Zoe Francois, author, blogger & pastry chef: Chef Chat, part 2
Bestselling cookbook author Zoë François sat down with us in between promoting her new book, with co-author Jeff Hertzberg, creating desserts for Linden Hills hot spot restaurant Tilia, blogging, and parenting for a conversation about where she's come from and where she's headed. (Find Part 1 of our chat here).
François grew up in Vermont before attending college to study art. She later moved on to schooling at the prestigious Culinary Institute of Art and began her pastry career. She's worked with many of Minneapolis'a best-known chefs before meeting Hertzberg to embark on the second chapter of her culinary career, writing books about beautiful breads made easy. Their latest book, Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day, sent François all over the world to gather recipes and taste-memories to share in their book.
Today we talk Turkey, date night, and duck-fat chocolate chip cookies.
Your blog's tagline is, Eat Dessert First. Can you remember the first dessert you ate that sent your eyeballs rolling into the back of your head?
I remember visiting my grandmother, and she let me get sugar cereal. She was rebelling against my dad's hippie ways. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I think everyone should start their day with a really kickin' homemade doughnut or saucy crepes. I don't do sugar cereal, but I think a gorgeous pastry can send your day into a happier place.
As a parent, how do you teach your boys about eating in moderation?
Oh, that's going to be very hard with my youngest son, who can eat his body weight in desserts. Luckily, he is built like a flagpole, and both my boys are super active. So, we don't worry about it. When he hits 40 I may have to sit him down and talk about moderation.
Were there any pickiness challenges?
I am lucky. My boys grew up thinking that eating crazy food was cool. I recently had to take my son's iPod away because he was watching Andrew's Bizarre Foods show in bed. It was 2 a.m. Next to watching Andrew, nothing I make is strange. I've never cooked the boys separate meals. They've always eaten everything we eat, sushi to spicy curries.
Are they sick of pizza yet?
That is the beauty of pizza--you never get sick of it. Even after two years of nothing but, my boys still want more. Me, too!
In your new book you write about pizza and flatbreads from all over the world. Thinking of Turkey, what scents come to mind?
A mix of cardamom, onions, cumin, paprika, lemon, and tobacco. It is a sensory overload, in the most exquisite way.
Have any of the new recipes become a frequent part of your recent weeknight dinner rotation?
It changes all the time, but right now I'm loving the stuffed naan. I just made one with ground garbanzos, cilantro and crushed garlic, slathered in ghee. I have to slow down with that one, because I want to polish off the entire naan in one bite.
You were quoted as saying that baking pizza is like a gateway drug to other baking. What harder stuff does it lead to? How hardcore are you when you start whipping out the buttercream?
We want to get people hooked on our five-minute method of baking, especially those who have been terrified of yeast. After a little while they find themselves baking other things and playing with sourdough starters or making croissants. There is no stopping once you've baked your first kick-ass loaf of bread. I hope all of this baking leads to a buttercream addiction, but that's another book.
What's your favorite date night restaurant?
My husband and I walk every night, and Tilia is on our route. So, we find ourselves sitting at the bar on our way home. Steven (Brown) has single-handedly changed the personality of Linden Hills with that bar.
What can you tell us about the desserts served at Tilia? Do you have a current favorite (full disclosure: If I could curl up in that tiny pot of butterscotch I would live out my holiday season there)?
Thanks, that little pot of butterscotch is a keeper. We're going to switch up the desserts from time to time, but that one will always be there because it brings me great comfort and joy.
It seems like many people are switching career paths to follow their passions. You switched from studying art to food before becoming very successful with food as art. Do you have any advice for people who may be considering making such a leap?
I work constantly, just ask my family, but it mostly feels like play. I figure I have to work and work hard, so why not spend that time doing what I love? The internet changed everything. It can help turn a hobby into a new career. There is an entire community of Minnesota Food Bloggers who are living their culinary dreams through blogging. For most it is a hobby, but some will eventually make a living. Susan Powers is a great example of this. She went from being in real estate to a successful food photographer because of her blogs. Go for it!
What appeals most to you about teaching?
My books and my blogs are all about teaching people to bake. I want to strip the fear and intimidation out of the process, so it is approachable and fun. I love baking. The process relaxes me, and at the end I get to eat cake. Doesn't get any better.
What holiday food traditions are you hoping to pass on to the boys?
I am Jewish and my husband was raised Catholic, so we celebrate Chanuk-mas with a spiral-cut ham and latkes. That and about 30 desserts.
Now that the book is out, what's next on the agenda?
First, I'm baking a batch of Victory 44 Duck Fat Chocolate Chip Cookies. Then, Jeff and I signed up to do another bread book together, which is going to be incredibly fun. I've also got a pastry book in me that's making its way.
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