Meet the Derbyshire chef who turned lockdown passion into profit

A former chef became known as Sourdough Dave after turning his passion for lockdown into a business, baking 200 loaves a week for customers in Derbyshire.

Father-of-three Dave Sargent, who worked as a chef for Raymond Blanc and Marco Pierre White during his 20-year career, is making a name for his handcrafted artisan sourdough breads. They are all made in the kitchen of his family home in Matlock.

Sourdough dough is a slowly fermented bread. It is unique because it does not require commercial yeast to rise, but instead is made with a live fermented culture, sourdough starter, which acts as a natural leavening agent. It is widely considered a healthier form of bread.

Dave has always had a passion for baking, but credits the difficulty of obtaining ingredients at the start of lockdown with his life-changing decision to follow his passion. “Sourdough Dave – The Artisan Bread Man” is now a thriving family business supported by Dave’s wife, Sarah, who is in charge of marketing and running the home delivery service, and the couple’s three children, ten-year-old Hugh, Madeleine, seven years old and Ellie, three years old.

Read more: The Peak District’s award-winning family bakers rise above the national competition

Dave said: “As a chef I’ve always loved the baking section and making bread – I baked for years in my parents’ kitchen making breads, pastries and yeast cakes. During lockdown it was really hard to get yeast when so many people who were working from home, on leave or worried about shopping started making their own bread so in 2020 I quit to use yeast for my baking, I made a sourdough starter jar and started a project with the kids.

“My son Hugh put it on his class conversation which sparked some interest and I made loaves for family and friends and it grew from there. I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my career and also how I could spend more time with the kids.

“I knew I didn’t want to go work for someone else but I needed to earn a salary. I thought maybe hosting private dinners, but that would take away from weekend time with family, my hobbies, and the things we loved to do together.

“During my career, I had worked with and eaten bread made by some of the best master bakers, so I knew I could be confident in my product. I started thinking about what I loved to do and spend time with my family and baking bread every day and after some research I realized there was a gap in the market in this area for a good leaven. »

One of Dave Sargent’s sourdough breads, which are delivered to customers in Derbyshire

He added: ‘I kept coming back to the same thing and worked out some numbers with Sarah for the year ahead, working out how many loaves I would need to make and sell daily and weekly and realized that it could be possible.

“I started by dropping off loaves to several local friends who I knew would be good at giving me honest feedback and spreading the word about what I was doing.”

Passionate about food and flavor, Dave had built his career as a chef into developing ready meals, sauces, quiches and vegetables for a variety of retailers including M&S, Tesco and Co-op. Until two months ago, he was business development manager at a large specialist food supplier.

But in February he took the plunge and settled down as ‘Sourdough Dave’ – and after just a week he was struggling to keep up with demand due to the limitations of his kitchen at home .

He said: “At this point, I was mixing everything by hand and baking the loaves in the family oven. I could make a maximum of seven at a time, six times a day, which I did for a week before realizing I would need an industrial mixer and a larger oven!

Dave Sargent's son Hugh joins his dad in the kitchen
Dave Sargent’s son Hugh joins his dad in the kitchen

Dave equipped himself with a mixer and a micro bakery oven – quickly named “Captain Crust” during a customer contest – which allows him to knead 18 kg of dough at a time, i.e. a batch of 35 loaves and the ability to cook up to 18 at a time.

He said: “That was the turning point. I went from selling 25 loaves the first week, 45 the next and 170 the third week just because of social media and our growing customer base spreading the word and it’s became clear that we could make it work.”

Sarah manages the company’s home delivery service around school shopping and childcare deliveries. She said: “Tuesday to Saturday I can do at least 25 drops a day in and around Matlock and it keeps growing.

“It’s great for me that we can work together and Dave is there to support the kids, run some errands for school and enjoy family life and they get to see him more too. They are really interested in what he does and feel part of it. It’s real teamwork. »

As a passionate chef and baker, Dave already had a bank of recipes but is constantly working on new ideas. Its specialties include whole nuts and raisins, Kalamata olive, seedy rye and caraway, malted eight grains and poppy seeds.

They are advertised for sale at fixed times during the week, alongside its ever-popular sourdough white, whole country rye, spelled and rye.

“The feedback we’ve had from customers and on social media has been amazing,” Dave said. “I really enjoy it and it drives me to create new and different flavors.”

Fitness fan Dave, who enjoys climbing, cycling, running and is also manager of his son Hugh’s Under-11 football team, Darley Dale Juniors, is also interested in the benefits of sourdough for health.

He said: “It’s important to me that my family eats good food and I became more and more interested in fermented foods for this reason about five years ago. I can now share these benefits with my sourdough, as it contains no additives and is therefore good for blood sugar, IBS and digestive issues, is an excellent source of fiber for heart and digestive health and, as it is fermented, provides good bacteria for gut health.

Dave Sargent in his previous working life as a chef
Dave Sargent in his previous working life as a chef

Dave is looking for ways to grow his business while keeping it in the family, such as expanding his domestic service to food service by supplying sourdough to cafes, restaurants and bars.

He said: “I knew it was time to get back to my roots by bringing great food to people I could meet. I wanted to share my passion for baking – and the smiles I see on people’s faces. are really important to me.

“I feel like I’ve come full circle by becoming a successful chef, then combining that skill with food and flavor development and now using my knowledge as a commercial chef to sell my own product and make something that I like to do every day.

“The buzz is amazing and makes me smile. This first confinement two years ago was a difficult time for everyone, but for me and my family, our new company is a very good positive point to come out of it.