Dolci Café – one of Johannesburg’s destination restaurants when it comes to authentic Italian cuisine – has an impressive pedigree. It’s owned and run by Chef Jackie Righi-Boyd and her husband, actor Clayton Boyd (Generations: The Legacy is just one of his impressive list of credits) as well as their partner Zoran Mijailovic.
Righi-Boyd comes from a dynasty of restaurateurs and her mother – super-nonna-chef Luciana Righi of Assaggi, Tre Nonni and Amarcord fame – is part of the team in this friendly neighbourhood eatery.
Righi-Boyd, who lives and works in Craighall, talks about working with her mother, a restaurant industry legend, and others who have inspired her.
Even though you studied industrial and organisational psychology, has baking and cooking always been a passion?
Not exactly. I tried to fight my destiny very hard but I believe that one way or another life directs you to what you were always meant to do – it may take a little longer but eventually you get there. When I was done with school, my dad would always say “just join your mom at the restaurant”. I had absolutely no intention of doing that, but 15 years later here we are in a restaurant working together.
Why did you decide to study patisserie?
I chose pastries because I like to create with my hands and it seemed like a logical choice given my upbringing. I did a pastry course here in Johannesburg and then worked in a pastry shop in Italy for four months. Like any industry you are never done learning – new techniques, methods and trends come out all the time so you constantly need to keep up to date. Perhaps in the past you had to attend a course to learn more, but now you have all the information you need thanks to YouTube and social media. It is easy to connect with experts in your profession across the world via social media.
Dolci Café originally focused on pastries and desserts but is now a full-blown Italian restaurant? Have you come to embrace the cooking side?
Dolci always cooked small meals, even in the beginning. We had a breakfast and lunch menu from the start, so even though I would have loved to focus only on pastries and speciality cakes, I had to embrace the cooking side from the beginning.
What are your favourite savoury and sweet dishes on the menu?
Savoury is tagliatelle ragu – a staple home comfort meal. I’ve moved away from enjoying sweets as much as I’m always tasting them as I bake.
What is it like working with your mother?
Surprisingly easy – she is my own personal master chef that I get to learn from every day. She imparts years of invaluable information that no book or course can teach you but that an expert can pass down to you. I consider myself very lucky to have this “legend of industry” as my mom and to have all that information at my fingertips. Many people would pay a lot of money to have an expert like her by their side.
How has she inspired and influenced you?
She is an extremally hard worker and is always on the front line. She is there every day doing it all herself and this has taught me that if you want to be successful you make your own success. You don’t hire people to work for you to make you successful, especially in this industry.
Anything else you would like to add?
I absolutely love working on specialty cakes (birthday cakes, wedding cakes, Christening cakes), that is my happy place. Bringing people’s designs or desires to life in cake is a creative joy.
Do you do the cooking at home and what is on the menu?
When my mom is not around I will cook at home otherwise she cooks. Seeing food all day makes it hard to want for anything so often I go with Asian flavours such as ginger, garlic and chilli. I also enjoy salty food.
What is your favourite dessert?
There is an Italian dessert called zuppa inglese translated to English soup. It is similar to an English trifle, let’s say it’s the English trifle’s Italian cousin. It is made with vanilla sponge cake which is soaked in a pink liquor call alchermese and then layered with chocolate and vanilla pastry cream. I’ve often wanted to make it at Dolci but we can’t get the liquor (alchermese) here is South Africa. There’s also another Italian dessert called pesche translated to peaches. It’s a cookie base that once again is soaked in this Italian liquor and filled with pastry cream and rolled in castor sugar.
Your favourite kitchen tool?
A pastry bag. I have had a love hate relationship with this item. When I first started I could never use it properly and found it a very messy tool as often the filling would be everywhere but now that I’ve mastered how to use it, it is the perfect tool. It contains all your product and you can direct exactly where you want it. It took a bit of practice. I also like to use the pasta machine – I find making fresh pasta very relaxing.
Is there anything food you don’t eat?
I don’t like coriander – for some reason it makes me feel claustrophobic when I eat it. Other than that, I eat it all. As a chef I feel it is very important to eat everything. Like any human being there are foods you dislike and others you prefer but it is always important to taste everything and know what flavour it has and how it can be used. Cooking is a creation, like an artist won’t exclude certain colours from their paintings, a chef can’t exclude certain tastes from their dishes.
What other chefs have inspired you?
Anna Olson, Peggy Porchen and Ina Garten. Olson because her TV show is an actual tutorial – she explains baking chemistry very well. Peggy Porchen because her cake and biscuit creations are beautiful and her work is perfect and Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) because she has creative twists on classic food.
Dolci Café is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from Monday to Saturday and for breakfast and lunch on Sundays. It is fully licensed and offers an array of top South African and international wines. The address is Shop 6, Lancaster Village, 28 Clarence Avenue. Craighall Park, Johannesburg. Telephone: 010 900 2274.