Between bites of mole-hozon brownies and radishes dipped in a hummus-style hozon dip, we spoke with Brooklyn Brewery Chef Andrew Gerson and his partners in culinary crime: Ryan Miller and Jeff de Picciotto. Ryan and Jeff are product development chef and project manager, respectively, at Momofuku’s Kaizen Trading Company (which is where the magic happens, provided by “magic” you mean “fermenting legumes”). As Dinner Party No. 1 draws closer, the chefs have been working at an increasingly fevered pace.Luckily, between menu revisions and recipe testing, they had a few minutes to talk bonji, hozon, and the collaborative process. Check out the interview & menu below.
Brooklyn Brewery: Can you tell us a little bit about your personal cooking philosophies and how you merged them to throw this Dinner Party?
Ryan Miller: Our main goal at the lab is to investigate culinary traditions that involve fermentation. They’re things that take a lot of time to produce strong and interesting flavors, so we’re not necessarily your normal kitchen. It’s a lot of prep, and a lot of waiting, and trusting the fermentation process to do its job.
Andrew, the menus you create during The Mash focus a lot on fresh, seasonal cooking, so how does that style interplay with the really deliberate process that the Lab works with?
Andrew Gerson: It’s hard to consume all of the bounty of what you have available in any given season, so preservation in all of its forms is really important. How you do that, whether it’s through using the ingredients when they’re freshest, pickling them, fermenting them, or curing them, it’s all kind of the same. You still honor those ingredients.
Can you walk us through how Dinner Party No. 1 came to be? What’s the process of planning a meal on this scale like?
AG: I would say it started with a conversation. The point of Dinner Party is to highlight local producers and to share their products with our guests. The very first thing we did was come here. I really geeked out, and got to try tons of bonji and hozon and different experiments from the lab. So we came in, we tried a bunch of stuff, and then we started brainstorming. I know we all had a few ideas coming to the table. There are some dishes that come more from this kitchen, there are some that come a little bit more from me, but overall it’s a pretty even collaborative meal between the four folks here that run this kitchen every day, and myself.
You guys ever butt heads at all?
AG: What I think that’s nice about this is that there isn’t ego. It’s not like “this dish is mine!” and “this is my component!” It’s like, hey guys, let’s try this together. What can make this work? We’ve done two taste tests, and today is our third. If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter whose it. Let’s put forward a dish that we’re all proud of that represents the products that we’re using. And so far, it’s been pretty good.
Jeff de Picciotto: And not only has Andrew and the Brooklyn Brewery team been able to try our products, but we have been able to go over to the Brewery, see their processes, try their beer, and then see how those pair with the hozons and bonjis specifically.
AG: I see a longer relationship here, and I think so much of what we do at the brewery every day is about collaboration with the folks in our neighborhood. It’s really exciting and humbling to be able to work with these dudes and gals.
Do you find yourselves leaning towards a certain region or cuisine when you’re cooking with bonji and hozon?
RM: That’s the great thing about having two products that haven’t really existed before. They have flavor profiles that haven’t existed. It’s allowed us a range of styles. The menu for this dinner actually goes from cacio e pepe to a mole. Those are pretty far from each other, geographically. It’s not supposed to be fusion, though.
AG: There’s no fusion here. You’re taking flavor profiles that may be reminiscent of Asia or Europe or wherever, and you’re creating something that is its own. I hate the word fusion. People are always asking what style of food you make, and my answer is that I make good food with things that I have around me. There’s inspiration from different regions, but I think it’s a unique menu in that it’s capturing those flavors wherever they fall.
So since Kaizen products are so new, how are you introducing them to the public?
RM: I think for the general public, it’s going to have to be a very educational process, just as it was for craft brewing. It took a while for craft beer to really take hold, and now it’s in every bodega, which is great. I hope that at some point, we’ll get to that level.
JDP: It’s sometimes hard for people to wrap their heads around a miso paste made from a different ingredient or soy sauce with something that’s not soy, but, really, it’s just a spoonful away. Once they have that first taste it really opens up their mind. A lot of it has to do with just tasting.
RM: We say that it adds a backbone to any dish that, with vegetarian products, you wouldn’t have. If you’re going to sauté some vegetables and add a little hozon to it, you won’t really miss the meat. You won’t want bacon, you won’t want chicken stock. I focus on that aspect.
Like those rapturous Eater reviews of the chickpea hozon ramen!
AG: Right. The bonji & hozon also provide, as far as our foodsystem goes, an easier alternative. It’s not just eat your tofu, eat your tempeh, eat your vegetables. Animal protein production is really destructive, mostly, and what we’re doing is a great way to support that change to a more vegetable and fruit based diet, which we could all benefit from.
What do you want people leaving this Dinner Party to walk away thinking?
RM: I want them to walk away knowing that the culinary heritage in the states is really young, but we really are starting to develop and come into our own, whether it’s craft beer or fermented pickles or east Asian ferments. Miso and soy sauce are just the beginnings of what we can create here in the states that rivals some of the best products imported from Japan. Hopefully everyone sees how easy it is to incorporate these things into your cuisine and up your game in the kitchen.
AG: For us, the goal of Dinner Party is to highlight and collaborate with really cool makers, so I want people to leave this dinner talking about Kaizen, and talking about what restaurants are using this product and where they can get more of it. Kaizen and Ryan value a lot of the same things I do, and it’s exciting to find and work with people nearby who love what we love. I want our guests to leave satiated and full and content and slightly drunk and having a good time. That’s the goal.