Fermentation and Food’s ‘Sense of Place’


Chef Stephanie Michalak 

Turner Farm Culinary Manager

Not everyone knows this, but at the bright age of 19, I sat in a seminar while attending the Culinary Institute of America on a cold, snowy late-October day and became infatuated with wine. I was enamored with the cultural roles wine holds as well as how it fickly plays with food. However, what I was most fascinated by was the role of terroir. In the most simplistic version, this is best translated as a “sense of place” that effects the nuances and overall flavor of not only wine, but anything we consume. I was enthralled especially with how soil types (and quality) impact terroir and the whole process of making wine itself.

To me, it seemed like a magical, but very scientific, logical, and technical process. By this point in my culinary career, I understood how fermentation worked within breads as I kept a sourdough starter that I fed religiously to create random concoctions when I was not working or in class, but for some reason the liquid version of fermenting was something completely new.

Since that seminar, my career has ebbed and flowed within the context of beverages—one could compare it to how changes in temperature will either accelerate or decelerate the speed of fermentation if not within a temperature-controlled environment. Over the years I have served, sold, cooked with, brewed, critiqued, and relished fermented beverages across multiple countries and states.

One product that I particularly enjoy illuminating the process of to others is kombucha. Honestly, kombucha is amazingly flexible and malleable when you make your own, so it is an extremely creative outlet. Not to mention kombucha is typically associated with aiding digestion rather than building a barrel-shaped belly like my other (more tumultuous) love, Beer, can create.

My Fermentation Basics class on October 24 will be covering the process of making kombucha from scratch. During the class, students will get to create the initial batch of their own kombucha to take home with a healthy scoby that I diligently fostered with the help of some very productive microorganisms. Students will also get hands-on time in the Turner Farm Teaching Kitchen to produce a culinary splendor for lunch that highlights fermented goods such as miso, tempeh, and soy.

Hopefully I will see a few of you at the class!


To register for Chef Stephanie’s “Fermentation Basics” cooking class on October 24, visit the ticket page for the class.

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