Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fermentation Vendor Adventure, Day 1: Friday, June 17

You may recall my mention of the first Fermentation Celebration here a while back. True to the name, it's basically a celebration of all things fermented: cheese, beer, kombucha, and of course kimchi and makgeolli, since this is Korea after all. After the first one I mused about how I could get involved, at some point in the distant, unspecified future.

A few weeks ago, my friend G. told me that he had signed up to be a vendor at Fermentation 2 on June 18, and approached me about possibly helping him on the day of the festival: pouring samples of his ginger beer, chatting with customers, et cetera. Since I'd had the privilege of sampling his very tasty beer not too long before during a Sunday hike and wanted to support him, I said sure, thinking I'd just show up the day of, get some free beer at the after party, you know, nothing too demanding. A good way to ease into it and start thinking about getting more involved in the next event.

Little did I know what adventure was in store for me...

About a week before the festival, G. called me up and told me that he'd had some trouble getting his festival stuff worked out – problems with suppliers, et cetera - and wondered if I could help him with Plan B. At this point, he'd decided to go with Plan B and make fermented ketchup. His plan was simple: I could make french fries to go with the ketchup. We'd have to make enough for 300 samples. He'd already ordered 10 kilograms of potatoes, set to arrive later in the week. I said okay, what kind of potatoes did you order? He said the little round ones.

“G., you can't make fries out of new potatoes; they're not starchy enough.” At this point, my cook's brain kicked into high gear. “We could do mini latkes topped with your yoghurt, or...croquettes! Little croquettes!”

G. was wary. “Well, you know, we just need to make sure they don't overshadow the ketchup. I want something complimentary. That's why french fries seemed good. Are you sure that they won't make good fries?”

I told him I would look into it, hung up the phone and went about researching potato types, which confirmed my hunch: new potatoes do not a delicious French fry make. Then I researched other options: Potato chips were too labor intensive, latkes similarly so, and home fries would most likely turn into a visually unappealing brown mush (and would take about 20 minutes per batch). Overall, croquettes seemed like the best option. I thought we could boil and even mash the potatoes ahead of time, bring them to the venue, and roll and fry the croquettes fresh there. Would just need to buy some eggs and breadcrumbs, and maybe a few things for add-ins, like chives (a.k.a. buchu). I had experience from my bento days; I was ready.

Problem was that this hit right during finals week, and though I wasn't teaching, I had a lot of work to do. I told G. I might be able to come up on Friday to his place (way up on Line 1, at least an hour's journey on the subway from my place) to help prep for Saturday's event. Meanwhile I had 46 writing exams and 46 reading exams to grade, plus individual student conferences and other work-related odds and ends. By the time Friday came I hadn't had any time to go shopping for supplies or do anything aside from my initial research. G. suggested that I come up on Friday night so that we could do a test batch of the croquettes and start some prep work. I found a recipe that we could tweak, and after an end of the year pizza party with my students, headed up to his place Friday evening around 7:30.

After getting stuck at a station partway because the train I got on didn't go all the way through to his station, I met up with him shortly after 9. The area around the station was not what I expected. Since it's near an army base (the closest to North Korea, apparently), there are lots of white foreigners around, and the area was hopping with shops and restaurants. We picked up some kimchi wang mandu for my dinner and headed back to G.'s place, where he had abandoned some homemade mayonnaise in the middle of emulsifying.

The next few hours progressed in fits and starts, with me peeling and preparing several pounds of potatoes and starting to despair that I would never make my way through 10 kilos in time, to us going to the Lotte Super to stock up on last minute supplies, stuffing two filled-to-the-brim carts in the trunk of a taxi (much to the driver's amusement) and heading back to G.'s house with Iggy Pop's Lust for Life on the car stereo.

Around 12:30 or 1 in the morning, I finally cranked out a test batch of croquettes, and we had what G. termed a 'tasting.' He, his wife and I tried them with his ketchup (me crossing my fingers that the chives wouldn't be too strong). The tasting was a success – they were tasty and complimented rather than overshadowed the (delicious and distinctive) ketchup - though we agreed that they were a bit heavy. Then we went back and forth about whether to try some kind of fry, but an experiment with one sliced potato proved me right again – new potatoes just don't work for frying. So it was back to croquettes. By 3 a.m. I had decided to make as many mini croquettes as possible and boil the potatoes in the morning. G. said that he'd get me up around 8am. I fell asleep in the living room listening to their rabbits rustling on the porch.

Day 2 soon...

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