Originally from South Africa, Jean Delport embraces his culture past and present. After training at some of the best restaurants in the Cape Winelands and Ireland, he moved to West Sussex to realize his dream of opening Interlude in the UK. British and French cooking form the base of his ideas, along with seasonality. To dine at Interlude is to embark on an unexpected journey through the woodland gardens of Leonardslee.
How did your early experiences in South Africa shape your approach as a chef?
Growing up in South Africa, we are naturally exposed to a diverse range of cultures, cuisines and ways of life all within small communities. Growing up with a farming background, I found that from an early age I learned to appreciate food, where it’s come from and how different cultures enjoy it. This gave me a clear mindset of what I enjoy about food and how I would like to cook from a young age.
What types of cuisine inspire you?
My cooking style is traditional French and English with a natural modern feel. I use my heritage and memories from South Africa and childhood to create our current menus. We have also championed foraging in the local countryside and the estate. I like to think my cooking has become an expression of where we are, using what we have around us to create intricate simplicity.
What prompted you to relocate to West Sussex and open Interlude?
I always had an idea that I wanted to open a restaurant in the UK. In 2017, I was in a crossroads of either following my dream to open a restaurant in the UK and cook longer menus that I love to eat and have fun with —and, alongside, try to win a Michelin Star, which I always thought unattainable growing up in South Africa— or settling down back home and getting into the food scene there. Luckily, Penny Streeter gave me the opportunity to do what we both saw would work in the UK and we landed in West Sussex and opened Interlude.
How do you deliver top-quality, locally sourced ingredients?
We try to work as closely as possible with as many local farmers as we can meet. I strive to use as local ingredients as possible, where possible alongside foraged/grown bits from our estate. For us, the story is crucial. The more relationships we build together, the better our cuisine evolves.
How would you describe the dining experience that you aim to provide?
Without all the pretentions and stiff feeling one gets with old-school fine dining, we strive to provide more of a food journey throughout the evening. We strive to create an experience as opposed to just a night out with something to eat. We currently take our diners on a journey through the estate, showcasing the diversity of our estate with something that has been grown/foraged in every course over our multiple-course secret degustation menu. Our estate is dear to us and we aim to tell its story and showcase all of Leonardslee Gardens’ beauty.
In your opinion, how can nuts and dried fruits improve a dish? What value do they bring to a recipe?
Nuts and dried fruits have always been a big part of my cooking and heritage. What I love about it is how diverse it all is, the pronounced unique flavors and textures that they bring to any dish and that they are strong enough to carry bold flavors alongside them. Nuts and dried fruits are invaluable to many of my recipes, where they make a massive difference in the smallest of details that many wouldn’t notice. I regard them as important as my spice cabinet.
What’s next for Chef Jean Delport?
As a team, we are always building and moving forward. We were lucky to win a Michelin star just 10 months after opening and being in the country, which was massive for us. We have truly created a destination in the countryside. Our sights are firmly set on making our experience as unforgettable as possible —and two Michelin stars are our ultimate dream.
What do you enjoy the most about being a chef?
I love that every day is different. We are constantly busy and ever-evolving.
What is your personal favorite dish with nuts or dried fruits?
I love a posh breakfast granola! Loaded with fruit, nuts with strained yoghurt and honey.
What is the next big culinary trend?
It’s all about sustainability.
What nuts or dried fruits do you always have in your kitchen at home?
For snacking and quick fuel, I always have a large container that I mix myself of dried mixed fruit (mango, banana chips, coconut flakes, raisins and sultanas) with cashews, walnuts, skin-on almonds, Brazil nuts and peanuts.
Try out Jean’s delicious recipe: Honey Stroopwafel with Sunflower, Marigold and Sultana Curd