Tell us the story behind Firebake
I have always had the passion for woodfire cooking and grilling, something I grew up with at my parents’ restaurant. When I was young, my favourite restaurant in Switzerland near Geneva was a woodfired rotisserie specialising in roast chicken and cream tarts, all baked with woodfire.
This love was re-ignited on family trips we took in 2013 and 2014 to Western Australia where my parents in-law live. We came across a few establishments that specialised in woodfired breads including Yallingup Woodfired Bread and Bread in Common. We were immediately enamoured with the concept.
Around that time, I started to become more active in experimenting with making sourdough bread at home, as well as trying out woodfire cooking whenever possible. The idea of combining both woodfire baking and cooking with woodfire was crystalised.
My chef background is in French cuisine, in the kitchens of Fredy Giradet, (Restaurant Fredy Girardet***) as well as my parents’ restaurant (Auberge du Raisin**). My maternal grandfather was a traditional baker in Greece. I subsequently went to Hotel Management School in Geneva to pursue F&B management, which brought me to Asia, starting at The Oriental Bangkok in 1999. I worked at other iconic properties such as Raffles Hotel (2002-2005), Oriental Bangkok (2005-2007 as Director of F&B), and was part of the pioneer team at Resorts World Sentosa from 2008-2011, and was instrumental in bringing Chef Joel Robuchon to Singapore. In 2007, I founded Gastro-Sense Pte Ltd, to provide F&B consultancy to independent F&B clients in Singapore.
The concept of Firebake was conceived around early 2015. From the time it took us to find the ideal suburban location to being ready to launch took just under two years.
What’s so unique about the offerings at Firebake?
Besides our breads which are made naturally and using historical and authentic methods with the current range comprising of four types of bread, Firebake also offers a full dinner and brunch menu, where bread is the backbone of its conceptualisation – breads are featured as a key component of the dish, or are used as a garnish (e.g. croutons), or to add texture (bread crumb crust), or are accompaniments to soak up sauces.
Wheat is also featured, e.g. using wheat beer instead of wine for the mussels, or wheat pastas. We also take lengths to pair the breads with the dish in our menus.
On the drinks front, we have a highly curated range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, from quality boutique wines starting at S$35 per bottle, or S$10 per glass, craft beers, coffee stout, French apple ciders, as well as natural coconut water, tea brewed from tea leaves in pots, nitro coffee, good coffee, Nordaq Fresh water in still and sparkling.
Having said that, what is also unique about Firebake is the experience and ambience it offers. It is about the entire holistic approach to historical bread making and cooking techniques, reconnecting with the use of elementary or primitive preparation, methods and tools to make a loaf and to cook. Taking time to source for ingredients and offerings that are made as naturally as possible. It is the genuine experience of authenticity.
There are many other un-measurable and intangible pleasures in using historical techniques and woodfire baking and cooking. I believe history shapes the bread and food at Firebake, bringing joy and meaning to the baker, cook and the diner. Following the dictates of #slowdoughrealbread, we take our time in mixing and hand moulding, in fermentation, proofing and heat control. Each process is allowed to draw to its proper conclusion, the dough to reach its fullest fruition without artificial additives. Our eyes, nose, fingers, and even ears, tell us when the time is right. To “break bread” – share bread and a meal with your family and friend – is one of the oldest gestures of goodwill and bonding.
How did you decide on the direction of your menu?
The concept is about bread being in the centre of the menu creation or inspiration, where bread is part of an essential ingredient on a dish, and not just seen only as slices on a side plate. We serve bread in multiple forms at Firebake – as slices to go with pate, charcuterie or soups, or in croutons to add texture and substance in a salad, or breadcrumbs used as crust on meats and fish, bread chips or crisps for soups and dessert, as well as using sourdough starter and bread in ice-cream and desserts.
More importantly, it is also taking the active role in recommending guests the best ‘pairing’ of specific breads with food. New dishes will continue to be conceptualised as new breads are being developed.
Both the breads and the foods will be cooked using woodfire, in the oven and on our cast iron stoves.
What are the challenges you face in making sourdough?
Firstly, at Firebake, we are going back-to-basics - making breads according to how breads were made historically, which is using completely natural methods and organic ingredients. Our breads consist of four ingredients: organic flour, pure filtered water, non-iodised salt and wild yeast.
Ensuring the quality of each ingredient is key to bread making, and a lot of our efforts were channeled towards sourcing the right ingredients. One of the first challenges was to find quality organic flour and to ensure a constant supply as there are limited options out there. We also decided to invest in the Nordaq Fresh filtration system from Sweden. It is like wanting to make great whisky or beer; the key ingredient is always water. The purer the water, the better the quality of your end product. Similarly, the non-ionized salt that we source from Western Australia; it is non-processed and has preserved its original, natural taste. It is all about purity; the more we rid of external defect in taste (chlorine etc.) and non-natural ingredients, the more our organic flour will be able to develop its own individual identity in flavour through the slow fermentation which we love very much; time is flavour in that sense.
Other challenges in ‘back-to-basics’ bread baking is that the bread making process is in a natural environment exposed to variables in the weather in terms of temperature and humidity. Our breads are fermented and proofed without special ‘weather-controlled’ chambers. So it is necessary for us to use a combination of experience, knowledge, skills as well as intuition to be able to weather the variations.
We have also gone ‘back-to-basics’ with our baking method, using woodfire ovens. It takes time to heat up the ovens and stoves using woodfire. For the woodfired ovens, we use around 25kg of recycled Jarrah wood in each oven cavity for a period of around three to four hours every morning, until the oven cavity reaches around 800C, followed by a quick wipe-down, before the oven is ready for bread baking.
These ovens are not powered by electricity or gas, where you could turn up or down the heat easily. Our ovens are basic - there is no temperature control or time control. A lot of external variables such as weather (temperature and humidity), the wood, the residual temperature from the previous day will affect how long we need to heat up the oven.
We need to be very organised, and a lot of preparation is required before baking or cooking can commence. If one is unprepared, the operations can be greatly affected.
Despite all the above challenges, it is for all of us, a unique experience to learn the intuitive skills of woodfire cooking and baking; being able to master the skill can be very rewarding for each and everyone one of us.
What are your plans (for Firebake) for the near future?
We launched our weekend brunch two weeks ago. The intention is to slowly move to opening for weekday lunches and eventually for breakfast as well. But this we will do that in phases to ensure that we are operationally ready.
P.S.: We have a video on Firebake right here -> http://www.foodandtravel.com.sg/article/firebake-sg.html
237 East Coast Road