Kitchen In An Arch

Chris Patrick
Umezushi

In my cupboard and fridge there are many jars. How did they get there?

It all began under an arch just over from Umezushi, the slightly out of the way Japanese restaurant near the Cathedral that you should go to, now, if you haven’t already. Go on, I’ll wait.

Left in its waters for a few days, the cabbage turns into a crisp, tangy, fragrant bite

Great, you’re back. So, under the arch opposite the restaurant, they’re setting up a deli so you can get all the good stuff. I turned up to a Fermenting Workshop hosted by personalities from the restaurant and Sam Buckley from Stockport’s acclaimed Where The Light Gets In. We went into the kitchen and donned aprons, and the experts began to move and talk. Before I quite knew what was happening, I was being shown how to produce things I’d never thought were within my powers. The jars are the result of this baptism by bacteria.

Now the first of my jars contains sauerkraut, which as the man said is an example of where you can get to with more or less one ingredient (cabbage) and an extended process of controlled decay. Left in its waters for a few days, the cabbage turns into a crisp, tangy, fragrant bite.

We also have some flour and water carrying and feeding yeast for breadmaking – or ‘the mother’ as they called it. In a turn of events scripted by Ridley Scott and designed by H.R. Giger, there was much discussion of how to keep the mother going and how to feed her so that she will produce. No two mothers are the same, as they will take on specific yeast microbes from the room and from your hands.

Next came the Miso. We were presented with soya beans and told to mash them to a pulp with our bare hands, then we mixed them with a particular species of rice grains deliberately infected with a specific strain of fungus. This is then left for three months. It results in a soft paste which you may know from the soup, with a wistful beery twang.

The main event, however, was the kimchi. Driven insane by the various xenomorphs now growing in our bodies, we hacked away at oyster shells and sliced through their nervous systems (‘Yep, that’s the end of its life’, commented one of our hosts, a devoted family man) and emptied the fresh kill into a blender, along with a special sauce made by leaving fish in a barrel for a few months and collecting the runoff. Previously we’d covered some cabbage in salt to make it sweat out its liquids. All this goes into a jar along with a load of chilli flakes and then gets left in the fridge for about a month until it’s ready. ‘The one they made earlier’ was opened up and we set at it with cocktail sticks, returning again and again to the joyous gift from the principle of decay.

We hacked away at oyster shells and sliced through their nervous systems

None of this is ‘cooking’ as such. No heat is applied. The flavours and textures are all the result of the natural breaking down of the ingredients by bacteria, controlled by temperature and other means.

As an event it was fascinating and terrifying in equal measure. As a demonstration of just how in-depth the knowledge goes at Umezushi, and just how key the upcoming deli is likely to be, it was as compelling as the distress signal from LV246. Make planetfall and see what it’s all about.

Unit 3, Mirabel StreetManchesterM3 1PJ View map
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