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The People Behind the Plate: Zoe Roy, Tokar Estate, Coldstream

People Behind The Plate

Believe it or not, Zoe Roy grew up on Vegemite sandwiches and carrot sticks. It wasn’t until she travelled, after finishing school, that she fell in love with food and the rich diversity of cuisines all over the world. “I went straight to Sweden and then Denmark, England and Ireland. I spent time in France, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Morocco and Turkey,” Zoe says. “I would fall in love with a place and stay there for six months, cooking in a restaurant or café. I was so drawn in by the cultures and cuisines and came home three years later quite obsessed.” Zoe has worked as head chef at Montsalvat’s Meeting Pool; she worked alongside Stephanie Alexander at the Richmond Hill Café and Larder; and cooked at The Commoner in Fitzroy with Jo Corrigan. For 10 years, she and her wife, Merez (also a chef) ran their own bar in Perth called Swallow Bar. “It was a Parisian 1920s-style bar that we put our absolute hearts and souls into,” Zoe says. “Then we had a couple of kids, stepped back and moved to Melbourne, where my parents are. In the meantime, I stumbled across Tokar Estate.”

Zoe’s food memory

An “extraordinarily fussy eater” as a child, Zoe says her first food memory would have to involve Vegemite. “Mum always said it would come back to me as a parent and she was right. My wife and I are both chefs and we thought our kids would eat everything, but no,” Zoe says. “I do have fond memories of cooking with my grandmother. I would go to her house and she was always baking or cooking roasts. We would pick vegetables from the garden and cook them up watching the midday movie together.”

What Zoe loves most about the Yarra Valley

Zoe grew up in Eltham, on the edge of the Yarra Valley, and remembers drives through the valley and daytrips to TarraWarra Museum of Art. “Driving out here every day for work, I fell in love with it all over again,” she says. “I think it’s the seasons. Out here, you feel and see every season as it comes in, settles in, releases and moves on to the next season.” Zoe loves working close to the Tokar Estate vineyards and experiencing the “beautiful progression and cycle through the year”. “You’re a part of everything happening – picking olives, watching the vines change colour and thrive and bloom. The only other place I’ve experienced that is in France.”

Zoe’s favourite season for cooking

For Zoe, it’s impossible to pin down her favourite season for cooking. “It’s whatever season I’m in,” she says. “I love that at the end of summer, I start craving deeper, warmer flavours and look forward to braising and using wine in cooking,” she says. “Then, in the depths of winter, I start to dream about salads and slaw and grilled seafood. It’s a natural body clock. I love whatever season I’m in, but always with a twinkle in my eye for what’s to come.”

Favourite feast. What Zoe would feed a Melbourne family of six.

A family feast should be about colour and texture, with an element of fun and surprise, according to Zoe. “My meal would centre around a piece of protein – perhaps a slow-roasted lamb shoulder, or whole-roasted fish,” she says. But while this would be the centre of her meal, Zoe says it would not necessarily be the hero. “I love making all the little side dishes and beautiful vegetables the hero of the meal,” she says. “Things like smoked carrots, Tuscan cabbage, horse-radish remoulades – I love seeing these lined down the table with the opportunity for elbows in there, as people reach for this plate and that plate. It’s the activity of sharing that I love.”

What Zoe loves most about working at Tokar Estate

As a family-oriented person, Zoe is drawn to the family history and sense of community at Tokar Estate. “This family has been on an incredible journey: following their dream, coming here and planting vines and building a home,” she says. “It’s a very homey and comfortable place to be and I thrive on that.” The opportunity to be a part of the Yarra Valley community of winemakers is also a drawcard for Zoe. “Running our own bar, we served a lot of Yarra Valley wines and it feels really special to be out here, immersed in the industry.”