NS: What inspired you to open a restaurant with a bread theme? What varieties of bread do you bake?
KB: To ‘break bread’ – share bread with your neighbour – is one of the oldest gestures of goodwill and bonding. I have always had a passion for wood-fire cooking and grilling, something I grew up with at my parents’ restaurant. When I was young, my favourite restaurant in Switzerland was a wood-fired rotisserie specialising in roast chicken and cream tarts, all baked with wood fire. This love was re-ignited on a family trip we took in 2013 to Western Australia. There we came across Yallingup Wood-fired Bread and met the German baker, Gotthard Bauer, who specialises in a wood-fired bread concept. At the time, we exchanged business cards and that was it. A year later, on another trip to Perth, we visited the newly-opened Bread in Common in Fremantle, a restaurant that focuses on wood-fired bread. We were immediately enamoured by the concept and realised subsequently that the baker partner was Gotthard from Yallingup.
Around that time, I started experimenting with making sourdough bread at home, as well as trying out wood-fire cooking whenever possible. The idea of combining both wood-fire baking and cooking with wood fire was then crystalised. The concept of Firebake was conceived in early 2015. From the time it took us to find the ideal suburban location, to being ready to launch, took just under two years.
At the start, we will offer four different types of wood-fired sourdough bread: Wave (white), Field (wholemeal), Rock (rye) and Valley (fruit). These breads will be made with organic flour, non-iodised salt, wild yeast, and ‘Nordaq Fresh’ pure water, and will complement the dishes available on the a la carte menu. They will also be available daily for takeaway orders in a limited quantity. Currently the range of breads we are making has stronger German roots. However, the choice of baked goods will expand in the future, although our primary area of focus will remain the development of new sourdough bread recipes by regularly sourcing seasonal heritage grains from different parts of the world.
NS: What kind of research did you have to undertake to build the restaurant?
KB: I did extensive reading and research, and met artisans such as Gotthard and other bakers, as well as consulting with chefs like David Pynt of Burnt Ends and Niklas Ekstedt of Ekstedt Restaurant, both of whom specialise in the wood-fire field, which helped me understand the tools and techniques. I also draw on my experience of the last two decades building F&B concepts and running the operations.
NS: Where do you source your flour and other baking ingredients?
KB: We are currently getting our organic flours from Western Australia. Our fruit loaves contain organic fruit from Australia and Turkey. We use Nordaq Fresh water for baking, which is a Swedish filtration system that removes all the impurities from tap water to bring water back to its purest form. We have also brought in some ancient grains from the US and Europe which we will mill ourselves. Our non-iodised salt is from Australia.
NS: Firebake is predominantly a restaurant – is the bread you bake every day for sale independently?
KB: Firebake is both a bakehouse and restaurant. We sell bread independently whether the guest dines at the restaurant or not.
NS: How did you build your menu? Is there a common theme?
KB: The concept is that bread is the centre of the menu creation – it forms part of an essential ingredient of a dish and is not just slices on a side plate. We serve bread in multiple forms at Firebake – as slices to go with pate, charcuterie or soups, or as croutons to add texture and substance in a salad. It’s also used as breadcrumbs for crust on meats and fish, as bread chips or crisps for soups and dessert and in ice-cream and our desserts. We also like to recommend 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 wood fire, in the oven and on our cast iron stoves.
NS: What are the signature dishes on the menu?
KB: Our signature dishes include the four-spice Chicken Liver Pate, served with white and fruit loaf, the Heirloom Tomato Salad, with pickled cucumber, feta, mountain oregano and sourdough croutons, the Cured Norwegian Salmon, with rye bread crust, dill, leek and pickled onion and the Braised Lamb Shoulder, with white sourdough and cumin crust and root vegetables. Other strong dishes include the Norwegian Blue Mussels, with lager, chorizo and white sourdough and the Rangers Valley Striploin, with wood-fired Jerusalem artichoke and chimichurri. For dessert, we recommend the Bread and Butter Pudding and the Peach With Sourdough Ice-cream and rye chip.
NS: Apart from offering the unique chance to feast on wood-fired baked bread, what else are you doing differently at the restaurant?
KB: The restaurant concept is also about a holistic immersion and historical approach to bread-making and cooking. At Firebake, we reconnect with the elementary preparation methods and tools to make a loaf of bread. This involves the sourcing of natural and organic ingredients, such as flour, non-iodised salt, water, and the use of natural wild yeast. What’s important is the time it takes to ferment the dough in its natural, ambient environment. It is about dividing and shaping each loaf by hand, as well as the time it takes to allow the dough to proof in traditional bread linen or ‘couche.’ No two loaves are alike. This process takes over 20 hours, before the dough is loaded manually using a wooden paddle and then baked in our wood-fired oven. The time of the process gives the bread its depth of flavour.
We also explore breads made with small batch ancient grains that we will mill fresh ourselves in our flour mill, which will also offer our customers different complexities of flavour.
NS: How do the type of ovens you are using work?
KB: Our wood-fired ovens are built with four types of bricks, plus motar, gravel, sand and cement – they weigh 37 tons! They are fired up every morning with firewood, easily reaching up to 1000 degrees Celsius, and retaining a suitable baking temperature for over 24 hours. Thanks to the volcanic stones lining the oven, the heat is evenly distributed within, and provides intense heat to the loaf to seal the crust rapidly, creating a vacuum effect to allow the crumb to bake effectively. The steam within the dough gives excellent oven spring, with an airy and light crumb.
There are many other un-measurable and intangible pleasures in the cooking and baking at Firebake. I believe that history shapes the bread and food at Firebake, bringing joy and meaning to the baker and cook, and hopefully the diner too. Following the dictates of #slowdoughrealbread, we take our time mixing and hand moulding, in the fermentation, proofing and heat control. Each process is allowed to draw to its proper conclusion, with the dough allowed to reach its fullest fruition without artificial additives. Our eyes, nose, fingers, and even ears, tell us when the time is right.
NS: Are you open all day? Do you offer a weekend brunch menu?
KB: We open from Tuesdays to Sundays. At the moment, we are only open for dinner from 6pm – 10pm. We will soon be opening for lunch and eventually breakfast and weekend brunch.
NS: Why did you choose the Katong/Joo Chiat area?
KB: Firebake is at the heart of a vibrant, close-knit suburb in Singapore’s East Coast area, making it an ideal destination to bring the community together over good, soulful bread and food. Incidentally, it is also my own neighbourhood – I live just two streets away.
NS: Is this a good part of Singapore for visitors to explore? And why?
KB: Absolutely! Katong is an old estate, with its roots in Peranakan and Eurasian culture. It has a laid-back feel, and many say that some of the best local food can be found here. You can also find good examples of interesting pre-war architecture in the neighbourhood. With the mix of local and foreign residents, the food offerings are diverse. There is certainly a strong ‘kampung spirit’ amongst those who reside in this precinct.
It’s been a busy 12 months for the team at