Sandor Katz, the Tennessee-based "fermentation revivalist" and giant of the food world, has for decades shared his fervor for foods alive with wild yeasts, fungi and bacteria. Known for his how-to guides, "Wild Fermentation" and the more in-depth "The Art of Fermentation," Katz has recently released "People's Republic of Fermentation," an eight-part YouTube series that is an up-close-and-personal look at fermentation in one corner of the most populous country in the world.
"Until now, I was unable to learn much at all about fermentation in a place with some of the most ancient and varied traditions that have influenced practices everywhere - China," Katz says.
The series kicks off with a synchronistic opening episode, "Mrs. Ding's Pickles." Katz travels to Chengdu, a city of more than 14 million people, with Mara King of Ozuké, the Colorado kraut and kimchi company, and her mother, whose name is Judy. No sooner were they walking off the plane when the group was whisked into Mrs. Ding's house for lunch and an impromptu apprenticeship in a homestyle chili paste called là jiāo jiàng and pào cài, the local pickled vegetables.
In later episodes, Katz and company forage for bamboo shoots and other wild foods on mountain hillsides in the Sichuan province and travel to Xi Mi Cun to take part in making fresh tofu.
"People's Republic of Fermentation" takes the questions Katz has long held about China's esteemed traditions of fermentation and answers them with visually stunning demonstrations, history, gregarious stylings and a nuanced understanding of the culinary leanings of the southwestern portion of China.
Though transforming and preserving food with living organisms is an art and science passed on for thousands of years, "People's Republic of Fermentation" is honest and unpretentious in its documentation of modern adaptations, like using plastic bottles as fermentation vessels and topping many dishes with a pinch of MSG.
Produced by fermentation enthusiast Mattia Sacco Botto, the series offers course after course of visual fare that meanders from meditative to lighthearted. Most episodes are less than 10 minutes long, so it's easy to indulge in one sitting, sprinkle out over a week or use as a quick orientation to making your own fermented staples.
"People's Republic of Fermentation" is available on YouTube. Check out Katz's website, wildfermentation.com.