Zoë Francois Talks Cooking Shows And Shares Her Best Baking Tips - Exclusive Interview

When it comes to baking, Zoë François knows a thing or two about the craft. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, François is well versed in the art of pastry, covering everything from cookies and cakes to breads and baked Alaska. The baker has published countless cookbooks and has steadily grown her online presence with hundreds of thousands of dedicated Instagram followers. Now, she's bringing her baking and teaching skills to the big screen.

With the anticipated launch of Chip and Joanna Gaines' Magnolia Network on Discovery+ also came the debut of François' new television show, "Zoë Bakes." The baker takes us through recipes step-by-step, turning the most complicated bake into something achievable, even for a novice baker.

Amidst the launch, François took the time to sit down and share more about the show. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, she shared all about the inspiration behind "Zoë Bakes," working with Chip and Joanna Gaines, top baking tips, and more.

Zoë François shares the inspiration behind her new show "Zoë Bakes"

Why was it important to share your story on the Magnolia Network?

Well, first of all I'm in love with what Joanna and Chip do and always have been. Just in terms of being a crafts person I just was so attracted to how intense and passionate they are about what they do, but then also have so much fun doing it. So, it was always an attraction to them, and once I found out that they were launching a network, and if I ever dreamed to have a show where I could teach people my craft, it was always going to be with them just because I felt like they got it in the same way that I feel it.

Why was it important for you to put Minneapolis on the map in your show as well?

I think that we're a bit of an unknown gem. I mean that's how I feel about this town, because there's so much happening culturally, and especially in the food world, that people just don't know about us. Really, Minneapolis started out as a food town because of the wheat mills and all of the production around wheat. That really sort of established the city, and I don't think the rest of the world knows that about us. It was super exciting to get the opportunity to visit the farms and visit my fellow bakers and restaurants and sort of highlight all of the incredible local food that's happening right here. It always has been, but people just didn't know about it.

These three items are kitchen must-haves, according to Zoë François

What would you say are the top three tools every baker should have in the kitchen?

Okay, so one is the scale.

I know you're a huge proponent for the scale.

I love the scale. I mean I just ... I think that people are coming onboard with scales. American bakers are maybe a little bit later to the game, because in the rest of the world everybody bakes and cooks by grams, so it's really just been ingrained in that culture. Americans have always used the cup measure, which does very well, but I just think the scale is more consistent and more efficient, so I hope everybody will come to use a scale.

What else? You know, there's lots and lots of tools that I think make the process easier but aren't necessarily 100% necessary. I love my stand mixer because it's like a workhorse. It just does so much of the heavy lifting for me. But you can get away with a hand mixer, and in some cases ... In almost all cases, you can get away with a bowl and a spoon or whisk. It's just a lot more sort of muscle involved if you're going to do something by hand and really get the texture that you want.

Okay, the third one ... It's just so hard to narrow it down. One of my favorite tools, and I think it's just really cool, and it's really portable, it's inexpensive, it's super cool looking — it's a Danish dough whisk. I think it's one of those tools that maybe it's gotten more popular, but it was a tool that I had never seen before. I was on a book tour about probably 12 years ago and somebody brought me one, and it changed my life. It makes stirring dough, bread dough, really easy. It's portable. I love it. You have to Google it, because it's just one of those tools that probably doesn't come up every day, but it's super, super handy, and super cool looking.

Zoë François reveals what it was like working for Andrew Zimmern

You were the pastry chef for Andrew Zimmern's restaurant in Minneapolis, and now, his production company did your show. What was it like working with him at that time?

Andrew is a trip. He's just a massive personality, and I learned so much from him. I met him while I was still at culinary school. We had a phone interview and I took the job over the phone, having never met him, and so it was like when I met him ... I mean we were fast, fast friends and we sort of ... We have the same intensity and passion for what we do, and so it's a really amazing partnership and team.

I learned so much from him in terms of his crazy knowledge of food. He's like an encyclopedic mind, and so he just knows so much about all different kinds of food, cultures of food, preparations of food. Luckily one of the things he didn't know as much about was pastry, so he trusted me and let me do pretty much what I wanted to do.

The other thing I have to say, and this is not so much about food, but it's about business, and it's one of the things that they don't teach you in culinary school, is that he's just a really great business person. And as an artist, as a craftsperson, that's a really incredibly valuable skill. I learned a lot about sort of making a living at this craft, and so I'm really grateful to have had him as a mentor not only in food, but also as a business person.

Where Zoë François finds inspiration in the kitchen

Who do you look to for inspiration as you're developing new recipes?

Good question. I have a cookbook library that's embarrassingly massive. I'm just hot in love with cookbooks, and always have been, so they span from ... I have cookbooks from the early 1900s, probably even older than that, to all of my peers who are coming out with cookbooks now.

I have industry people who have always inspired me. Julia Child ... I mean I can't think of a person she hasn't inspired. Jacques Pepin and Dorie Greenspan, and just so many chefs. For recipes, I look to them. I also go to the farmers market and I go to restaurants and I try to travel. I mean it's been hard lately, but I try to travel as much as I can and just sort of see what's happening in the rest of the world and the rest of the country. And art too ... I mean I studied art in my undergraduate work, and art really has a huge place for me in terms of inspiring the look of my food, so it comes from all over the place.

Why brioche is the best bread to bake for sandwiches, according to Zoë François

In your opinion what is the best type of bread to bake for sandwiches?

Well, well, well. Well, okay, you know I've written eight books on bread, so choosing one is ...

Maybe two then.

Okay. I have to say that I am really in love with brioche. Brioche is a bread that has butter and eggs, and my recipe has honey in it, so it's a little bit richer. It has a tiny bit of sweetness, not that it would be a sweet bread, like you would still use it for a sandwich. But it's great toasted. I just find it has that like beautiful texture that I want. I think that the answer I should give, and especially as a parent, is whole wheat. But I grew up on a commune and I was fed a lot of whole wheat bread, so I tend to go for the brioche and the super rich stuff. That's what I like my sandwiches on.

Zoë François discusses her love of pie and favorite way to serve it

What is your favorite type of pie and what's the best way to serve it in your opinion?

Okay, so I'm super fickle about all of this, all of the baking. It's like my mood in the morning will determine what is my favorite in anything, or what's in season, or all the crazy beautiful fruit that's in season right now is just inspiring. We're in sour cherry season here in the Midwest, and in fact a friend of mine is about to drop off ... I already cooked all of mine from my tree, and she's about to drop off some sour cherries from her tree, so I would have to say sour cherry pie would be my favorite right this second.

And what's your favorite way to serve it?

A la mode I love, but ... if you follow me on Instagram, you will know that I am obsessed with meringue. Like lemon meringue pie, I think it should be a ratio of like a third of the lemon and two-thirds meringue. But also ... I love meringue because... you know, meringue is one of my favorite things to make, but also because you get to use a blowtorch to finish it and toast it. If you follow my Instagram you'll see that I whip out a blowtorch as often as I possibly can. So meringue topped anything, and if meringue is so inappropriate with that pie, then ala mode for sure.

Zoë François talks Instagram growth and cooking show judging

Do you think Instagram has played a role in your growth and success, and how so?

Absolutely. I think I learned so much on Instagram, because it used to be that I would just post pictures of what I was making and people would like the pictures and that was my experience.

As a recipe developer, you know, what I really, really want are people to make my recipes, not just like the picture, and what I discovered is that ... Somebody had asked me a question about one of my recipes and I made a short little video and put it up in the story, and I realized when I did that all of a sudden people were making the recipe. It wasn't just liking the picture. So I realized that maybe I was taking for granted the things that I knew, the tips and tricks and things that I had learned in the restaurant world and culinary school, and once I started really sharing that and becoming what I now know that I am as a teacher, that's when it all changed. People went from liking the pictures to baking the recipes, and I could not be any happier about it.

I would say that it was COVID that changed things again for me, because I went from making videos that were exclusively my hands ... I was never in the videos, it was just my hands making the food, and I'd be bopping around to music, and that was a big part of it. But then COVID came and I craved, and I think my followers craved, more interaction, so I turned the camera on me and I showed my face, and I did lives (streaming), and I interacted with people, because I wanted that kind of connection. So I think, again, I just learned that it's even more than baking, I like teaching because I love to see other people take my recipes into their homes and make it their own.

You've been a guest judge on a couple of shows, including "Big Time Bake" and "Chopped Sweets." In your opinion, what is the best part about being a judge on a baking show?

Mostly eating. I don't know if I lucked out or what, but I judged a couple of shows where the bakers and chefs were just incredible, so I got to eat some really great food. I think watching other people do their craft and watching how intense they are about what they're doing and clearly how much they love what they're doing is just... It's a joy for me.

It's partly what the show is about, is that I get to go and visit people and watch them do that, so judging those shows, it was really intense. I was so glad I was judging and not competing, because that's a fire pressure situation. Choosing the winner is the hard part. That's hard.

Zoë François dishes on the business she started in college

Tell me a little bit about starting your cookie business, and what was the reaction when you started a cookie business at such a young age?

Honestly, academics were not entirely my game. I was in school. I loved bits and pieces of it. But I was taking a business class and they said write a business plan, and I did, and it was based on a cookie company, and I was like I want to do this instead of sitting here talking about it, so I did. I took out a loan and I started this cookie company, and it was just the cart, and I baked cookies and I rolled the cart out onto Church Street in Burlington, Vermont, and I sold the cookies. Then I got a little wholesale account, and I did that for a semester, and then went back to school.

Well, people loved the cookies. I think my parents were terrified that I had dropped out of school to do this, but they saw that I loved it. I absolutely learned more in doing that business than I ever would have sitting in that business class both from the successes and the failures of doing the business and how hard it was. I also knew nothing about baking I have to say, but I did learn how much I loved it. Even having done that, it didn't seem like a legitimate course for me in terms of career until much, much later in my life, but it really planted the seed.

Be sure to check out new episodes "Zoë Bakes" on Magnolia Network, and for all things Zoë François', from baking tips to full recipes, head over to ZoëBakes.