An an­cient culi­nary skill is find­ing new favour with some of mod­ern gas­tron­omy’s best—we ex­plore the how and why of fer­men­ta­tion

T. Dining by Singapore Tatler - - Savour Feast -

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.

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