They call themselves 'Fermentistas' and serve as ambassadors to the ancient art of fermentation -- a natural chemical process that preserves food and is best known for producing wine, yogurt, cheese and vegetable dishes such as sauerkraut and kimchi.
Based out of their 40-acre hillside homestead in southern Oregon, the Shockeys lead fermentation classes and workshops across the West coast; consult restaurants and farms; and recently penned a book, “Fermented Vegetables.” Their goal is to make the technique approachable and understandable to the general public.
Kirsten spoke with Name.Kitchen about discovering the craft and how they landed on their unique business name and corresponding website, fermentista.kitchen.
How did you get into fermentation?
In 1999 my mother gave us a cookbook [about fermenting] but along with that she had found an old crock and she filled it full of a bubbling sauerkraut. There we were opening our present, and she was like, “Oh, be careful with that.” Then we start to open the box and the kids are just looking in there with wide eyes because it kind of stinks -- you know, with the vegetables.
What an introduction. Bubbling sauerkraut under your Christmas tree?
Under our Christmas tree wrapped in a box. So, yes. That is where it started.
So you began fermenting vegetables and selling them. What about this ancient art captured your interest?
You can make these vegetables and make them taste delicious. Chefs are discovering it’s a new ingredient because the biological process is adding complexity of flavor, too.
It’s having a rebirth, it’s having a renaissance. It’s one of the very first ways people used to extend the life of their food. People are coming back to, “Oh wow, look, look at this thing that we used to do. “
There are health benefits, too?
You’re now getting in a scoop of sauerkraut as much probiotics as a whole bottle of the little pills. Those starches and sugars are eaten by that bacteria it’s sort of predigesting it for us and our bodies, and it makes the vegetable more bio-available. In other words, we get more nutrients out of the vegetable than before it was fermented.
How did you go from selling fermented vegetables to teaching and consulting?
As we stood at market, we learned how hungry people were for not just the product but more so for the information on how they could make this part of their lives and just trying to understand it. So we started offering classes, it was a progression. Now we want to teach people how to do it, how to be successful, how to be creative and make it taste the way they want it to and make it good. Because if it doesn’t taste good who’s going to eat it, right?
It’s a very niche business. How did you begin brainstorming a name so that people could understand what you do?
There was a lot of tossing around ideas by [Christopher and me]. Sometimes officially standing in front of a white board and just brainstorming and sometimes just on our way to market or to a class. The percolation process was definitely for a while. And we were really struggling. This is a renaissance movement and an ancient craft, and the old word, ‘Pickler,’ doesn’t really pertain.
People just think of cucumber pickles because that’s the one that they know that everything fermented is a pickle. But ‘Pickler’ sounded weird. It’s really easy to say, "I’m a baker" or "I’m a chef," but what did we do? We’ve heard different people come up with different words like ‘Fermentationist.’ But that just didn’t sound flattering for us, and it didn’t sound delicious. We figured that when the word was right, we would know.
How did you land on ‘Fermentista’?
We were at the market [where] we used to actually sell our products commercially before we got more onto this teaching and consulting side of things. [Christopher] went to get a cup of coffee and he was talking to the barista. He came back and said we’re like a ‘Fermentista’ -- a twist on barista.
It had what we wanted. That artist of the crock, that artist of fermented vegetables. So if you are a person that does fermentation, you could be a ‘Fermentista.’
Why did you decide to attach this to a ‘dot-kitchen’ [.kitchen] domain?
People like to be in their kitchen, and we want it to bring this idea that fermentation is really easy and really accessible into your life. Plus, flavor is so important to us. So we wanted it to have that feeling of a culinary art. And sort of those two things together -- the ‘dot-kitchen’ seemed the best place for it.
How is the website important to your business?
We’re trying to do this all over the place -- being able to go do classes elsewhere and connect with people elsewhere. Our business is too esoteric to continue to do in our own little space. And a big part of what we’re doing right now is promoting our book, and that can be done really well through the web space. I definitely get a lot of people that have questions. Plus, I will get folks that ask, “Hey, are you going to be in (whatever town they live in)? We’d love to get you to come do a class.”
Did you ever think you’d be a part of the fermentation renaissance?
We never, never thought it was our calling. We have a long passion around good, clean food and local economies and small organic farming and all that is definitely part of what’s been important to us all these years. So we knew we wanted to do something in that world. Would have never guessed that it’s this.
To learn more about this business, visit the fermentista.kitchen website.