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Sang-Hoon Degeimbre on The Art of Fermentation

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Sang-Hoon Degeimbre on The Art of Fermentation
Photo MIGUEL DE GROOTE

Yannick Alléno, Rene Redzepi and Shinobu Namae ... just a few of the chef disciples of fermentation. The ancient conservation technique, which once experienced a steep decline with the arrival of refrigerators, is not only back in force in chef circles, but also amongst individuals as they become more sensitised to what they have on their plate.

In Belgium, another chef specialises in fermentation: Sang-Hoon Degeimbre. His two-star L'Air du Temps restaurant in Liernu (Belgium) has the particularity of being surrounded by a vegetable garden of several hectares where more than 400 varieties of vegetables and herbs are cultivated using permaculture and provide nearly 80% of cooked products at the restaurant. But "every year, we have an overproduction so we ferment more than a ton of vegetables," Sang-Hoon Degeimbre explains while presenting his "fermentation cellar" located in the basement of the restaurant.

Photo Credit: Mathilde Bourge

Fine Dining Lovers had the chance to attend an introductory workshop with the chef to learn how to make kimchi, a Korean recipe made from fermented cabbage.

Why Fermentation?

Fermentation is a natural biochemical reaction used to store fruits and vegetables for several months. In fact, lacto-fermentation allows many foods to be stored for long periods of time without losing nutrients or throwing away tons of products.

"As consumers, both restaurant owners and individuals need to be aware of the waste they cause," says Sang-Hoon Degeimbre. Indeed, limiting food waste is one of the main reasons why chefs start to ferment. For the Belgian chef, it's mainly a way of "extending the garden when it does not exist" during the winter months while also guaranteeing the best possible products to its customers.

The advantage is that "everything can be fermented" assures the chef. Cabbage, zucchini, tomatoes, radish, cucumber ... The list is endless!

But anti-waste is not the only advantage of fermentation. By fermenting, foods will increase their nutrient content.

Once fermented, fruits and vegetables also promote digestion, especially when eaten at the beginning of a meal. Fermented foods have the ability to reduce stomach acid, promote nutrient absorption and rebalance the intestinal flora.

Finally, fermentation allows you to consume seasonal vegetables throughout the year.

Discover 10 fermented foods

How to Ferment at Home

The first thing to do is to be well equipped with quality jars with airtight closures, metal spring and Le Parfait rubber seal, which can be found easily in supermarkets. "The "Le Parfait" jar has become a reference for lacto-fermentation in its shape and the variety of formats offered, just as it is for traditional preserves." 

Then there is no need to sterilize or have much technique. On the other hand, "it is necessary to be very precise with its dosages," warns Degeimbre.

For this introductory workshop, Korean chef suggests we prepare a "white kimchi," a fermented cabbage recipe from Korea. "Normally kimchi is red because it is very spicy, but each recipe is unique and can be adapted according to taste" he goes on to explain.

A Masterclass in Making White Kimchi with Sang-Hoon Degeimbre

To begin with, the Chinese cabbage is immersed in a large volume of salt water. "Salt kills bacteria," says the chef. The vegetable remains immersed for 1 to 5 hours, depending on its size and firmness - the harder it is, the more you must wait.

You must then accompany the Chinese cabbage with other fruits and vegetables, according to the chosen recipe.

In today's masterclass, apples, kohlrabi and onion are cut into julienne and mixed with a little garlic, ginger, fish sauce and shrimp, before being divided between each leaf of drained cabbage.

The vegetable is then folded (without being snapped ) and pressed into the jar. Normally, a one-litre jar is big enough to house a whole Chinese cabbage.

Then just close the jar and wait. "The cabbage starts to ferment after 2 hours or 6 hours depending on the season," we learn from the Belgian chef. During this process of fermentation, the jar "sings and can feel a little strong", he warns us. "It's like a Tamagotchi living in your kitchen," he laughs.

After ten days, the jar must be kept cool. "The cold blocks the fermentation," says the chef, who adds that fermented, cabbage can be kept for months.

Want to try making your own white kimchi at home? Discover Sang-Hoon Degeimbre's White Kimchi recipe here.

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