Ferment9's declaration and existence points to a dining trend in which once obscure health movements are becoming storefront concepts entirely unto themselves.
— Samantha Shankman
Pickles, relishes, and krauts once relegated to the smallest portion of the plate are moving front and center. Fermented foods have jumped to the forefront of restaurant menus as consumers seek natural, local, and handcrafted culinary experiences — largely fueled by an increase in gut-focused wellness literature.
Of course, the fermented foods championed in the West are only a small portion of the many varieties of fermented foods that have formed a nutritional pillar across cultures and continents for ages.
There’s the familiar: kimchi from Korea, miso from Japan, or tempeh from Indonesia. However, there is also bagoong (fermented salted fish) from the Philippines, injera (fermented teff) from Ethiopia, garri (fermented cassava roots) from West Africa, poi (fermented taro) from Polynesia, and doogh (fermented yogurt and salt) from Iran. And this is just scratching the surface.
Now, fermentation is enjoying a new-age renaissance in the West as shops, workshops, and restaurants focused on the creation of these foods open worldwide.
In East London, Little Duck, The Picklery opened as a fermenting kitchen and all-day eatery in early 2017. Customers can buy daily fermentations or dine on small plates from Masala scrambled eggs in the morning to a slow-braised dish for dinner.
Ferment9 is the most recent addition from Barcelona. Billing itself as the world’s only dedicated pre- and probiotic food shop, workshop, fermentation chamber and school, Ferment9 opened in late 2017 selling a wide variety of small-batch “live” fermented foods.
From the Fringe to Center Stage
How did what was once considered an obscure health movement in the West become mainstream?
“As more and more people become conscious of the effects that their food choices have on their health, they will seek products that have a positive effect on their general well being. Delicious vegetable and vegan as well as vegetarian dishes are now mainstream,” explained Matthew Calderisi, owner of Ferment9.
“I think as consumers become aware of the significant health benefits of fermented foods, their popularity will grow as well and will suddenly become the norm. The process of fermenting food and drinks and their consumption has been around for millennia however, it is only recently that the scientific and health communities have begun investigating and publishing the health benefits and their further findings. As awareness increases among the general public, demand will follow.”
These specialty shops are opening in cities like Los Angeles, London, and Barcelona where a strong food-focused culture bodes well for new and innovative options.
“I first need to acknowledge the yogurt industry for creating the initial awareness of probiotics,” Calderisi said.
“By opening the first uniquely dedicated shop focused on fermented probiotic food and drinks as well as prebiotic foods, I felt that my large variety of product offerings would attract those who are already aware of the health benefits yet sought options beyond yogurt. For those consumers, I felt I could become a destination.”
The shops also go beyond just the plate, offering a lifestyle to complement their dedication to handcrafted, slow food.
Ferment9 is also a workshop where individuals can come learn how to ferment food or drink in their own home and The Picklery hosts events such as pickling workshops and talks with food writers and chefs.
But such speciality shops can also come with special hiring challenges, and owners often have to develop their own staff.
“Since finding staff who were knowledgable in the techniques of fermentation was virtually impossible, I took it upon myself to hire people with professional kitchen skills who had the right attitude and work ethic. I then trained and closely supervised them all stages of their development and while the process was time consuming, I’ve been rewarded with an excellent production team,” Calderisi said.