Why Modern Gastronomy Is So Into The Ancient Art Of Fermentation
An age-old culinary skill has found 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 prevalent today as the process used to make 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 other cooking methods can’t achieve.”
Daniele Sperindio, the head chef at Atlas, adds 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.
The idea of fermentation finding renewed interest among 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. Here, four chefs present dishes that cast the spotlight on fermented ingredients.
1/4 Kugelhopf with fermented milk ice cream by chef Konstantino Blokbergen of Firebake
This rich baked cake originating from Europe is made using white liquid sourdough starter, organic white flour, unsalted butter, fresh milk and organic sultanas. To finish, the kugelhopf is dipped in clarified butter and orange blossom water before sugar syrup is drizzled on top. At Firebake, the cake comes paired with fermented ice cream made in‑house. Kombucha scoby, a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, is added to fresh cream that is left to ferment at room temperature for three days in a glass jar covered with cheesecloth. This serves as the base for the ice cream. Japanese strawberries in sugar syrup, which are fermented in the chiller in a covered container for at least two days, are served on the side.
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2/4 Salsify tagliatelle by chef Ryan Clift of Tippling Club
As salsify is a delicately flavoured root vegetable, fermenting it accentuates its natural flavours, which can be lost if the vegetable were boiled. The salsify is first peeled and added to lightly salted water, then covered with a cloth so that it can breathe. It is fermented in a pan for about a week and a half, depending on the size of the salsify and the temperature of the restaurant. This produces a pliable texture and, when sliced thin, it almost resembles a crunchy, al dente tagliatelle. This Tippling Club dish is served with a hen’s egg yolk cooked at 63°C, jamón de bellota, sourdough crumbs and a garnish of wild herbs.
3/4 Ricotta and red rice by Chef Daniele Sperindio of Atlas
This complex starter is a medley of artfully fermented foods, with fermented red rice as the star. This is done using yeast, which processes the rice’s natural sugars to create a mildly sweet, slightly alcoholic flavour. It is topped with lactic-fermented ricotta and served alongside paper pillows, beetroot pickled in raspberry vinegar, fresh coriander, and a barley and cabbage mix—the latter is first fermented in milk.
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4/4 Tomato and oat by chef
This warm dish consists of tomatillos, cape gooseberries and cherry tomatoes from Cameron Highlands—served both fresh and lactic-cultured. The fermented berries and tomatoes are submerged in a salt brine and left to ferment for two to three weeks. They are paired with burrata from Puglia, an oat broth (a blend of rolled oats in a water infusion that is left overnight and strained), oat flakes and basil oil. The dish is garnished with petai leaf for a natural garlicky flavour profile. The brining liquid that was used to ferment the tomatillos—which has a particular floral flavour note—is used to dress the dish.
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