FROM BRAWLER TO BAKER
– LYDON DODO’S EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY –
If there’s one thing the new Linden eatery, Van Der Linde, is fast becoming known for, it is its in-house bakery which turns out fabulous breads and croissants on a daily basis.
When the doors of the restaurant open at 7am, there is almost always a queue of people waiting to buy their apple sourdough, farmhouse, seed, ciabatta or rye breads as well as their light and buttery croissants (made with specially sourced butter from the Free State).
The chef heading up this thriving and successful section of Van Der Linde is 29-year old Lydon Dodo, a young man with a troubled past who has fought and worked hard to overcome his demons to get where he is today.
Born in Bonteheuwel in the Cape Flats, Dodo is an only child but has an enormous extended family.
“Most of my family still live in the Cape flats – Mitchells Plain, Elsies River, Belhar and other parts of the area,” he says. “We are a very tight knit family, and a huge one at that. My grandmother has 17 siblings and my mom has eight brothers and sisters.”
Dodo’s broad smile and amiable personality make him easy to chat to but when you glance down at his scarred hands you realise this is a guy who has had a tough past.
Indeed, Dodo admits he can no longer make a fist with his one hand due to an artificial knuckle that he had to have inserted following a bar brawl that he unwillingly found himself caught up in when he was much younger. But even though bruised and battered, Dodo’s hands sure can knead dough and turn it into the most amazing breads.
We caught up with the master baker over a coffee and a slice of apple sourdough toast to ask him some probing and personal questions:
Tell us about your journey to becoming a baker and sous chef at Van Der Linde
My journey started at a very young age. I grew up with my grandmother, whose cooking is out of this world. When I was around the age of three, if we had a family occasion, my gran had to cook a meal just for me to take along because I would refuse to eat anyone else’s food but hers. I guess I had a refined palate from a young age.
At the age of about five I started cooking alongside my gran; well not cooking more like just fetching a pot here and there and also peeling various vegetables. She was not only a great cook but an excellent baker too – her three best bakes being a delicious chocolate cake, amazing farm-style white bread and Cape Malay koeksusters.
The first thing I remember cooking on my own was when I was about eight years old and we were braaing boerewors, and you know boerewors is not a boeri without the onions. So my gran assigned the task to me, and I nailed it. I remember seeing my family’s reaction when they tasted the onions, they made such a fuss about it and then asked me how I did it. It felt amazing and it was like a light bulb moment for me.
I completed primary school at Norma Road Primary School in Athlone, Cape Town, and then moved to Milnerton to start high school and I knew from that moment that I wanted to be a chef.
Things weren’t easy for me though and I got involved with the wrong crowd and did a lot of wrong things. But thankfully I have an amazing mother that never gave up on me. In my last year of high school, I applied to Capsicum Culinary Studio and was absolutely overjoyed when I got a letter of acceptance from them. I started in 2007 and I put everything into my studies, even though I still was fighting my demons. I was not going to allow them to take this opportunity away from me. I did the diploma and certificate course in cookery and then the certificate course in patisserie. It was in the patisserie year at Capsicum that I found my true passion which was baking. I loved the technical aspect behind it and I was astounded that I could create a simple, delicious bread with just three ingredients.
After graduation I started job hunting and a month later landed a job at one of the top hotels in Cape Town – the One & Only, where I started in the bakery and was trained by a master baker from France named Christian Gonthier. I worked under the head Chef Dimo Simatos for three years, first as a commis chef in the bakery working up to a senior Chef de partie in the pastry kitchen before I left.
My departure was not because I wanted to, but because in the last two months of me working there I lost my child and found myself sitting around the same fire with my demons, doing things that were just destructive to my life. This did not last long though because someone said to me “do you think your kid would be proud of you right now” – which was like a real kick in the backside and I realised I had to make changes and take care of myself.
So I started looking for work overseas, wanting to learn more and experience different cultures, and it wasn’t long before I was lucky enough to land a job in Dubai at a bakery/coffee shop called Project Cupcake. I loved every minute of working abroad and I got to open a few locations for the company, including in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. It was, hands down, one of the best highlights in my life so far. After my contract ended, I returned home and was offered the position of head baker back at the One & Only.
From there I moved to Boschendal Wine Farm – also as the head baker and then landed a job at Diemersdal as their Head Pastry Chef. I moved up to Gauteng earlier this year and I am now at Van Der Linde in charge of their bakery where I feel I’ll never leave. They’ll have to chase me away!
What is your go-to/favourite bread to make and eat?
Wild apple sourdough bread.
What – besides bread – are your other baking specialties/favourites?
Working with chocolate.
What kitchen appliances/utensils could you not do without?
My Kitchen Aid, a spatula and the over looked table spoon.
Who are your food heroes/s?
Dimo Simatos, the best pastry chef and chocolatier I’ve ever worked with and Jason Miller, the best executive head chef I have worked with. These two guys have had a huge impact on my life.
If you could sit down at a table and “break bread ” with five people (dead or alive) who would they be?
Tupac, Anthony Bourdain, Alain Ducasse, Gordon Ramsey and Joël Robuchon.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
Honestly I’m not sure, but I know I want to do something great with my life, probably something that could change people’s lives through food.
Any words of advice to those who might be in the position you were once in?
Yes! Do not allow life to get in the way of your success, continue pushing!
Lastly … can you share an easy bread recipe with us?
Corn bread – it’s quick and easy and utterly delicious – especially when eaten warm with salty butter
LYDON’S CORN BREAD
1 cup of flour
1 cup of yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
3½ teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup melted butter
1 large egg
1 cup of milk
- Grease a 9-inch round cake pan or cast-iron skillet well and set aside. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
- In a medium mixing bowl, add the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Whisk to combine.
- Make a well in the centre of your dry ingredients and add the butter, milk and egg. Stir until the mixture comes together and there are only a few lumps remaining.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is a deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
- Serve hot with butter!
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