May 11, 2023

Into the world of fermentation food

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Jeanne, France

Fermentation expert, food anthropologist, culinary teacher.

I'm a bit of fermentation romantic!

Hi Jeanne! Please tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Jeanne, I'm French American and now based in London. I'm a chef and fermentation enthusiast. My passion is food, and in particular, the process of fermentation. I love experimenting with different flavours and techniques and discovering new ways to create delicious and nutritious foods, and then sharing that knowledge with others through workshops and events.

One of my long term goals is to contribute to turning The Fermentarium into a leading resource and platform for fermentation education and to inspire more people to make and incorporate fermented foods into their diets.

Tell us the story about you and food, how did everything start? Where do you get inspiration?

My passion for food started at a young age. I have a French background and so food was always an important part of our family life, and eating was one of my favourite activities. As I got older, I realized that if I learned how to cook and bake for myself, I could always satisfy my cravings. Being in the kitchen became an act of self-sufficiency and is still one of the main reasons I do it today. Eventually, I decided to pursue a career in food, to marry my interests and values with my lifestyle.

I get inspiration from a variety of sources, including my travels, seasonal produce, and other food professionals whom I’m exposed to daily. I also enjoy drawing from my own multicultural background, blending a French culinary heritage with a NYC childhood and now a British life, and putting my own spin on traditional fare.

Now let’s talk a bit more about you and fermentation. To begin with, how did you get into fermentation?

I was first exposed to fermentation through the bakery scene - I was selling bakery ingredients and coming across many artisanal bakeries producing sourdough bread and decided to teach myself how to make it. From there I started exploring fermented foods on a broader scale, realizing that so many of our daily foods are fermented in some way, and fell in love with the tastes, flavours, and the processes.

Fermentation is a beautiful transformation of food, which completely changes the flavours in a way that’s very different from any other cooking processes. It’s a process that’s alive and wild (when it’s done at home) because it involves microorganisms that are present everywhere and take over a food source to make it their home. They do their own thing, with or without human intervention, and our job as fermenters is to simply make a hospitable environment for the beneficial microbes to thrive and to keep the bad ones out. 

We can’t ever fully control what happens during fermentation, and I like that sense of micro chaos - it expands the potential outcomes, and it can also take us down different paths during the process, making for fantastic learning experiences.

But it’s also very much a symbiotic relationship between human and microbe because our involvement impacts the final product. And so, it’s a wonderful reflection of the connection humans have with our food sources, nature, and the environment. I’m a bit of a fermentation romantic.

What is @the_fermentarium?

The Fermentarium is a fermentation collective offering workshops and resources focused on teaching people how to make their own fermented foods and beverages at home, and why fermentation is an important craft to revive. It’s so great to show people how to make their own incredible, good-for-you foods, and a fantastic way to encourage self-sufficiency and a closer relationship to our food sources. People love it, they’re always so excited and empowered by the end of the classes.

Have you come across any challenges in teaching people about fermentation? Any favourite fermentation recipes?

One of the biggest challenges I encounter in my classes is getting people to trust themselves more, to develop their fermentation intuition, rather than feeling the need to rely on super detailed instructions. The answers are rarely black-and-white with fermentation!

As mentioned above it’s a wild process, and sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to - and that’s totally fine! It’s those moments that help you learn more, discover your own tastes, and adapt the processes and recipes to your own environment. People are afraid to make mistakes, but you sort of need to get better.

It's hard to pick just one! Sauerkraut might be one of my favourites, it’s such a straightforward process and a great first foray into fermentation that really showcases the process. And it’s a great blank canvas, allowing you to experiment with all kinds of flavours, textures, and combinations.

In a utopian world, what would you like to be able to do in the fermentation cooking space?

I would love to grow my own vegetables and fruit to ferment! You reap the most health benefits, and have the most successful ferments, from produce that’s grown naturally with no additives. It’s also the best way to shorten the food production chain! I’d also love to have access to a wider range of fermentation ingredients and equipment, and to continue building a community of fellow fermentation enthusiasts to share knowledge and ideas with.  

My ideal scenario would be one where fermentation is seen as an essential part of a healthy and sustainable food system, and where everyone has access to the tools and knowledge needed to incorporate fermentation into their own lives.

Back to food in general, have you noticed any interesting trends in recent years?

There are many new foods emerging in the market. For example, alternative protein sources like plant-based meat substitutes, lab-grown meat, and insect-based products are becoming more popular. Other trends include functional foods that have added health benefits, fermented foods, and food made with sustainable ingredients.

I think social media is having a massive influence on food trends. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok have made it easier for people to discover new food trends and share their own creations. Social media also allows for greater access to information about food, from recipes to the latest restaurant openings. I hope that I can inspire others to try new things and think more critically about the food they consume. Whether it's through sharing recipes or promoting sustainable food practices, I hope to encourage others to make more informed and conscious decisions about what they eat.

How do you see the relationship between food and sustainability?

From my perspective, sustainability is very important. It's essential for us to be mindful of the environmental impact of our actions and to strive to make choices that will have a positive impact on not just our planet but also our communities.

Food and sustainability are closely linked. The way we produce, distribute, and consume food has a significant impact on the environment, and making more sustainable choices in our food systems can help us reduce our carbon footprint and protect our natural resources.

Fermentation, and food preservation in general, are fantastic ways to practice sustainability because they emphasize a root-to-fruit approach that makes the best out of the entire fruit or vegetable; by products of food production often have a second life through fermentation processes. It’s zero waste and more cost efficient.

Sustainability is becoming more of a trend in the food industry as consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of their food choices and are looking for more sustainable options. Many food companies are starting to incorporate sustainability into their business practices in response to this demand.

Do you have any advice for companies and consumers that want to me more sustainable when it comes to food?

There are the usual ways: to focusing on reducing food waste, sourcing more local and sustainable ingredients, and finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint, such as by using renewable energy sources. But I think one crucial way that has often been overlooked until recently is to consider the sustainability of your workplace culture - you need to make sure that your staff is satisfied and feels fulfilled, otherwise they won’t commit to staying with you. They’re the ones helping you run the whole operation, after all, and need to be prioritized within the business structure!

My advice for consumers would be to focus on reducing food waste, getting more involved in making food and looking for locally sourced foods with as little additives as possible. It's also important to be mindful of packaging waste and to try to avoid buying overpackaged foods. Small changes can add up to make a big impact, so even making one or two sustainable choices can make a difference.

What do you think the future of food could look like?

I think the future of food will continue to focus on sustainability and health. I also think there will be more of an emphasis on decentralized - so more local - food production systems, and that the increase in people getting involved with those methods, will continue to grow. There will probably be more technological experiments with food, such as 3D printing and lab grown meat, but I don’t see these as sustainable options due to their overreliance on industrial complexes and the heavy costs associated with making them. 

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