Bistro uses fermented ingredients to craft borderless eats

By Jean Oh

Experimenting with rice straw and fermented salt at Ferment B

  • Published : Apr 20, 2018 - 17:11
  • Updated : Apr 20, 2018 - 17:11

After racking up experience in the realm of fine dining, Joo Woo-seok struck out on his own as head chef of Ferment B nearly six months ago.

“I wanted to see what I could do,” Joo, 32, explained his decision to take a risk and helm his own kitchen.

At Ferment B, which is located in Seoul’s Sinsa-dong, Joo channels a fine dining aesthetic into semi-casual plates that are beautifully presented, delicate and flavorful.

“We aim to use fermented ingredients freely to create dishes inspired by various cuisines,” said Joo.

Joo and team do so successfully across the board, putting out vibrant appetizers and main dishes constructed from a diverse repertoire of ingredients that fuse seamlessly together.

Paper-thin slices of blanched octopus are paired with fragrant kumquats, “yuja” -- citron -- dressing and fennel. “Dolnamul” -- gold moss stonecrop -- and crispy quinoa add crunch to the dish, while a housemade hot sauce adds a fiery note to this fresh appetizer.

Ferment B‘s octopus carpaccio pairs paper thin slices of blanched octopus with fragrant yuja dressing, kumquats and fennel. A homemade hot sauce crafted from fermented red chilies and crispy quinoa add punches of texture and flavor to this vibrant dish (Photo credit: Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

“We make our hot sauce from fermented red chilies,” said Joo.

Fermentation is definitely a running theme at Ferment B, hence the name, but not one that takes center stage.

Instead, fermented ingredients perform like other ingredients, as part of a harmonious whole.

When steak is served at Ferment B, it is served with a small crock of “nuruk” salt, which is not granular in texture but smooth and creamy like butter. 

Ferment B pairs a sous-vide and seared striploin steak with “nuruk” salt -- a fermented condiment that packs a saline punch, a rich sweetness and a wallop of umami (Photo credit: Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

If the wait staff had not explained it, it would have been hard to know what that spread -- which packed a saline punch, a rich sweetness and a wallop of umami -- was, other than that it was delicious smeared over the seared crust of that juicy steak.

“We source this from Ulsan,” said Joo, who explained that nuruk salt is a fermented condiment made with salt and nuruk -- a fermentation starter used to brew Korean alcoholic beverages.

The striploin steak itself is rendered soft and juicy by being cooked sous-vide before being seared and sliced to order.

Dots of carrot puree take on a cheesy layer of flavor after being smoked in rice straw and topped with dehydrated and pulverized black olives. Broccoli rabe and broccoli leaf chips round out this flavorful main dish.

Clearly Joo has no reservations about dipping into various culinary traditions to create a dish of his liking.

That attitude shines through again in Ferment B’s ricotta gnocchi salad.

Joo and team make ricotta gnocchi with semolina flour and then fry the small cheesy balls before pairing them with caramelized walnuts, small peeled tomatoes cured in sugar, strawberries and greens.

Cheongkyul -- a green citrus grown on Jeju Island -- is used to make a fragrant sauce while a layer of Parmigiano-Reggiano adds another layer of pungent richness to the appetizer.

Now that it is spring, Joo is contemplating a new risotto dish crafted from a pesto sauce made with “dallae” -- rocambole.
Ferment B, a bistro situated in Seoul’s Sinsa-dong, opened nearly six months ago (Photo credit: Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Ferment B
647-2 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
(02) 540-2211
Open 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily, closed Sundays
Starters cost 15,000 won to 20,000 won, main dishes cost 35,000 won to 58,000 won, pasta and rice dishes cost 22,000 won to 26,000 won

By Jean Oh (