In the endless pursuit to balance flavour and texture, an army of chefs have begun embracing the pickled, spiced and funky. From kimchi to kombucha, sourdough to sauerkraut, there’s a wealth of deep flavours to explore and utilise in the kitchen.
Kimchi is perhaps where a lot of this new trend started, championed by New York’s David Chang who has nurtured the Momofuku empire, with the most recent outpost being Majordomo in Los Angeles. Chang played with this Korean staple on the east coast, while classically trained Roy Choi experimented with it in some Mexican-Korean fusion tacos at the iconic Kogi truck.
A lot of UK establishments began playing with kimchi around this time too. Mainly including it in hefty gourmet burgers to deliver added depth and a prickly funkiness. But things have evolved and the trend for fermented foods continues, especially in wellness and health circles.
Fermented foods are known for nurturing gut bacteria and have been hailed as a wonder food for a range of different health issues. While kefir and kombucha are often purchased as an alternative to alcoholic drinks, savvy chefs are finding extra life in the bacteria that creates them. The scoby from kombucha for instance can be dehydrated and ground into a seasoning, or air-dried for a vegan alternative to jerky and biltong.
Elsewhere, chefs like Ramael Scully, an alumni of Ottolenghi’s kitchens and owner of his eponymous restaurant displays a vivid collection of house pickles. This practice not only empowers the kitchen with a wide range of products to add extra complexity to a dish, but also utilises leftover ingredients including white wines, tackling food waste at the same time. In
fact, you’ll be hard pushed not to find some level of fermentation and cultured food taking place in today’s modern restaurants.
Miso is proving itself as a versatile paste, working to quite literally liven up everything from soup bases and dressings, to slathering on ribs, chops and hefty Josper grilled veggie cuts. Of course, shrimp pastes and fish sauce have long held diners attention in south east Asian cuisines, delivering that ultimately satisfying combination of flavours that sits right in the sweet spot before fermentation gets a little too much for most palates.
Fermenting food is a great way to preserve the seasons and cut down on waste. It even gives your kitchen a higher yield. Whether you’re looking to deliver deep, punchy flavours, appeal to a health focused clientele, or simply want some exciting bar snacks for your diners to graze on, fermentation is most certainly a chefs best friend.