With over 20 years of experience in all aspects of the restaurant industry, Chef Jason Whitehead is certainly an Industry all-rounder. His career includes work as a private chef, restaurant owner as well as restaurant consultant, but his new-found focus on whole foods has led to his latest incarnation as cookbook writer. We caught up with the dynamic chef to find out more about him, his career and his latest plans.
“Both my parents ran restaurants, so I grew up in the kitchen,” says Jason Whitehead. After leaving high school, Jason studied Food Service Management, which combined both front and back of house preparation. He then worked with Gavin Rose at Cycles on Square, and it is Gavin, as well as his parents, that Jason credits with much of his knowledge. He then travelled to London for three years and to Thailand afterwards to complete a Masters course in Thai cookery in Chiang Mai. “I’ve always had a strong love of Asian food, especially Thai and Indian,” says Jason. After returning to South Africa, Jason studied marketing management as well as working in both the kitchen and front of house.
Jason launched his own restaurant, Fréres Bistro, in 2013 before selling the restaurant last year. He uses his knowledge of all aspects of the restaurant business as a consultant, counting Pretoria’s Kream restaurant as well as Eat @ 43 in Krugersdorp amongst his Gauteng clients. He’s currently working on a restaurant in the Cape Town CBD with an exciting Italian Japanese fusion menu and a large charcoal braai dominating the open plan kitchen on one of the establishment’s three levels.
“When I work with first time restaurant owners, I sit them down and tell them what it involves – many people think that it’s glamorous, but if the restaurant is owner or chef-run then you are expected to be there,” says Jason. “I’ve turned clients away before if I didn’t think they fit the industry profile needed to create and manage a successful restaurant. A successful restaurant has to have a spot-on concept as well as hands-on management.”
It was Jason’s dedication to his own restaurant, Freres Bistro, that led to his new focus – that of health. He was hands-on in the restaurant, which led to long hours and, as it does for many chefs, led to weight gain through an on-the-go diet that focused on quick food rather than nutrition. He has since lost the weight through a lifestyle change, focusing on a move back to whole foods and natural ingredients. His cookbook, published by NB Publishers and set to be released later this year, reflects this lifestyle change. “This isn’t a Banting or Paleo book – it focuses on cooking from scratch, using all of the vegetable as well as nose to tail eating,” says Jason. Well-known nutritionist Sally-Anne Creed has co-written the book with input on the nutritional aspect of the meals.
The chef also has plans to develop a range of products such as dips and pestos, extending his brand which will, after it’s released, continue the work of his cookbook by offering nutritionally delicious ways for people to connect to food. “I believe in changing lives through eating,” says Jason. We’re looking forward to seeing what this dynamic chef gets up to next!