Ferment fest “bubbling” with good food

Vancouver’s first festival of fermentation a big hit

Tia Kutschera Fox // Opinions Editor

When someone says “festival,” thoughts of empty wallets probably come to mind. And when someone says “fermentation,” thoughts of kombucha or sauerkraut probably come to mind. However, on Oct. 22, Vancouver’s first ever Ferment Fest may have just redefined the way we perceive those words, with its $3 door fee and astonishing menu.

While there were plenty of kombucha and sauerkraut options, the selections went way beyond them. Foods like grapefruit mostarda (a satisfying sweet Italian-style mustard with a citrusy tang), coconut aminos (a soy-free substitute for soy sauce using fermented coconut sap), and drinking vinegars (fermented fruit mixed with vinegar, meant to help with digestion) were all colourfully stacked and displayed for visitors perusal. For a smaller event with 17 vendors, the variety was impressive and included products like miso paste, koji, tempeh, tea, and even chocolate.

Running from noon to 5 p.m. at the Creekside Community Recreation Centre, the event was in thanks to organizers and co-founders of Tempea Natural Foods, Ariela Badenas and Andrew Chang. Ferment Fest is the serendipitous result of a business idea and a contest. Badenas and Chang came together for a course project in their last semester at BCIT in 2015 where they had the idea to make traditional tempeh. Tempeh is originally from Indonesia, and Chang, who grew up there, wanted to bring that authentic taste to Vancouver. Their project won a regional contest, and friends suggested they turn it into a business.

So they created Tempea Natural Foods, a company that makes tempeh locally and traditionally. From there they started selling their product at farmer’s markets. “We kept meeting all these awesome local fermentation food producers and … we’re doing all these different types of fermented foods and [we thought] it’s high time an event like this happened in the city,” said Badenas. They wanted to bring like-minded people together to educate the public about the wonders and benefits of fermentation.

“There’s just a whole bunch of fermented foods that people haven’t even heard of — and there are also foods that are already existing out there but people don’t even know that they’re fermented — chocolate and tea are two of the bigger ones.”

Cheese and alcohol are another two of the most popular fermented products, and Badenas hopes to have the license in time to have alcohol at the next Fest. In Vancouver, there is clearly a demand for this type of festival. While they were hoping for about 300 people, almost twice as many showed up.

Badenas and Chang managed to plan the event in record time. “We only started planning six weeks ago so it was really really tight. I think about 70 per cent of the people here are in their first year of business and that’s kind of why it made it easier for us to pull people in.” Lauren Elbe and Sheldon Lawrie of Pure Earth Superfoods are part of that 70 per cent. They started their sauerkraut business in January, and they’ve since been “getting really geeky” about sauerkraut and fermentation. With many vendors, each product had a story. Like Elbe and Lawrie’s Mountain Apple Sauerkraut, they harvest the apples from a friend’s orchard in the Lillooet Mountains, from trees 120-years-old. When asked why they went into fermented foods, Elbe explained, “Fermenting veggies increases nutrients and preserves the harvest. We’re really into local food and natural food.”

Tonami van den Driesen of Van Koji Foods has been selling traditional Japanese fermented foods a little longer. Since 2013 she has been making her own miso paste, after realizing the miso paste available in Vancouver “didn’t satisfy [her] palette”. She now runs workshops to teach people how to make miso and other traditional Japanese foods. This process is personally significant to her. “I’m from Japan, but I’m away from Japan, and I want to keep some traditional things for my kids.”

For more information about Ferment Fest and the vendors, you can visit the website at Vancouverferments.com.

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