Chef Jan Van Haute
Executive Chef at Hillbrook Inn /Redbook Restaurant
Chef Jan’s dishes personify fine dining and add a distinguished flare to the Blue Ridge
“I want our guests to not just eat a meal, but to enjoy an experience”
A native of Brussels, Chef Jan Van Haute enrolled in culinary school when he was only 14. His around-the-world travels strongly influenced his French style training. And Chef Jan has even cooked for royalty and ambassadors. Now he is bringing his talent to the Redbook Restaurant of Hillbrook Inn & Spa in Charles Town, WV.
Guilty Pleasure Snack: Kinder Bueno – an Italian hazelnut cream filled chocolate bar that contains small amounts of wafer.
Favorite Meal as a Child and Why: Bratwurst with mashed potatoes and applesauce. “All the flavors, together with some Demi glace, were amazing.”
Most Essential Element in the Kitchen: Knives.
And what is the One Condiment/Herb/Spice You Can’t Live Without: Salt.
How The Chef Got His Start
Chef Jan got his start in the culinary world at a young age. “My grandfather owned a large apple orchard and made his business from this,” explains Chef. “When he sold it due to Eastern European countries taking over the fruit market, he only sold his orchard and lands. My grandparents continue to live there and my father’s brother took over the warehouse and sheds and renovated them to a banquet room. He was a young chef at that time.”
Van Haute continues, “So when I spent time with my grandparents, I loved helping my uncle clean vegetables. Cases of carrots needed to be peeled. Beans needed to be topped. That is where I fell in love with the craft of being a chef.”
Culinary School & Royal Family Chef
At 14, Chef Jan began to seriously pursue his craft. “When we visited a few culinary schools in Belgium, I was immediately sold on Spermalie in Brugge. I spent five years there and learned to cook even more.” There, he received classic French style training.
Spermalie also provided a great opportunity for Van Haute. “When I was 19 and in my last year of culinary school, I was asked to lead a group of students to run a restaurant for a week in Brussels. It was part of a European competition. We ended up at the top.
When the Belgium Royal Family reached out to my school in search of a good chef student, I was called by our director with the job offer.
His most memorable meal was cooking in Spain for the Queen of Belgium. “It was really a week of different meals. I was asked to fly to Motril in Spain with the Queen. She invited all her Spanish family and the Belgian Royal family. I was asked by her to come and spend the entire week cooking for her family. It was amazing, as I remember giving yoghurt to Princess Elisabeth (she was then still a baby in the arms of her mom, now Queen Mathilde). Now she is 18 and first in line to take the throne. I will always remember this week.”
Traveling Around the Culinary World
Like many chefs, travel has played a big part in Van Haute’s cooking style and flavor profiles. “I traveled the world for many years. I backpacked for 11 month around the world and lived on a tiny budget. Then we ate on the street – in the food stalls in Asia and Central America.”
And Van Haute experienced the other end of the culinary spectrum. “I traveled as well in luxury and for work. So, for sure, I picked up a lot of product knowledge. I am definitely trained as a French style chef, but I started to add Asian Influences to my food. I worked for Ryu Gin in Tokyo, Japan. They are now one of the best restaurants in Asia. I love Japanese food and culture and would love to continue learning about new techniques.”
Eventually Chef’s journey brought him to the United States and the Belgium Embassy where he won Best Chef in 2010, competing against 15 other international professionals. Later, Chef Jan became Executive Chef of the renowned Goodstone Inn in Middleburg, VA. And it was at Goodstone where he embraced locally sourced food.
Working with Locally Sourced Food
Says Van Haute, “When I arrived in the US in 2009, I had no idea where to source local produce. I was living in Georgetown and mainly ordered through suppliers. Over the years I started to meet different local farmers and producers.”
“At Goodstone Inn, I always wanted to use the best I could find. Coming from the DC area, I was amazed as to the number of farms around us. We even had our own garden at Goodstone.”
Growing up in Belgium, each town had an artisan baker, a butcher, a cheese store, a fruit and vegetable store, remembers Chef. “Everything was local. I feel this is coming back here in the US too. We have to start better educating our children on local, fresh products, I really believe that. I would love to be an advocate for this.”
The Artisan’s Chef
The experience as Goodstone Chef has heightened Van Haute’s commitment to locally sourced food. “Covid made it very clear that local is the future and showed me we have to go back to locally sourced,” says the Chef. “When I was furloughed at Goodstone, I started the website haute-season.com to support the local producers by sharing their stories. And it’s something I’m in the process of continuing. I am teaming up with a few photographers and eventually want to go meet the local producers and craftsmen and share their stories with the world as the Artisan’s Chef.”
What’s in Store for Van Haute and Hillbrook Inn
Van Haute has had an interest in being part of Hillbrook Inn & Spa for a while. And he is definitely looking forward to bringing sophisticated, locally sourced food to the table. “I want our guests to come to Hillbrook not just to eat a meal, but to enjoy an experience,” says Van Haute. “I have been looking at Hillbrook for two years and I fell in love with it at first sight.”
“My goal is to work with local farmers and craftsmen and women. We will grow our own produce in the future. I want our guests to enjoy the property as much as I do. We just set a beautiful European style terrace outside and will start serving luncheons. My goal is to bring top gastronomy to West Virginia.”
Culinary Travel & Root to Table
Chef Jan also sees a bright future for locally sourced, culinary travel. “I’m convinced that Virginia and West Virginia will have tremendous growth in tourism. I only discovered it when I started working at Goodstone. I see more and more young chefs coming to our area. Looking at Patowmack Farm, Goodstone, The Ashby, Tarver King opening his new restaurant, and of course, ourselves at Hillbrook.”
And Van Haute is looking forward to cooking with his fellow Top Chefs at Taste’s Root to Table dining series. “I love to meet like-minded chefs who care about their guests, the terroir, the products and the community. I look forward to meeting all those people together at one place. To me, the value of Root to Table is meeting your neighbors. Most people don’t realize how gifted we are living in the Blue Ridge.”