Patti the Pickle interviews Chad Huniu, winner of the Screamin' Pickle Contest, at our recent Fermentation Festival in Venice. We were so impressed with Chad's culture consciousness that we asked him to be a judge at SBFF. For more info on how to enter the Screamin' Pickle Contest, visit our website.
Patti: Chad, you are the most enthusiastic contest winner that we have had! Tell us about yourself.
CH: I am a food-obsessed twenty-four year old native of Huntington Beach. I've always had the desire to try all kinds of flavors and foods. I was introduced to a lot of the flavors of the Mediterranean through my father's very loud, very proud Sephardic Jewish side. This cultural heritage is extremely important to me. I feel a strange necessity to pass down the heirlooms and practices of my culture to my children. Fermentation (of all cultures) falls perfectly into this same desire to preserve culture and the beauty of human survival and existence in the world.
Patti: When and how did you start fermenting?
CH: I've been fermenting for about three years. It all started in Oregon. Living in Eugene for college, I quickly became enchanted with the land - the Willamette Valley is a lush green full of roaming grass-fed cows and unbelievably tasty vegetables, not to mention thousands of food-loving hippies. I took a class at Urban Farm where I learned how to make sauerkraut and was introduced to Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation. I ate it up. When I got home I started fermenting and experimenting like mad.
Patti: Wow - were all your experiments successful?
CH: Even though I failed often in the beginning, I was absolutely fascinated by it. I made everything from kombucha and explosive ginger beers to kraut, kimchi and yogurt. I really love the flavors of fermentation - in addition to the health benefits. I am always in awe of the incredible actions of the invisible microbes who do the work of fermenting, preserving, and giving us the prized flavors of different cultured foods.
Patti: Are you solely a home fermenter or do you intend to take your craft to the next level?
When I was a line cook at Costa Mesa's Seabirds Kitchen, I was given the reigns to help develop fermented foods and ingredients for the menu. After a year working there, I've been given the incredible opportunity to develop and run a whole menu of fermented goods for Farm & Culture Co., which is opening soon in Costa Mesa.
Patti: Why did you decide to enter the Screaming Pickle Contest?
CH: I found out about the festival and competition in Venice through my girlfriend, who'd heard about it. She knew I would lose my mind over a fermentation festival so close to us. She was right. I decided to enter into the competition because I was feeling extremely anxious about my new job. I guess I wanted to know if I was any good at what I was doing.
Patti: Well, I think our judges gave you your answer! Tell us about your entry and why you chose to enter that ferment.
CH: I entered my version of the El Salvadoran fermented pupusa condiment, curtido, a spicy cabbage kraut with red onions, shredded carrots, jalapenos, and spices. Everyone has their own version of the recipe; some add cumin or pineapple. I add red chili flakes and oregano, which is pretty traditional. I also use a portion of red cabbage along with the green, which turns it a beautiful vibrant pink during its short one-week fermentation. The real secret to my curtido is the jalapenos, which I roast until they've just started to blacken. Then I puree and mix them in with the fresh vegetables. I call it Roasted Jalapeno Curtido. It's excellent on everything: rice and beans, cooked vegetables, sauteed mushrooms, stir-fry. It's even great on hot dogs and burgers (which makes it the perfect camping companion). But it really shines on tacos. Since it has a little kick, you don't even need hot sauce.
Patti: Wow! That sounds amazing! How often do you eat fermented foods? Do you ever make them with friends and family?
CH: I eat fermented foods and/or drink fermented beverages every day. I absolutely love the flavors of fermentation. It's something I've come to crave. Some kind of kimchi or pickle or fermented condiment always ends up on my plate when I make a meal. Because I am always experimenting, I have a very steady supply of ferments in the fridge. My girlfriend has long been my primary taste tester for my experiments and recently I convinced her to make sauerkraut and curtido with me! She's helped me make kombucha, as well. I've also been teaching my mother how to make yogurt with raw milk. I really hope to continue spreading these techniques and tasty foods with my family and friends. My future child will be well-schooled in the art of fermentation. You can be sure of that!
Patti: No question in this Dill’s mind. Thanks so much Chad for sharing your fermented passion with us! See you at the Screaming’ Pickle Contest Booth on September 20!
About the Screaming Pickle Contest:
The now famous amateur Screamin' Pickle Contest gives home fermenters the opportunity to bring their ferment to the festival to be judged by a panel of fermentation experts. Awards are given in four categories: non-alcoholic beverage, vegetable, fruit, and dairy. Ferments should be brought to the festival [8-16oz container] and checked-in at the Screamin' Pickle Contest Booth by 1:00pm. A cooler will be on hand to keep your ferment cool. Awards will be announced at 4:00pm from the Pickled Pavilion stage. Must be present to win. 2015 judges include: Elaina Luther, proprietor of Culture Club 101, Chad Huniu, past contest winner, and more TBA.