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Kitchen Kind #8
Zoe Birch

Sweet Grape and Rosemary Sourdough Foccacia

Chef Zoe Birch grew up in a home with the kitchen at its heart. As a child, she and her mother would do the baking competition show circuit every year over the September, October period and baking – bread in particular – has shaped much of her work at her award-winning eight-seater restaurant in Melbourne’s Hurstbridge.  

Zoe Birch

Here, she covers two questions:

1.What dish or ingredient speaks of love to you and why? 
2. When a friend or family member comes over, what is a dish you like
to cook for them? 

My memories of cooking at home as a young child are vivid. I used our family kitchen as a creative outlet, a place to escape from reality. Our house was always cold and full of drafts but in the kitchen with the oven on and stove top burning it was warm, the heart of the home, the place to find everyone. 

I was constantly baking, there was always something on the go that warmed my blood and entertained my brain. Rolling our biscuits, making scones, testing a new sponge cake recipe. My mother and I did the baking competition show circuit every year over the September, October period. I absolutely loved it! I fed off the adrenaline rush it gave me. I suppose looking back it prepared me somewhat for working in a commercial kitchen, the pressure yet complete exhilaration that came from getting things ready and making things perfect. “Bread” the first food I learned to cook has shaped my career as a chef. 

The simplicity of combining flour, salt and water together with your hands resulting in something every culture across the world consumes as a staple food is still mind boggling to me. It is a symbol of sustenance and community. A source of nourishment and comfort and the act of breaking bread speaks of togetherness and family.

We didn’t buy much in my family to my dismay as a teenager growing up craving normality. Our garden fed us and all excess was bottled and preserved for later in the year. We made everything from scratch and bread was a daily process undertaken by either myself or my mother. Sometimes it was a simple country loaf or seeded rolls, other days flatbread but my favourite was always focaccia. So pretty and grand, your own twist could be put on the recipe and I loved that. Perhaps caramelised onion and feta one day or a simple pesto and garlic another. It didn’t really matter, it looked and tasted great and went well with everything, an absolute table centre piece.

Now as a 30 something year old I still make bread every day in some form or another with my kids. No matter the occasion or situation I bring bread. Be it the birth of a child, a celebration, party, a loved one feeling under the weather or someone in need of a pick me up, something as personal as bread is always met with such excitement. People know you have physically made it. They understand the time and effort required and appreciate the token.
As a professional now with my own restaurant, when the bread comes to the table there seems to be a collective relief. Not every restaurant these days serves it, but we do. It’s a comforting moment that people understand and look forward to. No matter what form it comes in bread will always have a special place at our table.



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