Four Cultured Courses with Culture

By Kimi Cerdion

Gastronomy Student Kimi Ceridon recounts her experience at the Boston Fermentation Festival’s fermentation-themed brunch.

Sandor Katz_AmyJoGengler
Photo credit: Amy Jo Gengler

After weeks of preparation, Chef Geoff Lukas of Sofra Bakery capped off the Boston Fermentation Festival weekend with a Fermentation-themed Brunch. It was held on September 28th on the outdoor patio at Oleana Restaurant in Cambridge. While the warm fall day and cozy patio makes for an excellent brunch on any Sunday, diners were in for a special morning of fermented foods, fermented beverages and conversation about fermentation, culture and community.

Thirty fermentation fans joined special guest Sandor Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation, for four courses of fermented culinary delights. Each of the dishes was an expertly executed blend of cultural traditions from different geographic regions. Fermented beverage pairings accompanied each dish and Katz offered quips and insights as each course was presented.

Lukas is a fermentation enthusiast. He encourages fermenters to go beyond sauerkraut and try out more advanced ferments. His ‘Fermentation 201’ talk at the previous day’s festival was an excellent primer for the brunch. During his talk, he introduced the audience to cultural fermenting traditions practiced around the world and gave a sneak peek into his upcoming brunch menu.

Course1_Congee_KimiCeridonDiners started out with a fermented tea as Katz offered to correct a misnomer that appeared in Wild Fermentation. “No, not all black teas are fermented,” explained Katz, a simple misunderstanding given the slight, and perhaps fuzzy, difference between curing and fermenting. While not a black tea, the Pu’er from China’s Yunan province was made from fermented dried red tea leaves.

The tea accompanied the first course highlighting Asia. While congee is usually soupy, Lukas offered a soft fluffy mound of the mildly fermented rice porridge. It was sprinkled with caramelized koji grains which are jasmine rice grains with a mold used for secondary fermentation. Lukas jokingly told the crowd, “I never thought I would be in love with a mold.” A slightly sour egg yolk pickled in kimchi brine and soy sauce was nested in the congee and topped with a delicate white kimchi.

Course 2 Ceviche_AmyJoGengler
Photo credit: Amy Jo Gengler

Lukas moved on to the Americas for his second course. Chicha is a commonly known beverage in South and Central America typically made with fermented maize, although the ingredients and preparation can vary from country to country. At this brunch, however, chicha referred to a variety of fruit wines. A sour cherry chicha vinegar was used to marinate thin fluke fillets for a ceviche accompanied by a tangy Cherokee-style fermented corn relish and an aged mole negro. While most may know mole as a seasoned, savory cacao sauce from the Oaxaca region of Mexico, this aged version was earthy and tangy. It grounded the sharper sourness of the fermented corn relish and vinegar. Night Shift’s Fallen Apple Aged Cider offered a sweet and funky pairing.

Course3_KimiCeridonNext up was a fermented interpretation of a Sunday brunch staple, the pancake. Using techniques from Africa, a yeasty and sour fermented lentil and barley pancake anchored this course. Diners successively paired pancakes with each of three accompaniments – a fermented sunflower ugiri butter, a fermented sesame ugiri butter and a sunflower petal marmalade. The sunflower ugiri offered potent, earthy and smoky flavors while the sesame ugiri was a lighter and nuttier counterpart. Both were nicely complimented by honey-fermented sunflower petals. The real standout was the mead Lukas started weeks earlier. The herbal-infused anise and African blue basil mead stood up to the strong flavors while the sweet carbonation lightened things up.

To end the meal, Lukas returned to the regional cuisines he knows best, those of the Middle East. While fermentations are not usually described as ‘rich and decadent’, the salshir was just that. Meaning “milk head” in Farsi, it is made by fermenting gently heated and separated un-homogenized milk until the desired texture and flavor is achieved. The skimmed off cream ‘head’ is the salshir, which is reminiscent of whipped sweet butter. Acidy, salt-fermented plums and sweet candied tulip petals beautifully matched the creamy base. Black honeycomb gave a chewy final touch. Overall, the dish played well with the traditional Persian sour and fizzy yogurt drink called dough.

Photo credit: Geoff Lukas

After an activity-packed Boston Fermentation Festival, the brunch proved an engaging and relaxing way to wrap up the weekend. Diners came from as far away as South Dakota. Most were avid fermenters. As the last course was cleared, it was apparent many diners would head home to try out these new dishes on their own. Based on the number of people hurriedly writing down Lukas’ recipe for anise hyssop and African blue basil mead, there is certainly a batch in progress somewhere. If you missed out, get your own mead started at home: pack a container with anise hyssop and African blue basil leaves and flowers, cover with a blend of one part honey and four parts water, let ferment, and stir frequently.

Startup Stir Offers Insight for Food Startups

by Carlos C. Olaechea

IMG_2823Every month, Beacon Hill Partners sponsors a Startup Stir event that brings in different professionals to offer advice to individuals considering starting their own business. On Thursday, September 18th, the evening was all about food as a panel of seasoned professionals offered their insights on starting a food business at Workbar in Cambridge. Those in attendance were given some time to mix and mingle, as well as sample some of the panelists’ own products, include ZOOS Greek Iced Tea, Downeast Cider House’s unique brews, Tribe Mediterranean Food’s new hummus and pita chip snack pack, and addictive donut holes from Union Square Donuts.

At 6:30 PM everyone took their seats, and the panelists took center stage and offered stories as to how they all started their businesses, the sometimes-bumpy roads that had to be taken, and how they managed to achieve success.

IMG_2813Josh Danhoff, of Union Square Donuts, offered that one of the most valuable tools available to budding food businesses in Boston are kitchen incubators that allow startups to rent licensed kitchen space to prepare their foods. They are one of the best, most risk-free ways to test out a product. Union Square Donuts started out this way before moving to their own location, and after much success were able to get a newer, larger location that will be open in October.

Ross Brockman, of Downeast Cider House, had started his company with friends from college right after graduating and notes that the regulation and licensing processes can be grueling. Sometimes it is necessary for business startups to bluff, stretch the truth, and skirt the rules in order to make it through that hurdle. Nevertheless, it is what he deems a naïve excitement for launching your product that gets you through it.

IMG_2816Christina Tsoupiras’s own experience in launching ZOOS Greek Iced Tea parallels Brockman’s in that she started marketing her product across social media before she even had any product to sell. Half of the battle, according to her, is establishing a lifestyle brand, and sometimes it’s best to “fake it ‘til you make it.” Her iced teas are now featured in over 100 retailers. She continues that it is beneficial to team up with people who have complimentary personality traits – if you are creative, it is best to have someone practical on your team.

Jim Mitchell was perhaps the panelist with the most experience at starting food businesses in the Boston area. He maintains that “success is a cognizable commodity,” and that “it’s not a mystery.” When he helped start Steve’s Ice Cream in Davis Square, they had placed the ice cream makers at the front of the store by the windows so that passersby would be attracted by the drama of the beaters dripping with freshly churned ice cream. Upon opening Bertucci’s, which is now one of the most popular casual Italian chains in the Boston area, he applied the same concept that made Steve’s a success, placing the pizza ovens by the windows. By the time he opened Fire + Ice, he had figured out that what had made his restaurants successful was that touch of the dramatic. It is important for business owners to find that successful model either in their own businesses or in those of their competitors.

IMG_2820Keeping an eye on your competition was something that Adam Carr was very familiar with. As president and CEO Tribe Mediterranean Foods, best known for its hummus, his focus is always on Sabra, which controls roughly 60% of the market. He keeps packages of all of his competitors’ products in his office so that he never forgets that his isn’t the only product out there, and by looking at different brands, he can apply models that work, as well as improve upon models that don’t.

Overall, the panel was an excellent opportunity to pick at the brains of people who have been there and done that and offered choice insight into what it takes for someone to start their own food business not only in Boston, but anywhere. The most encouraging message of the evening was not only the fact that it is possible for a food business idea to have success, but that there is also a world of help and support in this town to get you on that path.