Thirty-one-year old Hennie Jansen van Nieuwenhuizen has taken top honours in the exciting SABC2 cooking competition Proefessioneel, hosted by award-winning celebrity chef Reuben Riffel.
The Pretoria Capsicum Culinary Studio graduate – who was once the manager of a symphony orchestra – saw off 19 other competitors to take the title and picked up prizes worth R135 000 and, most importantly, secured a position in one of the country’s top restaurants.
Van Nieuwenhuizen is now employed full-time at Eight Restaurant at Spier in Stellenbosch under Chef Lorianne Heyns. In fact, Heyns was so impressed with Hennie, that she offered him a job before he was crowned the winner!
He explains why he decided to enter Proefessioneel: “I have a long history of loving the spotlight, the mechanics of any theatre and the performance, as well as a deep-seated need to be creative and the will to win. The hardest moment of the show was waiting for the results, especially when you know that you have been cooking for such big names in the industry. That was really nerveracking.”
But the genial chef has always been brave when it comes to following his passion. After graduating with a music degree, he was involved in the arts before he decided to make a radical career change and enrol at the professional chefs’ school, from which he graduated in July.
“I have always been passionate about food. Capsicum helped me take my love of cooking from amateur to professional while teaching me important lessons about the industry.
“It is not always a career for the faint-hearted. It gets busy, sharp and hot, but it is ever evolving, creative, interactive and exciting! You are constantly working at high energy levels, banging out orders and have to have a mix of knowledge, talent and skill while working like a rabbit by cooking like a tortoise!”
“Now, winning Proefessioneel has again changed my life – my confidence has grown and I have been able to show what I am capable of!”
Personal questions for Hennie Jansen van Nieuwenhuizen
Who has been your greatest mentor and why? I don’t think I can single out any of my mentors as I have learnt a great deal from each of the chefs that I have had the honour of training under. Chef Jaco van Niekerk at Pretoria Capsicum Culinary Studio had a major impact on my cooking, especially on my pastry and plating skills. Chef Jovan Bester gave me a thirst for the eclectic and Chef Janus Smith laid the best foundation! My new mentor, Chef Lorianne Heyns at Spier, is amazing to work for and I am already learning so much.”
What three famous chefs do you follow and why? I follow Chef Tom Aikens, I love his organic approach to food and the seasonal, locally farmed produce on his menus. Then Chef Antonio Bachour for his sensational and breathtakingly beautiful approach to pastry. And of course, Chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, because local is lekker!
Apart from knives what is your best piece of kitchen equipment? A stand mixer. With a stand mixer you can make the heartiest of crunchy breads right down to the finest of pastries. While I say this, your hands can do that too… So I suppose it’s a tie. My hands, or a stand mixer!
What three ingredients would you always find in your pantry? Only three? Eggs, cream and butter, you cannot go wrong then.
What would you not eat? I am a chef. I must taste everything! How else would I be able to make an informed decision about what I am serving my guests?
Hennie Jansen van Nieuwenhuizen’s social media handles
Facebook: Hennie Jansen van Nieuwenhuizen