Agrius is a farm-to-table restaurant on Vancouver Island that features fermented foods in many of its dishes. I recently met with the owner Max Durand to talk about why they brought fermented foods into their kitchen.
Fermentation at Agrius
It all began with sourdough at their associated bakery, Fol Epi. Now their fermented larder includes:
- A wall full of fermented vegetables and fruits.
- Tempeh made in an industrial-sized bread proofer.
- Koji ferments, particularly bread-based miso.
- Sausages and other cured meats.
The only type of ferment that Agrius is unable to make is dairy ferments. Which is due to local government regulations and not a lack of interest. Though I don’t know why a restaurant would be allowed to add a bacterial culture to raw meat (for making salami) but not make yogurt.
Here is a plate of fermented vegetables that Max sent me home with when we met in November. Clockwise, starting from the top: purple pickled turnips, jalapeno fermented corn, watermelon radishes, carrots with koji brine, kohlrabi and cucumber pickles.
The Importance of Fermentation
There are a number of reasons why Agrius includes fermented foods as part of their menu.
- It is an important form of cooking that should be part of every cook’s skill set.
- As a farm-to-table restaurant, fermentation gives them bigger buying power and the ability to preserve in-season produce.
- They follow in the Noma (affiliate link) tradition, using fermentation to add flavour and complexity to their dishes.
Unlike home cooks (and fermenters), Agrius has the ability to maintain precision at every step of their fermentation process. All of the ferments are done in their restaurant kitchen, with the exception of sourdough, which is kept at their off-site bakery.
They have a number of tools to maintain the perfect temperature and humidity for curing meat, making tempeh and miso. Sanitation is always important in a restaurant, so cross-contamination of cultures hasn’t been an issue.
The vegetable ferments are mostly made in 20 to 40 Liter containers. And the salt to vegetable ratio is calculated by weight.
All of this precision doesn’t just prevent failures, it also allows them to store their ferments for long periods of time. For example, the cucumber pickles and string beans are both over a year old. Our favourite ferment though has to be the corn on the cob. It was so delicious!