The Farmer’s daughter
Jen Pretorius can’t remember a time when she wanted to do anything else but cook. Food is not just a job for her, food is what brings people together and it has the power to make people happy. Jen is the Farmer’s Daughter, which is also the name of her restaurant in Howick. “My passion is people, family and fellowship.”
She has a rich family history that revolves around generosity and hard work. Her great-uncle and aunt came all the way to South Africa from England in search of adventure. Pretty soon, Jen’s father Howard decided he would rather complete high school in South Africa and before long Jen’s grandparents had also joined them. “I have a really fantastic family. My great-aunt Betty and great-uncle Graham played such a huge role in shaping our lives and helping us realise our dreams. They helped my father get on his feet as a young farmer.”
Jen and her two sisters, Joanne and Jessica, grew up on their father’s farm in Dargle, where she still lives with her husband Ryno and baby boy Rowson. “Growing up on a farm was something I never really fully appreciated back then, but now that I have the opportunity to raise Rowson there, I realise what a blessing it actually is.”
Ryno is running their family farm while Howard is preparing to retire. Their family farm is where her love for good food first started sprouting.
“I took inspiration from a television programme where people got stranded on an island and ate snails. I realised we had plenty of snails in the garden, so I grabbed my mother’s brand new Tupperware and packed it full of snails and sand, turned mom’s brand new oven on and baked my garden snails and soil dish until it was literally on fire! To my surprise, mom wasn’t as angry as I thought she would be.”
I wanted something that could reflect my food and the story I wanted to tell with my food
She has come a long way since her first snail and soil creation. With the help of her great-aunt, who sent her to culinary school after finishing matric, the world of culinary arts opened up to her. “After culinary school, I gained experience in fine dining, industrial catering, private catering and I even worked at a restaurant on a vineyard.”
She did a lot of catering in the Howick area and soon word spread about her delicious dishes. People loved her food, so much so that she was inundated with requests to open a small restaurant where people could pop in and enjoy her cooking. “I started off with a small tea garden in the Meander and it just grew so much it started bursting at the seams. The developers of Yard 41 in Howick, who were regular customers of mine, encouraged me to open something bigger at their new development. I was very nervous about it, but they gave me the control I needed to put my mind at ease. I went to Cape Town with the developers and architect to pick up on the vibes we liked for the restaurant. I wanted something that could reflect my food and the story I wanted to tell with my food. I’m not about fine dining. Although I learnt from the very best fine dining chef, I made it suit my own personality. I’m about organic, local produce. I wanted a place where it’s not just about the delicious food, but the experience. The final product was The Farmer’s Daughter, and I’m so proud of what we have accomplished.”
There is so much going on at this family-friendly restaurant. The view is breathtaking and the decor is homey, creating a bohemian atmosphere. Chatting with friends and family, watching the children play outside, while you are captivated by the beautiful aromas is what it’s all about.
“I’ve been self employed for four years and it is the most terrifying thing. But as TS Eliot said: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
She believes in slow cooking and experimenting with tastes and textures. “We are not so much about grill and go. Most of my food is seasonal and I refuse to use something out of season from a can or a jar. My food is a seasonal experience and I never compromise on taste and quality. Slow cooking takes time, but that is part of the culinary journey.”
My staff is the reason why we are so successful
While food and family will always be close to her heart, she loves people and especially the team that helps her at The Farmer’s Daughter. “My staff is the reason why we are so successful. They eat at my table and work just as hard as I do to make the restaurant a wonderful experience. This restaurant is my space, it feels like home to me, and I want it to feel like home to all of my staff and guests.”
Northern KZN Get It September 2017