Five minutes with LUST Bakery's Jean Pierre Smith
Taking his sweet time and never without his sense of humour, Jean Pierre Smith, is at the helm of LUST bistro and bakery.
This bespoke eatery on Lust and Vrede wine farm in Franschhoek recently crowned its fifth-year birthday with a full refurbishment.
For Jean Pierre, his second time round at this family-run wine farm, it has at times felt like 5 minutes and at others more like 50 years.
But the highlight remains the patrons and the longevity that has seen some who visited in LUST's first couple of months, now close and dear as family.
Tell us about your journey to become patron chef at LUST
I did not grow up knowing that I would like to become a chef. In fact – while I liked to cook, and did so with my mother and grandmother from a very young age, it was never really encouraged for a boy in an Afrikaans family to spend that amount of time cooking and baking.
I completed a B.Com Industrial Psychology degree at the (then) Rand Afrikaans University in Johannesburg, convinced that I would enter the field of Psychometrics.
Fate had something different planned though and instead of pursuing post-graduate studies immediately I travelled to the United Kingdom and South Korea where I remained for two and three years respectively.
It was during this period of exposure to so many, and vastly different cuisines, that I discovered just how much I was in love with cooking, and – of course – sampling everything I could.
Upon my return to SA, at about 27-years-old, I immediately enrolled for a 2-year Professional Chefing and Baking Diploma Course with Letitia Prinsloo and the Institute of Culinary Arts (ICA) in Stellenbosch.
I felt at ease, comfortable in my skin for the first time in a long time, and knew that I would be good at it.
I came to understand that there are a great many creative individuals that dream up menus, recipes, plating techniques in the imaginative sphere of their minds – and then there was me.
I needed to understand the reason for everything done in the kitchen and bakery – knowing that if I understood the physics and mechanics of it – I would thrive.
Like most things in my life it was always grounded in theory and academics – and relentlessly challenging the lecturers drove me to finding all the sources I could based in theory, and must have driven them to wine I surmise.
I stayed on with the ICA as a chef-lecturer after graduating and 14 months later stepped into the Hospitality Industry – rather than that of academia.
Ansie Tracey and Fransie Pepler asked me to join them in opening Sweetmama! (an 80-seater patisserie and café in Franschhoek).
We eventually sold this business and I opened Cottage Fromage on Vrede en Lust with Matthew Gordon and Duncan Doherty.
We had our moments when everything went swimmingly and then we also had our moments of butting heads – and when the latter started out-weighing the former – I sold my interest in the company and moved back to Johannesburg – to family and friends.
I rested for a short little bit, trying to formulate exactly what it was that I wanted to do – but became short-tempered and annoyed at having so much leisure time.
So – instead I helped a couple open a 150-seater restaurant, artisan bakery, & wedding cake studio in Bryanston. I stayed on for two years eventually, beyond helping them find their feet.
A former student and later employee of mine had meanwhile been recruited to the Bahamas and when he invited me to cook with him for a month, I took some leave and flew out as quick as I could.
Island-life is as glorious as you might imagine and when it is the private island of David Copperfield – then it is even spectacular.
When they asked me to return and help for a longer period, I agreed – and spent 6 glorious months on this paradise island.
Meanwhile I had always stayed in touch with the Buys-brothers, the owners of Vrede en Lust, and when they asked me to return to SA and conceive of a new restaurant for the wine farm, I bid the island life farewell and returned home.
I arrived in a very wet June in 2013 and after presenting my plans for what would hence be known as LUST Bistro and Bakery, we started on refurbishing the existing premises.
LUST opened its doors on September 5th in 2013.
What has been the highlight of the past five years?
It was tougher than I imagined establishing the brand.
Having the support of Dana & Etienne Buys, and the relentless efforts of those staff members that started with me started showing dividends eventually. Truthfully it feels like both 5 minutes and 50 years when I think back on the last 5 years. I have many more grey hairs (those that stayed) than I started with in 2013.
The staff complement has grown from 12 (some still with me) to 48 and we currently have 3 kitchens on the farm, serving the restaurant, accommodation guests and weddings.
In addition we also opened a new branch in Paarl at Tabakhuis on the 1st of October. This time and it’s challenges taught me fortitude and humility.
The highlight for me is the longevity of our patrons. We still serve many of the guests (now as close and dear as family) that visited us in the first couple of months.
Which dish are you most proud of and why would you recommend it?
This is tough. It is like asking a parent to choose his/her favourite child. I’ve made many through the years that I thought was unique.
However, my damn self-doubt will never let me rest and this means that for me there is always something to improve, refine.
I am happy to admit though that I love making Gnocchi, and through trial and error have come up with the recipe and technique that makes them both fluffy and airy, yet also rich and filling.
So there we go – no wonder that an Afrikaans boy will go and choose potatoes!
Tell us a bit more about the starter dough sold in LUST, for those interested in making bread.
The wild yeast at LUST is now 18 years old, an infant compared to those found in France and San Francisco.
Having said that, it has a remarkable character and used every day to leaven all our artisan loaves baked in the hearth. And why wouldn’t it?
When I made my final trip to Johannesburg, this little sourdough lad was strapped into the passenger seat while everything else was haphazardly packed in the boot.
I am passionate about bread, and calmed by the process of kneading and shaping dough. We take our sweet time when making bread – the sourdough bread being a 96-hour process. It is this craft that I like to share with patrons – and the reason for the wild yeast placed on the tables.
When you’re in the kitchen, you’re never without your...?
Sense of humour. One cannot survive without that anywhere – but especially in a busy kitchen.
What is your favourite ingredient to cook with at the moment?
Looking at the current menu I’d have to say “Beetroot”.
LUST late breakfasts and Sunday lunches are quite popular, what else can you recommend in Franschhoek?
There are so many great places in Franschhoek to spend time at – some of them well-known and others worth discovering.
I’d definitely recommend booking a spot on the Franschhoek Wine Tram and spending the day hopping on and off at the spots that catches one’s interest.
What’s on your travel radar this summer?
I’m going to spend some time at Mombo Camp on the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
A former chef of mine now heads up their kitchens, and I’m joining for a short bit to lend support in training, baking especially.
This is only a week though, and while I’m not at all able to fit in a suitcase – I’m available should anyone want to drag me along on their fantastic summer travels.
(Photos: Nicola Bester)
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