Zia Auch and her dad Gerald share a laugh at her restaurant Brine. Photo by Christine Walsh Sanders Photography.
By Doreen Leggett
When she was 14 years old, Zia Auch moved from Maine to live year-round in Wellfleet, the town where she was born.
“I feel like there are mountain people and ocean people and I am an ocean person,” Auch, now 29, says.
A few years later, she was a junior at Nauset High and her dad, Gerald, would be away for weeks at a time scalloping and landing the catch in Ocean City, Maryland.
So Zia was left alone with her brother, who was in his 20s — and a freezer full of scallops. Her dad would leave her money for food of course, but that money always ended up going to something else.
“I would eat all the scallops,” she said with a smile that colors most her conversations.
But she didn’t eat alone. Oftentimes her friends came over with ingredients from their homes and Auch would create.
“We would make a feast and it always involved some kind of scallop dish,” said Auch.
Auch was telling tales of her teenage escapades sitting in her Eastham restaurant Brine a few hours before it opened for dinner.
Her long history cooking seafood for others is wrapped up in both the name of her restaurant and why local seafood is such a central part of her menu.
She knows a lot of fishermen; some of her friends from high school are traveling her father’s route, fishing out of New Bedford for days at a time.
Auch says her father never wanted his own boat (as she gets older and owns more that makes more sense to her). He had landed in Provincetown after Vietnam and was a skilled diver, so he ended up diving for lobsters off the wharf and working the back of fishing boats. He crewed on Scott Rorro’s boat the Sea Hunter for more than decade, but was also a mate for several other well-known captains.
“He is one of the fastest scallop shuckers there is,” says Zia of her dad.
Rorro can’t say enough great stuff about the elder Auch; Zia and Rorro’s daughter have been best friends for years. Gerry Auch, a wiry, skinny guy, is known for being an exceptionally hard worker – a mantle his daughter wears as well.
“Gerry is awesome. He is just such a character,” said Rorro, who still goes scalloping. And Rorro has been to Brine.
“It’s fantastic!” he said. “I think it’s great that she is doing something she loves.”
“All true,” said Gerry, who can often been found in the last seat at the bar enjoying his daughter’s food. “I think it is important she has real fresh food.”
Zia’s dad is still doing something he loves too.
“He still fishes, he is out fishing today for bay scallops and blood clams,” said Zia. “At 70 he doesn’t go offshore anymore.”
When Zia looks toward the front of her restaurant she sees a wall of colorful bottles. They are from her father’s home collection and were dusty but beautiful, so she absconded with a few dozen. They had been brought up by the scallop dredge over decades, surprisingly intact.
He also has mastodon teeth, which Zia’s daughter loves.
“This is from a dinosaur and it’s the size of your head,” Zia tells her four-year-old Zenna.
Zia had been an A student and her dad wanted her to go to college, but she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.
She had been cooking most of her life, her mom was vegan but she didn’t mind if Zia ate what she wanted as long as she cooked it herself.
So when she arrived on Cape and started cooking for her father and brother they were complimentary.
“‘This is the most delicious thing ever,’” she remembers them saying. “Lies, lies … They would literally eat anything.”
It made sense to go to school for what she loved so she went to Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island for restaurant business management and culinary arts.
She ended up working in Providence and learning a bunch. Right before she was about to graduate her friend Ashley (Rorro’s daughter) said the Nor’ East Beer Garden, mostly a bar, wanted to become a place where people went for a delicious meal.
“They didn’t have a chef,” Zia remembered. So she signed on.
“I had graduated the day before, it was a week before Memorial Day and the kitchen was empty. There was nothing in it.”
No appliances, no food, so they ordered everything and they pulled it off. The Nor’East is still in business and killing it, Zia says.
“Although Zia’s classical French training is evident in her beautifully prepared food, it’s when she shows her Wellfleet roots that she really shines. Growing up with a scallop fisherman for a father, Zia developed a respect and understanding for food at a young age that continues to guide her as a chef,” said Erik Hamnquist, a co-owner.
Zia left the restaurant after the summer of 2013 because she due to have Zenna the following July. She thought leaving in the middle of the summer rush wouldn’t be fair. So she headed over to 141 Bradford in Provincetown to run their bakery. As her due date approached her husband Kevon Campbell helped run the bakery, and Zia consulted. She waitressed here and there to keep busy, and agreed to help out a long-time friend, Joey Rugo.
Rugo, who had worked at an iconic Provincetown restaurant, Ciro and Sal’s, had an idea for a food truck, but needed some help. She worked with him on the menu, prep list, recipes.
“I told him I’d help until I went into labor,” Zia said, walking over to Joey’s Joint, now a summer lunch spot in the same Eastham building as Brine, pointing to a picture of her (with an enormous grin) and a very newborn Zenna.
Rugo needed a place for his food trucks and leased the property, which is right on Route 6. When it turned out town officials insisted on a functioning indoor restaurant before they would allow food trucks out front, he reached out to Auch.
She knew she wanted her own restaurant someday, so she said sure.
“That was always the end goal, to open a restaurant before I was 30,” Zia says.
She admits she bit off a little more than she can chew, but things are working out. After opening in late August 2017, she is now open all year.
She has always had a literal and figurative connection to the local catch and characters.
“That is one of my favorite memories of childhood, just getting stuff right off the boat and cooking it,” Zia says; it was always a connection between her and her father.
“As a fisherman’s kid you get accustomed to eating really good seafood,” she says.
And now she is getting her diners accustomed to it too.
Photo by Christine Walsh Sanders Photography.