relationship grew from there and I was introduced to Penny when he thought I would be a good fit for a new restaurant venture they were beginning.

How do you look back on your time working for her in South Africa?

Very positively – it was the beginning of the relationship we have and was the base for her giving me my big chance in the UK.

Interlude Restaurant
Restaurant Interlude

Was it an easy decision to come to the UK to launch Restaurant Interlude?

I really needed the correct setting and customer base to cook the food that I cared about and showcase my philosophy in food. When we started talking and planning a move to the UK, it became a no brainer for myself and my wife, and it aligned with one of my dreams to push myself in a European setting.

What did you make of Leonardslee when you first visited?

It was an overgrown garden of Eden with so many hidden treasures. There was a lot of work to do, but you could just see the bags of potential the site had. It was very different to what I knew and grew up around, and I think that made it all the more exciting.

How did you approach the menus at Restaurant Interlude?

I wanted the garden to really guide me on our first menus. My palate was very different to the average UK guest, so I needed to tone it back a bit. As we got more comfortable with what we were doing, we started growing and pushing our roots out further and showcasing the gardens more in unique and innovative ways.

How do you make use of the Leonardslee gardens?

As much as possible without forcing it. It needs to be natural and make sense for the dish. For every course on the menu there is an element from the garden – it may not always be the star on that specific course, but it plays an important part on the dish, enhancing it, showcasing it and showing how diverse our gardens are.

Untraditional Crackers
Untraditional Crackers

Can you sum up your cooking style?

Old French/English cooking with modern techniques using South African inspiration.

If there was one dish that sums you up, what would it be?

I would never want to be defined by one singular dish as we are always evolving. We want to continue to surprise and delight our guests so our dishes are always changing and improving.

What did it mean to you for the restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star?

It meant a lot. It put us on the map and showed us that what we believe in has potential. It transformed our small little restaurant to something we can grow. It’s something that as a kid I would never have thought possible, so it’s an incredible feeling for it to now be a reality.

Does such recognition add a touch more pressure in having to deliver?

I think naturally it always will. We can always be confident on what we do and execute, but it will always be in the back of my mind that we have a certain standard that we have to achieve now day in and day out.

Where would you like to take the dining experience from here?

The dining experience is ever evolving. We have a lot of potential to make us a true destination experience restaurant. The second star is our next natural goal, but ultimately I want to Restaurant Interlude to be a special experience that will be long remembered – not for being different, but being true and unique to itself.

restaurant-interlude.co.uk

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