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Living la dolce vita

‘La famiglia e la patria del cuore’ translates as ‘home (or, in this case, family) is where the heart is.’

Italy isn’t just home for renowned pastry chef Jackie Righi-Boyd – it’s where her heart is too. This heart shows itself in the exquisite pastries and scrumptious Italian dishes available at her two restaurants – Dolci Café, an established Craighall Park gem, and the recently opened Bistro Dolce Vita at the Regency in Sandton. ‘I divide my time between the two – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – luckily I have an incredible team I can rely on,’      she says.

Bistro Dolce Vita boasts Dolci’s greatest hits but not the full menu, so the specials change regularly, ensuring the regulars who pop by are always in for a treat. It’s called ‘Bistro’ for a reason – it’s smaller and more intimate, which extends to the kitchen size as well. Bistro also offers ‘guest chef’ experiences, recently hosting a French-themed evening while 2020 looks set for some Indian and Asian inspiration. What else is in store for Jackie in 2020?

‘Expansion was what 2019 was about with the opening of Bistro Dolce Vita and 2020 is about consolidation,’ she says.  ‘Opening it was just the beginning, now it’s time to nurture it and get everything running as smoothly as possible.’

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While classic Italian dishes are a given in both locations, it’s the high tea at Dolci Café that caught our eye. Dolci offers a 12-piece high tea with sweet and savoury options. These include lemon meringue, chocolate eclairs, cream horns, mini quiches, three-cheese scones and feta-stuffed zucchini rolls – just for a start! It’s the perfect choice for a special occasion like a kitchen tea or baby shower, but also a lovely idea for a girlfriends’ catch-up or a memorable date. And you can rest assured you’re in highly trained hands.

Jackie grew up in the kitchens of restaurants as it has always been a family industry. Her famiglia still lives in Italy and she hasn’t lost her Italian roots at all. Feel free to chat with her in broken Italian – she’s fluent! After trying to cheat destiny for a few years by trying her hand at corporate (following her studies in industrial psychology and human resources), she had an epiphany. ‘I realised I couldn’t do corporate for the rest of my life, so I took an aptitude test and that steered me in the right direction,’ she says.

‘I’ve always loved working with my hands and creating things, so I studied part-time while working at the Food and Beverage Institute in Olivedale, qualified as a pastry chef, then my husband and I packed up our lives and headed to Ravenna, Italy, on the Adriatic coast. It was a return to Italy, as I spent my teenage years there. After we moved, I worked in a little pastry shop and life was like something out of a movie.’

But why the love of pastry (besides  the fact that it’s dessert)? ‘I love all Italian cooking but hot kitchens – not so much. I love being able to play with pastry – fiddle with shapes and sizes and it’s just prettier!’ Her all-time favourite Italian dessert is called zuppa inglese. ‘It’s from the Emiglia Romagna region, where my parents come from and where I went to school. The dessert is made with a very light sponge cake that’s dipped in this gorgeous pink liqueur you can only get in Europe. It’s then layered with chocolate pastry cream and vanilla pastry cream.’

When it comes to her dream Italian menu, the choice is easy. ‘Antipasto of beautiful, sweet melon with salty Parma ham. Then a cold pasta, made with fusilli or penne, dressed with a gorgeous combination of capers, olives, egg, tuna, cheese and oregano. After that, a delicious fritto misto (a deep fried combination of seafood, including prawns and calamari). And for dessert, you can’t go wrong with gelato.’

Luckily for us, we’ll have the chance to sample both restaurants this December as they’re open all the way through. ‘It’s a time when we see customers who aren’t necessarily regulars, as they don’t live in the area. With the holidays, they have time to venture a bit further so we meet people from broader Johannesburg who’ve heard of us and finally have the opportunity to come by.’

December also means gingerbread houses for Jackie. Well, kind of. More like gingerbread castles – limitless, sprawling and coated with icing, sprinkles and glitter!  ‘They’re  time-consuming but so worth it. Each year I make mine more ornate – I can’t stop myself,’ she says. ‘They’re also easier than gingerbread houses as the pieces don’t have to be so precise in order to fit together. By using a dummy cake as the base, you can just tag the pieces onto it, going up, branching out, however you fancy!

To say ‘buongiorno’ to Jackie Righi-Boyd and sample some of her sublime pastries and delicious Italian dishes, head to facebook.com/DolciCafeSA and facebook.com/BistroDolceVitaSA.

By Tayla Blaire.

Photo: PETER WHITFIELD. Location: DAVINCI HOTEL

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