Who is Esther Loke: I’m the pasty chef baker at Sourdog Provisions, a cafe, bakery and providore in Nicholls.
Best dining experience: My best dining experience is actually in Canberra – Vietnamese House Restaurant in Dickson. They do authentic Vietnamese food. On our days off, we will go there and just feast on half the menu. It’s run by a lovely husband and wife team and they are just so warm and everything is delicious, especially on a cold winter’s day.
Favourite cuisine: From a savoury perspective, anything South East Asian. As someone with a South East Asian background, that kind of food ticks the box or hits the spot every time. Anything that has that sort of flavour profile is great. There’s just a level of comfort I have with that kind of food.
Apart from that, anything classical, like French pastries, in terms of desserts. It’s a bit niche, but when it’s done well it’s so nice and just something that’s always been inspirational for me.
Most embarrassing fridge or pantry item: I’ve got a bottle of Japanese Dashi stock at home and I’ve started putting it in just about everything, like scrambled eggs and noodles. It’s basically like MSG in liquid form, so I need to check that people are OK with me using it, but everyone who’s had some says, ‘Oh, it’s so tasty; what’s inside?’
What ingredient can you not live without: Eggs! I love eggs. I love just eating eggs on their own and being a pastry chef, they’re something I can’t go without. Eggs are so versatile as well. You can do them sweet or savoury, they’re used in cakes, you can separate the yolks and egg whites, there’s always a use for them. I can definitely say I can’t live without eggs, especially when you get a fresh egg from a farm. It’s like a little gem.
Next big thing in the Canberra food scene: A friend, Matt, is opening a new place on the lake called The Marion in a few weeks. He’s very talented, his palate is super clean, he’s technically flawless too. He really knows what he is doing and I think he’s underrated. I think Matt and The Marion will be the next big thing.
A must-try on our menu: Our menu changes seasonally, but we do have some staple items like cinnamon buns. People have gone crazy for them. We’ve used an Asian bread method to make them so they’re always soft and fluffy and we put a good amount of cinnamon in the butter.
In terms of something savoury, our salads are fantastic. They also change seasonally. It’s always about flavour combinations for us and what’s fresh as well. We try to keep them interesting with different spices, flavour profiles and cultures.
Biggest culinary influence: For me, it’s the different experiences I’ve had and places I’ve worked. Just seeing different things and working under different pastry chefs has had such an impact on me.
Favourite cookbook: Relæ, from a restaurant in Denmark of the same name. It’s a really cool cookbook. You don’t open it and see starters, entrees, snacks, mains, and desserts. Every tab explores a different concept and different flavour profiles or techniques. It’s about taking a step back and thinking about what you’re making instead of being told what to make. It really blew my mind when I first read it. It has to be my favourite cookbook of all time. I still go back to it when I want to take a minute and think or be inspired.
What business do I admire in the Canberra food and wine scene: The husband and wife team of Ping and Peter at Jasper and Myrtle in Fyshwick. They actually source their own beans, import them, roast them and then turn them into chocolate bars. I think it’s really admirable what they’ve done. They’ve stuck to the core values they believe in and really look at the quality of their stuff. I feel like they really present their brand with so much consideration and deliberation.
They started as a home business and it’s great to just look at them and think, “wow, look at what they have done and where they started”.
Where am I travelling next: If I could, I’d go to Japan or Europe to take some time off and get inspired.
Death row meal: A seafood platter: oysters, lobsters, prawns, scallops, sushi and sashimi. I’m a sucker for seafood.
My least favourite food: I’ll try anything, really. While I was in Myanmar, I tried some weird stuff, like a bug that was alive and some that were recently alive. If I’m offered food, I give it a go.
COVID-19 response: Our COVID response was actually this place. Our first COVID response was Project Enoki. It was a little popup in the city, and after that we started discussing what was next, and if we would like to be business owners and what kinds of business we would do. With our experience from the lockdown, we thought it would be safer to open a bakery and it’s something we’d thought about doing for a while. We knew that following lockdowns, bakeries would continue, so we thought, ‘let’s make a cafe-bakery’.
My three recipe tips:
1. Salt and seasoning. Even if you’re making something sweet, always balance it with something like salt. I think it gives another dimension to food.
2. Time. If you make something the day or night before, sometimes it can just come out better. You’re not adding anything extra to it, just letting it sit and rest.
3. Add seeds and nuts. You can enrich something by adding seeds. It adds a lot and can really jazz up food instead of adding sauces. It’s something we do here for our breads and salads. We’ll add different seeds and nuts to bring in a new flavour.
Sourdog Provisions is open Wednesday to Saturday from 8.30 am to 3 pm (till 4 pm on Friday), and is located at 28/64 Kelleway Avenue in Nicholls.