Preserving the Future Through Culinary Excellence: Jean Delport at Restaurant Interlude

The Staff Canteen

Jean Delport is the executive chef at Michelin-starred Restaurant Interlude, nestled in the picturesque Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens near Horsham, West Sussex.

The restaurant ethos combines a rich culinary heritage with a passion for sustainability to create unforgettable dining experiences. Jean's journey from his South African roots to earning a Michelin Star and a Green Star in the UK is a testament to his dedication and innovative spirit.

Who is Jean Delport?

Reflecting on his early inspiration, Jean recalls, “My mum had a bad back when I was growing up, so I ended up doing a bit of the cooking and housework from a young age. I have always really enjoyed the whole concept of doing something different every day. So, for me, cooking just fell into place.”

From then on, his career started in a “fairly traditional” way he tells The Staff Canteen. “At 18, I went to a chef school just outside Stellenbosch in the Western Cape province, studying for two years.” After spending a year in Ireland, Jean’s return to South Africa saw him working with Penny Streeter, who inspired him to pursue his dream. “One of my ambitions was always to win a Star, but Michelin wasn't recognised in South Africa, so the only way to put myself to the test and try was to go abroad.”

With Penny’s guidance Jean moved to the UK and created Restaurant Interlude. “I moved over in the beginning of 2018, from the 40-degree heat of South Africa to snow in the UK, we started planning the restaurant, it was very much a passion project for us. What I wanted to showcase was all the elements from my background together with the land around us.”

Sustainability on a plate

Sustainability is at the heart of restaurant Interlude, a philosophy that has recently earned them the prestigious Green Star at the Michelin Guide Awards 2024, adding it to a Michelin Star retained since 2019.

"We draw inspiration for our multi-course tasting menu from the estate's 240-acre woodland, its own vegetable garden and local farmers who uphold organic principles,” Jean explains. “We can then build up a pantry by harvesting and preserving our produce, offering a taste of the ever-changing seasons."

Jean highlights a dish that typifies this commitment: a beef tartare using Trenchmore beef from a nearby farm. “We've been working with the farm for almost six years now,” Jean explains. “They are incorporating sustainable modern farming, so it really ticks all the boxes for us. We take their beef; we're aging it for about 200 / 250 days. We make a tartare incorporating ingredients from our estate and fresh herbs from our garden.”

The food style at Interlude is very classical, inspired by French and English cooking styles, but reinterpreted in a modern way. “We just blend until it feels right and makes sense for our setting,” Jean says. “We really want to showcase the local area as much as we possibly can, but also [give the guests] what they enjoy eating.”

Interlude currently has two different menus, a lunch offering and a dinner offering. The latter is the main showcase but both are focused on seasonality. “Dinner can be anywhere between 16 to 21 courses and ideally every dish has an element from the estate, something that we form, something that we've worked with,” Jean explains proudly. The lunch menu still incorporates the same method, but a lighter offering. “We've got about 11 courses, so it's not as filling, but it's still sustainable enough that you can come in and just enjoy a long, relaxed lunch,” Jean concludes.

The Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens Estate

The 240-acre, Grade I listed Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens were first planted in 1801 and are famous today for their rhododendrons, camelias, azaleas and even a wallaby colony that has been around for almost 150 years. The estate also has its own vineyard with a new Sussex Sparkling launched one year ago, which is available to be purchased on site.

“[The Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens Estate] is probably one of the best kept secrets in the whole of West Sussex,” he continues. “We've got a lot going on, the whole idea was never to have the same mundane kind of thing we wanted to have offerings for every type of guest that wants to come and explore.”

Within the grounds sits an Italianate mansion housing ten elegant bedrooms and Restaurant Interlude. Recently, the dining room underwent a significant transformation to further align with their sustainable practices. “We've got simpler and less traditional to be able to put the focus on the food,” Jean explains. “We gave it a complete refresh: new floors, ceiling, tables, chairs, we've curated everything.” There’s also lots of decorations from South African artists as a reminder of Jean’s personal heritage.

Achieving Recognition

Gaining both a Michelin Star and a Green Star has been a proud moment for Jean and his team. “For us to have a Star and the Green Star now is something that we're very proud of, something that we want to showcase as much as we can,” Jean reflects.

The responsibility of maintaining these standards is significant. “I think there's a lot of self-pressure more than anything else.” Jean admits. “For myself, I've become a lot more critical. I push the staff to higher levels.”

Since opening in 2018, Restaurant Interlude has grown into its concept. “The concept of the restaurant has stayed the same. It hasn't changed drastically but we've grown into it a lot more,” Jean says. “We started off with a very strong ambition, a very strong idea. We possibly weren't ready for it back then, but now we are.”

The Joy of Being a Chef

“The best part of being a chef here at Interlude and at Leonardslee is that every day is different,” Jean shares. “For me, I have random stuff arriving on our doorstep and I say, 'We've got to get that on the menu as soon as possible.'”

Jean’s attention to detail drives his passion. “I'm very much detail-driven and detail-orientated,” he says. “For me, ensuring the details are met every single day, that's what really drives my passion.”

In Jean’s hands, Interlude is not just a place to dine but a testament to the harmony of tradition, innovation, and sustainability. With the recent recognition of a Michelin Green Star, it’s an ongoing journey, one that promises to keep evolving and delighting guests for years to come.


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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th June 2024

Preserving the Future Through Culinary Excellence: Jean Delport at Restaurant Interlude