What does fermentation have in common with the community? Participants in Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale’s Fermentation Intensive set out to to answer this question last Friday afternoon at the fourth and final meeting of the workshop series.

The Fermentation Intensive, which began Oct. 26, took a closer look at the industry, science and craft of fermentation. According to Justin Freiberg, director of the Yale Landscape Lab and organizer of the intensive, each session had a different theme and took a hands-on approach to learning about fermentation. The workshops examined the role of microbes in the creation of foods and beverages and investigated their role in human health. Speakers at the workshops included companies producing fermented foods, individuals studying the health effects of fermented foods, and food scientists.

Prior to the start of the intensive, Freiberg explained his expectations for the workshop.

“Fermentation is a powerful way for people to learn to fail,” Freiberg said. “There’s no guarantee of success and there will be failure. Hopefully [participants] leave with confidence, but also an extreme curiosity of what they can make using fermentation processes.”

The final session, titled “Fermentation and Community,” featured three local business owners who spoke about their experiences with cooking food and fermentation. Participants in the session were split into groups and rotated between the three speakers.

One of the speakers, James Wayman, is the owner of three restaurants in Mystic, Connecticut. According to Wayman, he began experimenting with fermentation and fermented foods almost 15 years ago. Wayman brought several food items for session attendees to try, including a fermented, dehydrated banana and ice cream served in a fermented cone. As participants sampled and marveled over the foods, Wayman explained his philosophy on connections between food and the community.

“Fermenting foods allows me to watch the flavors and textures of foods change,” Wayman said. “My personal mentality is to never believe that you understand what’s happening and to always continue to learn.”

Another speaker, Rich Shih, asked participants to take part in a bread-breaking activity. Shih offered the participants a loaf of sourdough bread — made from fermented sourdough starter that he made himself — and instructed them to tear pieces of bread for one another. He explained that breaking bread is an example of how people can be more communal and help one another. Shih sees cooking and food as a means of creating community connections and bringing people together.

The third speaker, Matt Wick, works as the executive at Osa, a restaurant in Middletown, Connecticut. Wick brought a number of ingredients that he cooks with in his restaurant for participants to try. Participants tasted black trumpet mushrooms fermented in soy sauce, preserved cherry blossoms, and several other vinegars and sauces. Wick said he collects many of these unique ingredients himself through foraging.

“Walking around the woods with Matt is like walking around a small town with the mayor,” Freiberg said of Wick’s foraging expertise.

After the last rotation, Freiberg organized the speakers and participants into a circle for a final activity. Freiberg asked the participants to present the speakers with three challenging ingredients and asked the speakers how they would ferment those ingredients and use all three to create a dish. Participants threw out ingredients such as pine cones, Cheez-Its, pineapples, chicken livers and clams — and listened in awe as the three speakers rattled off potential ways to use the ingredients.

According to participant Scott Wentzell FES ’19, he found the intensive to be a fun and hands-on way to exercise the creative part of his brain. Wentzell noted that the participants made sourdough dough starter in a previous session, which he has successfully used to bake bread.

Eric Knudson SOM ’20, another participant in the intensive, said that he brews kombucha himself and thought the intensive would be an interesting way to learn more about fermentation.

The Fermentation Intensive was one of seven intensives offered to students by Tsai CITY this fall, according to the center’s website.

Madison Mahoney | madison.mahoney@yale.edu