Dimitri Roels from Vlaamsch Broodhuys

Sourdough Magic

Dimitri Roels (1969) always wanted to be a baker, but it took a few detours before he got there. He’s all the better for it and now finally pursuing his calling. Together with his wife Diante, Dimitri now runs ‘sourdough empire’ Vlaamsch Broodhuys (‘Flemish Bread House’). Their bakery in Schiedam supplies fresh bread to its 15 proprietary Baker’s Cafes, 21 shop-in-shop concepts and around 600 restaurants in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Born in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, close to the Flemish border (hence the company’s name), Dimitri became fascinated with baking from a young age. After some training, he enrolled in culinary school. Never one to do things half-hearted, Dimitri went on to work at Michelin-starred restaurants, in the Netherlands, Brussels and in Paris. While there, he discovered something that blew his mind: sourdough bread. “It was light and airy, with a good crust and an amazing taste. I didn’t understand why I hadn’t learned how to make it before. Mastering sourdough is really the basis of baking bread. So I started educating myself on wheat varieties and sourdough starters. I spent a good 9 months experimenting in our upstairs apartment, until I had a bread that I was happy with. I didn’t have a shop though, so I handed out a few loaves among my network of chefs and they immediately signed up as customers. Soon after, I was baking around the clock and Diante quit her job to work with me full-time. During this period we had our three sons, who literally grew up on the bakery floor. Looking back, I can’t believe how we managed.”

Dimitri never could have fathomed his “experiment” would grow into a family business of 250 employees. “Of course I’ve always wanted to let as many people enjoy the best bread possible and there’s no better way than to expand. Our first Baker’s Cafe opened in Amsterdam in 2001. My two passions merged in the combination of selling bread and running quality cafes.”

Bread, and talking about bread, is something that never tires Dimitri. “It’s great to work with such simple raw materials – wheat, water and salt – and create something so satisfying in the process. In the beginning, I had to explain over and over what sourdough is – bread that slowly rises through a starter of naturally occurring, lactic acid bacteria which impart flavour – but these days artisanal bread is better known. Thankfully, because I don’t think industrially produced bread is very good for you.”

The bread is made from three ingredients, but leave it to the chef-turned-baker to make sure these ingredients are of the best quality possible. “We use Camp Rémy, an heirloom wheat variety that is extremely difficult to grow. I wouldn’t want to work with any other wheat, because it lends a great flavour to the bread. The only problem is that it’s scarce, so we’ve secured our supply through a cooperative of farmers in France that grow this wheat especially for us. Our salt comes from Guérande, a mineral-rich sea salt from the south of France. And our water isn’t just water: it’s ‘vitalized’ water – tap water filtered through a small device containing shell sand and precious metals. At first, I was skeptical, but the water really goes from tasting ‘rough’ to ‘round’.’’

These days, Dimitri divides his time between the Bakery Cafes, the bakery and the kitchen, experimenting with new types of bread, patisserie and dishes. “I really have the best job in the world. I’m still in awe every time I see a loaf of bread coming out of the oven, all warm and crusty, it’s pure magic!” 

Vlaams Broodhuys Baker’s Cafes – open for breakfast, lunch and high tea

Nieuwe Binnenweg 127b/Meent 8a
Open: Monday – Saturday 8.30am-6pm, Sunday 9.30 am-6 pm
vlaamschbroodhuys.nl

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