We chat to Ludwig Peters van Tonder, Pastry Chef at La Belle Bistro & Bakery at the Alphen Hotel

14/June/2017
Dumi Mparutsa

La Belle Bistro and Bakery has always been a favoured southern suburbs spot for a cup of tea and a great baked treat. The lush gardens of the Alphen Hotel the stylish but homely feel of the bakery interior add to the overall experience. Recently, chef Ludwig van Tonder joined the team, leading the way with his beautiful confections.

Looking back on his early baking days he reminisces about his first solo dessert (as a child that is) – a personalised creation of pink, purple, blue and green scones served with cream and strawberry jam. But, he’s come a long way since those days and is now creating beautiful pastries that not only look dreamy but taste heavenly too. We chat to chef Ludwig van Tonder, to find out a bit more about what makes him tick.

Tell us a little bit about yourself…

I grew up in Paarl, with a family where food was (and still is) a very important part of being together. I did my chef’s course in 2008 and from there started my culinary career. I’ve been living in Cape Town (in the city) for a few years with my husband, Justin, and our cat (daughter), Saffron. Food is definitely a big part of our daily lives and a lot of time is spent on not only eating, but talking about the food we eat, the food we had the day before and especially the food we want to eat tomorrow! Family and food (and of course wine), those are definitely some of the most important things in life.

Aside from the obvious (getting to eat cake all the time), why did you decide to become a pastry chef?

I’ve always enjoyed baking, so when I decided to become a chef, I knew that I would only ever want to be a pastry chef. I think there’s a lot of room for creativity and playfulness with pastry, and I think cake makes people happy. If my pastries can bring a little moment of joy to someone, then I’ve done my job well.

Did you always know that this is what you wanted to do?

Although I’ve always enjoyed being in the kitchen, I actually started studying BA Language & Cultures. When I was younger I loved to write and read obsessively, so it seemed like a natural choice. Halfway through, however, I decided that it was not for me. I stopped, got a job in retail and the following year I studied to be a chef.

I’ve often thought that I might have chosen a different career if I could choose over but all in all, I love what I do. It makes me (mostly) happy, so, on the whole, I feel content with where I am right now.

We probably all have this theory that working with sweet things all day must be wonderful but do you ever get tired of tasting sweet things and crave savouries?

EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. As great as it is to eat sweets and cakes when you feel like it, it takes its toll. And at the end of the day, all you want are some Niknaks or a piece of crispy bacon to wash the sweet away.

What is the question most people often ask you when you reveal that you’re a pastry chef?

What exactly does a pastry chef do? Do you, like, make cookies?

What sort of things in your daily life inspire your creations?

Social media and the information age that we live in are great tools for any creative. I think it’s naive to think that any idea is completely unique or your own. We live in an age where information and ideas and creativity are so easy to come by and both consciously and subconsciously we are influenced all the time.

I find a good mixture of browsing, coupled with nostalgia and of course some creativity (more often than not shared between people) gets me on the right track.

Can you tell us a bit about some of your favourite items on the La Belle Bistro and Bakery menu?

The Salted Caramel Tart has to be one of my favourites: Buttery dark chocolate pastry filled with a just-set baked bitter chocolate tart, topped with rich salted caramel. This then gets topped with homemade white chocolate aero and salted hazelnuts rolled in gold dust (because every tart deserves a bit of jewellery). It’s a dark, rich and sultry tart that would satisfy any chocoholic.

My other choice would have to be our Gluten Free Passionfruit cheesecake – it’s zesty, creamy, fresh, and of course gluten-free, which makes it kind of guilt free!

Have you had a  kitchen disaster?

Probably my biggest disaster was when I had just been at a new job for a week when I let a big, table-top mixer drop off the counter, onto the freezer in front of it (denting the lid as it went), until it finally landed on the floor with a loud crack. Suffice to say that it was broken and I had to nervously go to my new Head Chef and explain what had happened!

Quickfire Questions
Favourite ingredient currently… almonds
Last book you read… The Magicians
Confection you’d like to grow on a tree… doughnuts
Most expensive recent purchase: always throw pillows and plants – it’s about the little things.
Pet peeve: impoliteness
Piece of kitchen equipment you’d take to Mars: Kitchenaid

Check out our escape to the Alphen Hotel.

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