Meet Zoë François
I grew up on a commune in Vermont in the 1960s. A time when living off the land, keeping bees and making granola were “radical” ideas for most Americans, but seemed completely normal to me. So normal, I barely paid attention to any of it, except when it was my turn to churn the butter. My parents and the greater community made everything we ate on the commune, as an expression of their philosophy on sustainability and because we lived out in the middle of nowhere. Not to mention the economics of feeding all of the people on the commune. We baked bread, made granola and kept animals to milk and use for meat.
My dad even started the first co-op in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. One thing I had no idea about was sugar. My parents told me raisins were candy. WTH? I have just recently forgiven them for that deception, and then, in turn, I told my own sons the same lie.
I distinctly remember my first day of kindergarten and some brilliant child opened his lunch box to produce a perfectly preserved Twinkie. Life on the commune was never the same for me. I got skilled at convincing kids with treats in their lunches, to either share or trade with me. Homemade 400-grain bread with hand crushed peanut butter and banana was a hard sell in those days. (This is now one of my all-time favorite sandwiches).
Fast forward to an age that I could bake for myself. We’re talking 8 or 9 years old and using the word “bake” loosely. It was long before the internet was within every child’s grasp and my mom didn’t own a cookbook that I recall, so I made things up. I’d toss ingredients together and hope for the best. Usually the best was pretty rough and inedible. My first success was with a recipe from my friend Sasha, who showed me the way of a Dutch Baby. Holy wow, it was a miracle. Things rose to the point of exploding in the oven and then we ate them, with syrup and fruit. It was just the beginning.
First came Time Life books on French cooking, which I still own. My first attempt at chocolate mousse from that book involved adding coffee, which I interpreted as the grounds. It was inedible, but I learned a valuable lesson and the next batch was magic. I made every sweet thing in that book and then moved on to Lee Bailey and Ina Garten, this was long before she had her own TV show. I baked my way through that book as well and this time it was all very edible.
My first job in the food industry was at the Ben & Jerry’s in Burlington, Vermont. I was an ice cream cake maker. That job taught me to hold a pastry bag and create gorgeous decorations with it. I was amazed they paid me to do something so fun.
Then came Zoë’s Cookies, a cookie company I started as an assignment in a business class I was taking in college. We had to write a business plan and I took mine to the bank, got a loan, took a semester off from school and went into business. I baked outrageous gourmet cookies in a tiny apartment and sold them from a beautiful vending cart (my boyfriend, now husband, built for me) on Burlington’s Church Street and to a few wholesale accounts. It was a success (meaning I didn’t lose any money, but wasn’t getting rich either), but I headed back to school, got my BFA (photography mostly) and moved on.
Shortly after I graduated from UVM, Graham and I got married, traveled through Europe and then moved to Minneapolis, where I found the world of professional kitchens.
I quickly decided I needed more formal training and a better understanding of the science behind the artistry of pastry, so I headed off to the Culinary Institute of America in New York. While I was there I got a job, over the phone with Andrew Zimmern, who was opening a restaurant and needed a pastry chef assistant. I took the job, left school and became his pastry chef within 6 months. I’ve worked as a pastry chef at several Twin Cities’ restaurants and continue to develop pastry menus as a freelancer.
I left the daily grind of the restaurant world when I had my two sons. While I was in a music class with my youngest son, who was two years old, I met Jeff Hertzberg, who was there with his daughter. We became fast friends and baking buddies. Our bread books have taught a generation to bake bread at home. We have authored 7 books in our best-selling, The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book series, along with several international editions. We’ve sold nearly 800,000 copies across the titles. Our books have been featured in the The New York Times, The Associated Press, Food52, NPR’s The Splendid Table, on the Today Show, in countless newspapers and even included in the prestigious tome on bread baking, Modernist Bread by Nathan Myhrvold.
In March 2021 I came out with my first solo book, Zoë Bakes Cakes, with more than 100 recipes to create beautiful and flavorful layers, loaves, bundts and more. July 2021 saw the launch of season 1 of my show, Zoë Bakes on Magnolia Network. Season 2 launched in January 2022 and season 3 began rolling out in fall 2022.
I have been teaching since my days in the kitchen with Andrew Zimmern. He recognized my ability to explain complicated concepts to people with very little experience. He also knew that skill would come in handy for the marketing of our restaurant and my own brand, so he signed me up to teach classes. I never stopped and now have over 20 years of teaching experience. I most often teach online, through courses on BluePrint.com, but also in my own Instagram and YouTube videos.
This happened, I finally met Ina! We were featured in an article together for a holiday cookie swap in Ladies Home Journal. My recipes have appeared in dozens of articles, in magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens, Bake from Scratch, Fine Cooking, Midwest Living, Disney, Cooking Channel, Easy Eats, Mother Earth News, Cooking Club, Minnesota Monthly and MPLS/StPaul magazines, but none were quite as thrilling as this party with Ina.
I live and work in Minneapolis, with my husband and two sons. You can watch me bake with my sons on Zoë Bakes on Magnolia Network!
and two poodles!