The Power and Heat of A.oryzae (koji)

The last few weeks have been like a book tour – although I haven’t been able to write much on those I’m working on. Besides, as my friend and colleague Harry Rosenblum of Brooklyn Kitchen, Heritage Radio Network, Sumo Stew and Vinegar Revival fame said tonight nothing is ever really newly discovered in the world of food and brewing, just a repackaging and re-presentation of things people have stumbled upon in the last several thousand years.

One of my mentors when I was the Executive Chef of Bloomingdales Fresh Foods Department, Lester Gribetz taught me a great lesson when I was a very young chef who was allowed to cook 3 star Michelin Chef Michel Guérard’s food for their in house shop on 59th Street as well as to present my own line of tseukemono and freshly prepared foods.

Precious doesn’t sell well, and not at all if it requires too much customer effort.

I’d also like to take a moment to thank Bill Hyde. When he was the head of the Fresh foods department he always made sure I had access to gallons of fresh truffles, mushrooms, and rare items from around the world. Once a week Petrossian, another shop I oversaw but obviously had no input into the making of smoked salmon or fish eggs or foie gras, would send me a ten pound tin of Beluga, lots of foie gras and smoked salmon.

It helped me make friends with a large number of celebrities and socialites – because I wouldn’t eat any of it and that type of dealing was big in the 80’s.

Bill taught me about oil. Back then the concept of extra virgin olive oil was a big deal. Unrefined and non-chemically modified oils were pretty rare. Huge chunks of hydrogenated lard mixed with other oils and substances for deep fat fryers were common. He refused to authorize payment for any of it. He also made sure I had access to any natural lard. nut oils, rice bran oil, and a spectacular selection of olive oils from around the world.

Fats and oils are cooking mediums, or seasoning ingredients. The mold called Koji – typically Aspergillus oryzae in Japan where spore subspecies isolation was first initiated on a regular basis to make sake, shochu, soy sauce, miso, amasake, and pickles – can be used in the same way.

Koji is thought of as a live ingredient that can both create and act as an enzyme. Imagine being able to create exogenous heat from a dried inoculated grain. Like cooking on a stove you can control what amount of heat you want, and what you want your live mold to accomplish.

You can make miso, shio-koji, sake, shoyu-koji, shoyu, amasake, shochu, beer, and pickles with koji. Depending on what type of koji you have, you can create fish sauce or even cure meat with it.

There are hundreds of different enzymes that koji can create when interactiong with food, and even when just being grown on a carbohydrate substrate (the thing the mold eats).

This Saturday I will be starting a series of presentations to present ideas on easy, sane ways to use koji. A while ago a study came out – okay, perhaps a qualitative survey – about what people like to cook. Some don’t want anything to do with it. Some want fast and very easy. Some haven’t a clue what most ingredients even are.

Come this Saturday and we’ll talk about all those things and how koji might be the best thing since sliced bread. Or heritage grain sourdough wood fire oven baked miche that your tear apart with your hands. Either way you should know how to control the heat and power of koji.

All the details right here. FermentFerment 2017 this Saturday Nov. 17, 2017 in Brooklyn, New York.

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Koji and its Decendents

Chef Ken will share a presentation on miso, shoyu, and shio-koji, and how you can use them to make pickles!

Chef Ken Fornataro has been fermenting and preserving fish, grains and legumes with A. oryzae for decades. Ken was appointed Executive Chef of The Hermitage in Boston in the 70s. He found himself ducking out the back door to Erewhon, where he befriended Aveline and Michio Kushi, Bill Shurtleff and other chefs who taught him traditional Japanese and Russian foods and fermentation techniques – including koji, amasake, miso, shio-koji, shoyu, sake, shoyu-koji and many kinds of tseukemono.

Ken continues to study microbiology, food, and fermentation. He has served as Executive Chef, Sous-Chef and Garde Manger of numerous restaurants. Ken is the Executive Chef and acting CEO, pro bono, of culturesgroup.net

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