Pastry with Zoë François – Mpls.St. Paul Magazine
Normally, visiting ZoÃ« FranÃ§ois’ sleek and well-equipped Lowry Hill Kitchen would mean a glass of bubbles and some 90s hip-hop beats rocking the stools. But there is no flour in the air during my last conversation with the local bakery star. Today on Zoom, her kitchen in the background looks quiet, and we both drink water. Francois’s boiling gray curls sit in a bun.
Even at the time of social distancing, however, Francois lights up the screen with a breathtaking laughter and makes you feel like everything will be fine. That’s just part of the reason she has over 200,000 Instagram followers, a new book coming out and possibly a TV show in the works.
FranÃ§oise didn’t get here just by taking pretty photos and claiming to be an Instagram influencer. âOf my pastry peers on social networks, I am clearly the oldest,â says FranÃ§ois.
Go back quite far and Francois can talk about his pastry chef concerts in the early 90s for notable local chefs like Steven Brown and Andrew Zimmern. If we go back even further, we could talk about how she grew up in a Vermont township and renamed herself Donna for a while. (However, it has less to do with cooking: we’ll let Donna / ZoÃ« do it on her TV show.)
FranÃ§ois started to get national accessories with his first book, Artisanal bread in five minutes a day, written with Dr. Jeff Hertzberg, in 2007. A bestseller, it helped define the category of no-knead bread and inspired a large number of readers to tackle the idea of ââbaking bread a la House. No less than six pounds followed in this series, applying the easy-to-leaven method to holiday breads, gluten-free breads, and pizza doughs.
As a career path, writing books gave her time to raise her two boys. But she followed her old kitchen teams, writing the dessert menus for Brown’s Tilia when it opened. And she continued to expand her circle, traveling to Ireland with Kerrygold Butter and writing for Cherry Bomb magazine.
FranÃ§ois’s next cake-centric book planned for Ten Speed ââPress will be the first written by herself, without Hertzberg. This follows the attention she’s received from her pretty massive following on Instagram. In daily stories and weekly posts, she artfully constructs beautiful cakes topped with candied carrot peel tips. And its delicate pavlovas have fascinated a new generation of pastry chefs.
âI thought the chapter in the Bread Book was sort of finished,â she said. “But now we are there.”
We are there, indeed. Its no-knead books sold out again, while the artisan bread website saw a dramatic increase in traffic. National reports have reported a scramble for yeast and flour that created brief shortages. FranÃ§ois is not so surprised that at the time of the quarantines, people wanted to bake bread. âI mean, it costs 50 cents to bake a loaf of bread at home. It is a task for people to do.
She adds, âI don’t think any of us were ready for what it really meant to have an entire country in our house and not being able to go out. I did an Instagram Live demo for bread, and it went crazy.
Our moment of anguish reminds FranÃ§ois of 2008, when the recession hit and DIY culture really took off. But social media has changed the social dynamic. âWe never had a back-and-forth like we do now, and I never knew what they looked like. I never saw what they were actually doing. But now I’m in it with them. I see their children and their kitchens. I love Instagram for that. It’s all about connection and creativity. It is always a happy sharing.
It’s really hard having to work on a book when all I want to do is stand in front of a camera to connect and cook with people!
For those who are obsessed with cakes, don’t worry. FranÃ§ois does not give up his sweets. âI try to be sensitive to the fact that maybe people don’t have access to so many things right now,â she says. âAnd you can make a loaf of bread with four ingredients. Also, I get a lot of requests for one or two person recipes and healthier things.
Offline, FranÃ§ois is currently working on the cake-book manuscript. But this work seems somehow less essential. “It’s really hard having to work on a book when all I want to do is stand in front of a camera to connect and cook with people!” ” she says. “In such a stressful time, this is one hundred percent where I go.” The still-untitled book is slated for release next March, once she finishes it.
Another essential distraction from writing? She worked for almost a year with Zimmern’s broadcast production company, Intuitive Content, to develop a show project on food and cooking. They had finally started to make real progress when the pandemic overcame all of our expectations of what lies ahead.
The good news? As we zoom in, Francois receives a text message with an important note. Apparently, a lot of his projects are still moving forward! FranÃ§ois enters into his characteristic broad smile and does a little dance. She can’t predict exactly what a show would involve. “They might as well call him ZoÃ«’s bizarre life!” she says.