THE WAITING GAME
An ancient culinary skill is finding new favour with some of modern gastronomy’s best—we explore the how and why of fermentation
The idea of fermentation is as ancient as Neolithic beer and as prevalent today as kimchi, cheese, sourdough and probiotic dairy drinks. But the recent spotlight on fermentation in modern gastronomy has had the food world excited about the possibilities it brings to the table, from interesting new pairings to the growing prominence of acidic flavours.
“Fermentation is a great technique,” says chef Ryan Clift of Tippling Club. “It’s nothing trendy, nothing new—it has been around for centuries, since the dawn of Christ. However, a lot more chefs are using it in their food now, as it brings out different textures and flavours of an ingredient that cooking methods can’t achieve.”
Of course, there are chefs such as Pollen’s Steve Allen, who are adequately fascinated with fermentation’s practical advantages. While undoubtedly inspired to experiment with different techniques and ingredients, Allen mainly sees fermentation as a way of preserving produce, as well as reducing waste and cost. But like any good chef will tell you, it is, he affirms, ultimately about flavour.
Making a dish look pretty is important, adds Daniele Sperindio, the head chef at Atlas, but he expounds that the point of experimenting with fermentation is leveraging the complexity of the flavours it affords. That’s far from easy—one of the hardest things about it is achieving a dependable product, which can be done by figuring out the perfect environment to ferment in a consistent way. Sperindio has even started making his own soya sauce, which will take about a year to complete.
He feels it’s worth the effort, though. A new dish on his menu, for instance, boasts this unique symphony of zesty sensibilities—from the yeasty sweetness of fermented red rice to the complex allure of beetroot pickled in raspberry vinegar.
There’s lactic fermentation, too, with the addition of house-made ricotta. And if you’ve had some the barley mixed with cabbage that has been fermented in milk, you might agree that it tastes a little like potato leek soup— another intriguing aspect of fermentation.
There’s a lot to digest. But the idea of fermentation finding renewed interest with today’s top chefs is a good thing. It’s not a revolution per se, but it’s triggering consumers’ memories in new ways, forcing them to think about their food a bit more— and about the flavours and aromatics they might have previously taken for granted.