I met Eric around 2 years ago for the first time. Former chef, extremely enthusiastic and creative person - now responsible for development of fermented food products and condiments at Empirical. I asked Eric a few questions about his perspective on food innovation, local market and koji-based products. Please enjoy!
What’s your background? How did you get into fermentation?
My background is in cooking. I had been a chef for close to 15 years before deciding to leave the restaurant industry. Fermentation was something I knew quite simply as “pickling”, when growing up. Preserves were a big thing in my family and the local food culture and I started getting into it and using it as a culinary tool back when New Nordic started playing a role in the international cooking scene. It was relatable, and made a lot of sense to me, so I started looking at different cultures, approaches and dug deeper and deeper into the subject.
How did you end up working at the distillery?
There was an opening in Research and Development department here, at Empirical. I was in that “What to do after cooking” kind of situation. I applied, trialed and stayed.
What are you responsible for at Empirical now?
My position at Empirical revolves around the aspects of flavor and technique that aren’t necessarily bound to alcohol. I’m working a lot with our spent products, and develop some products that are very much on the food side of things. What I am currently doing is to figure out how to do all of that on a larger scale.
How would you describe koji in your own words?
To me, koji is an interesting vessel of flavour and enzymatic activity that opens up a myriad of possibilities within the context of food. It makes a lot of sense to use it in flavour development and preservation, though to me personally things are taken a bit too far and obscure in some cases.
Why do you use koji for developing new products?
Koji plays a part in a lot of different areas of our production, so I like thinking of it as a base-line that can be found throughout what we are doing. In the beginning I used it mostly in a fairly traditional sense, though now it’s moving more and more into a very enzyme-focussed direction.
Can koji be replaced in some ways?
Yes. It all depends what one is looking for. In some industrial applications koji isn’t necessarily the key anymore, when just looking for enzymatic activity. Some industrial soy sauce producers skip the whole lot altogether and just hydrolyze which results in an inferior, less complex product. When it comes to flavor development I don’t really see a point in replacing it with something else.
Should koji be a more common ingredient used in hospitality?
Again, it’s a case of: depending on what you do or what you’re looking for. If the capabilities and reasonable applications are there, then why not? If it’s just used for the pure sake of using and mentioning it, then I don’t really see a point. I’ve seen some things where I just thought to myself: “Wow, this looks like a pure waste of time, product and energy that could have been spent on improving much more pressing and important aspects of what they’re doing”. I think koji is a great tool and vessel to open up a lot of possibilities. But like everything else, use and make it when there is a point in doing so. If just using it for the pure sake of talking about it, whilst still creating tons of waste on the left, right and centre because that piece of product has to look “oh so perfect”, or because that obnoxious amount of animal protein creating an X amount of impact on our environment is needed, then maybe rather figure out how to reduce some of that in the first place.
How is Denmark doing in terms of food innovation compared to other countries?
Denmark is the most exciting places in terms of food innovation. Thanks to a few key players from the food industry it has really turned into a hub of innovation and development over the years. A thing that really speaks for the country is also that the government invests into this process. There are a lot of super interesting things coming out of Denmark that are going to have a necessary impact on our food systems in the future.
Can you reveal any of the products coming to the market soon?
Sure, we are currently finalizing a line of culinary products to run alongside the Pasilla Sauce that has already been released. They are going to be released within the next few months. We are really excited about those and are looking forward to share them with everyone.
Thank you for your time, Eric!