We quite enjoy attending seminars and educating ourselves more about anything food related. Especially when their subject is a powerful food obsession, like fermentation and the person leading it is the fermentation revivalist. The following blogpost will make you feel as if you were sitting next to me during this workshop.
The last days of May, I attended a Fermentation Workshop hosted by Sandor Katz at Vezene Athens. The latter is a contemporary Greek bistrot, the brainchild Ari Vezené. He is a much acclaimed self- taught chef, butcher and owner of two equally celebrated restaurants in Greece; apart from his bistro bar in Athens, he also owns Trattoria Vezené on the Ionian island of Meganissi.
We have been following the events Ari is hosting for a while now, especially since he developed EMBRACE; “a new series of gastronomic events which aims at introducing some of the most important chefs worldwide to a greater local audience while promoting Greece to these chefs, as well as helping to initiate said audience to a “new chapter of Greek cuisine” through the melding of these various visiting cultural influences”.
Back to Sandor now, who has devoted about 2 decades of his life to this project, even if he is not a trained biologist or microbiologist. You might have heard his first book Wild Fermentation or the second one, The Art of Fermentation. He mentions feeling like a mad scientist at times – I definitely consider him as a fermentation demystifier. He travels the world spreading the word about fermentation and the microscopic worlds of microbes. He is a food lover, who chose to return to the land and live in rural Tennessee and not only uses fermentation to fight food waste but for its “glorious healing power”, as well. Let’s find out more about the world of cold boiling, shall we?
He started off his presentation acknowledging that fermentation is not a new concept to Greece. He mentioning trahanas –fermented pasta that Oliveology cooks loved during our Cooking Workshop- yoghurt and wine. If only he knew about our olives -you might recall our previous blogpost on fermentation, explaining why our Kalamata olives are so special. Too bad we didn’t bring some for him to try!
Fermentation might be happening with or without us; however, he focused on the intentional, the planned attempts. The protagonists of this procedure are diverse communities of micro-organisms. The simplest procedure includes getting the vegetables submerged in their own juices and letting lactic acid bacteria work their magic.
In order for his audience to realise the importance of fermentation he stated practical examples like:
- Alcohol, which is the most widespread byproduct –think wine and beer,
- Flavour, examples like chocolate, vanilla and cured meats –impossible to lead a delicious life without them,
- Preservation –an excellent and very Greek example would be homemade preserves –γλυκά του κουταλιού- among others,
- Perceived health benefits –through this process extra nutrients are generated. Furthermore, in some cases, foods that used to be dangerous are made edible.He elaborated for a while regarding our relationship with bacteria, nowadays. Even if we’ve got about 1 trillion bacteria in our bodies and there’s no form of life without them, we’re still terrified. Bacteria in our contemporary minds equal with danger, disease and death. Did you know that serotonin –vital for your mood, dreams, appetite and even the flow of thoughts- is regulated by indigenous bacteria from the gut? I had no idea!