Panna cotta, which directly translates to cooked milk, is a traditional Italian dessert served with mixed berries compote. Picture by Antonella Raggazoni.

Q&A with Chef Jackie Righi-Boyd from Dolci Cafe

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.

We sat and talked about her passion for pastry, and others who have inspired her.

Chef Righi-Boyd had absolutely no intention of following in her mother's footsteps, but 15 years later here they are in a restaurant working together. Picture by Antonella Raggazoni.

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.

The interior of Dolci Café. This establishment is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from Monday to Saturday and for breakfast and lunch on Sundays. Picture by Antonella Raggazoni

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.

Berry meringue is one of the signature desserts of Dolci Cafe and it's a crispy meringue served with fresh cream and finished off with seasonal berries compote. Picture by Antonella Raggazoni.

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.