it’s all going off An emerging sector of chefs are utilising microbes in their kitchens, making age-old fermentation processes relevant again. We try and get to the bottom of why they’ve all gone mould mad. By Eleanor Morgan
oll the word ‘fermented’ around your mouth. loudest voices in the conversation about how we Development at Noma – a cool guy; tall, bearded, What do you think of? That bottle of red eat in the 21st century. It should, then, come as no with slicked-back hair and concentric rings relegated to cooking that’s been sitting on your surprise that the kitchen whose back-to-nature tattooed up his arms – tries to be succinct in kitchen worktop a little too long and is starting philosophy has percolated through the food his explanation of the restaurant’s utilisation to taste a bit Sarsons-y? The heavy, hoppy yeast world more than any other has in recent times of microbes or, in his words, ‘the creation of cloud belching its way out of your home-brewer has a whole lab, The Nordic Food Lab, which lives microbial terroir.’ It is, essentially, about seeing neighbour’s garage? Your increasingly fruity on a boat in the harbour opposite the restaurant, mould as another kitchen tool. ‘It’s about having compost heap? naturally – dedicated to ‘biology.’ the chance to understand our craft on a cellular Despite the fermentation process being the I went to Noma to interview Redzepi in April level,’ he says. ‘We seek to educate ourselves backbone of most of the stuff we snaffle on a daily last year for GQ and his enthusiasm for the lab’s and other chefs around the world about this new basis, the term can be a bit misunderstood. If you ‘pursuit of deliciousness’ was infectious. He array of tools we have at our disposal; that is, if opened your fridge and the small cognitive leap is cupboards now, you’d made to consider bacteria, probably find at least a few yeast of mould as merely of the following: bread, another utensil, such as cheese, yoghurt, cured a pan, oven or pacojet, meat, cured olives, vinegar we avail ourselves to an (count any vinegar-based array of new flavours and salad dressing, too), soy techniques, the generation sauce, coffee, chocolate, of innovative flavours.’ beer, wine, pickles. As you It might sound esoteric can see, it would be hard – read: pretty bloody geeky to get through the day – but if pursuing flavour is without eating something what you’ve chosen to do fermented. with your life, why wouldn’t What exactly is a you be interested? For Ben fermented food? Sandor Reade, Head of Culinary Ellis Katz, author of The Research and Development Art of Fermentation, and at Nordic Food Lab, working whom the New York Times in kitchens since the age of describes as ‘becoming for 15 lead to a ‘keen interest fermentation what Timothy in biology’ and a recently Leary was for psychedelic completed extra-curricular drugs: a charismatic, Above: fermenting things in Nordic Food Lab, image by Claes Bech Poulsen. Below: meju image by Ben Reade degree in Gastronomic consciousness-raising Sciences. You can see why, thinker and advocate who wants people to see was almost hopping from foot to foot. if you’ve worked in a restaurant so preoccupied with the world in a new way’, describes a fermented The same childlike enthusiasm was obvious nature as Noma is, that might happen. For Reade, food as ‘one whose taste and texture have been when head chef Matt Orlando served a spring ‘the complex interactions between man, plant and transformed by the introduction of beneficial dish of new season peas with ‘peaso’ (pictured microbe’ is ‘truly fascinating.’ bacteria or fungi.’ As he says in the book, most food overleaf ), a ferment of peas in the style of miso If you look at the lab’s research blog, you’ll see and beverage fermentation processes are ancient developed in the lab. ‘I’m seriously excited about their projects have included ‘reverse engineering rituals that humans have been performing since this one,’ he grinned. The taste of the peaso was meju’ (pictured) – a traditional Korean fermented before the dawn of history, yet ‘we soy bean cake which is dried for about have largely relegated them to factory six weeks while moulds and bacteria production.’ break the structure down; submarine Not anymore. The processes may kraut – sauerkraut fermented be archaic, but some of the finest underwater; conserva cruda, a type of chefs in the world are going mad for raw tomato paste preserved through microbes. For them, fermentation is moulding instead of cooking (the a new flavour frontier. ‘Every living recipe for which was actually taken creature on the planet interacts from Katz’ book); bee larvae granola. intimately with its environment Now, the lab is not suggesting via its food,’ says Katz. ‘Humans you go and feverishly loot the in our developed technological nearest beehive. No. While creating society, however, have largely cornerstones for a new kind of severed this connection.’ The idea cuisine, they’re trying to create of re-establishing a connection with broader building blocks of knowledge, natural processes is, along with ‘Much of what we do is picked up on creating new flavour compounds, the restaurant scene, by Noma and a big part of this new movement. others’ he says, ‘and we try and share So who’s partying with our findings with as many people organisms in their kitchen? Magnus Nilsson is extraordinary; very sweet from the peas, with a as possible. There’s nothing exclusive about it?’ a big advocate of fermenting and preserving at buttery mouthfeel and, on swallowing, intensely And it’s not just a cheffy thing. Reade says we Faviken, where the remote Swedish location and savoury. Like regular miso – traditionally made should all be thinking about experimenting with the often-harsh surroundings of his restaurant by fermenting rice, barley and/or soybeans with fermentation in our homes. ‘It [fermentation] is rely on preserving processes to make ingredients salt and the fungus koji – with vivid greenness. being recognised in all areas of food as a massive last. Noma is, of course, a trailblazer, too. In It was an entirely new flavour for me, which, I area of development in the near future, even for the eight years since Rene Redzepi opened his imagine, is the point. home cooks.’ Aside from simple ferments like Copenhagen restaurant, it has become one of the Lars Williams, Head of Research and bread, we should be thinking further afield. 17
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