COPENHAGEN — “The Noma Guide to Fermentation” details how to build a simple MacGyver-style fermentation chamber using a Styrofoam cooler, terrarium heating mat, humidifier, and hygrometer. With it, home fermenters can create some of the products developed at the Noma fermentation lab. What they won’t be re-creating is the lab itself, a facility that is anything but simple or home-spun.
Located in a former military warehouse that was converted earlier this year into the restaurant’s sleek and elegant new home — known as Noma 2.0 — the fermentation lab was designed from the ground up by David Zilber, head of fermentation for the restaurant.
“It was cool to be given a blank sheet of paper,” Zilber says of his new lab. From that blank sheet and calling on his experience working in the old Noma fermentation lab, which was housed in repurposed shipping containers in the parking lot of the restaurant’s former location, Zilber built a dream workshop. The new facility allows Zilber and his international team to efficiently create thousands of pounds of fermented product for the restaurant and also undertake experiments to feed the restaurant’s test kitchen. Like nearly everything at Noma 2.0, the test kitchen, fermentation lab, and production kitchen are all visible to guests of restaurant.
According to Jason White, who is directing a fermentation team on an October afternoon, the lab works in volume. A single batch of the restaurant’s signature peaso (split pea miso) measures 220 pounds. Currently, about 1,300 pounds of peaso are fermenting onsite with more in storage. Today, the team is working on creating oyster garum. Huge trays of oysters will ferment for two weeks at a constant 60 degrees Celsius, resulting in a briny, umami-rich liquid that will be used to flavor dishes on the upcoming fall and winter menus. The exact time, temperature, and salinity of the ferment have been perfected over time. “The way that we work here is we try to start with delicious things and think about it in the mind and eyes of a chef,” White says.
Along with a chef’s sensibility, the lab adds a chemist’s tool kit for teasing out flavor. Those tools include an ultrasonic homogenizer that vibrates 20,000 times a minute to extract flavor molecules from liquids. This allows Noma chefs to do things such as turning beeswax into a juice without melting the wax. The lab equipment also includes a roto evaporator, CO2 extractor, and centrifuge.
“That’s the flavor of deliciousness,” White says opening the door to one of several temperature and humidity controlled room where the peaso ages. It includes a blackened jar containing a year-old experiment that will never make it to the menu.
Chef and owner Rene Redzepi says that fermentation is the future of the restaurant and he plans to continue investing in the flavor innovations created by the lab. But he admits that he no longer keeps up with all the science. “They’re in their own realm. There are very, very, very, very few people on earth right now doing what the team can,” Redzepi says.David Zilber will talk about “The Noma Guide to Fermentation” Oct. 26 at 12:30 p.m. at First Parish Church, 3 Church St., Cambridge. For tickets and information, contact Porter Square Books, 617-491-2220 or www.portersquarebooks.com. Michael Floreak can be reached at Michael.Floreak@gmail.com.