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Adam James - Fermenting Down Under

From fermenting Sambuca under his bed in boarding school, to travelling the world under a Churchill Fellowship, Adam James (@Rough Rice) has truly been following his nose into the revival of this age-old preserving tradition. We caught up with Adam to chat both about his unique passion for fermenting and 'Eat the Problem' project with Mona down in Tasmania.
Hey Adam thanks for taking the time albeit virtually. Have you always lived in Tasmania?

No, I actually moved to Tasmania about 14 years ago. I’ve been all over the shop really. My parents were with the embassy, so we moved around a lot. Lived in China, Russia, France and the US. We ended up settling in Adelaide and I somehow ended up down here.

When you travelled a world, did that somewhat inspire you to explore those cultures further?

Most definitely. I still try and travel as much as I can. Food wise in general and on the fermenting side of things, it really opens your eyes up to what people have been doing around the world for thousands of years. That’s definitely a huge inspiration for me.

What draws you to fermenting? Is it more the process, the flavours or the health side?

I think first and foremost it was flavour. I started dabbling in making Sauerkraut and seeing the incredible transformation between A and B. Starting off with a raw vegetable and seeing it completely transform through this process. It was initially this flavour side and then it became about alchemy. Then there are also loads of health benefits, from gut health to mental health, with links drawn and proven. It’s these three tiers that all make fermenting attractive for me.

We’ve got a bit of a thing for the taste of Georgian wine and think that their ancient clay amphorae might play a role in this. How important is the vehicle for fermenting goods for you and does it play a role?

Yeah it definitely does. I use all ceramics. I’m a big fan of ceramics as vessels. They are locally made by a friend of mine in the Huon valley. I try and use different shapes for different ferments. Miso for example will be in a different shape than a hot sauce. I’m actually getting some new ceramics made at the moment that is in-between the shape of a Kvevri (Georgian wine amphora) and an Onggi (Korean pot). This is a new design I’ve been working on with him and really interested to see how these guys turns out.

Failing ceramics, I use glass, but try to steer away from plastic and not a huge fan of stainless.

What’s your view or opinion on respecting the land and sustainability across the board?

Obviously it’s integral. The produce I source for anything that I use, without sounding cliched, are in season, grown locally and organically, nothing mass produced. What I use is basically dictated by what my small network of farmers grows.

Another thing I’ve been focusing on of late is using up ingredients that are slightly imperfect, for example turnips with blemishes that aren’t perfect enough to sell to restaurants or farmers markets. I’m trying to find ways to take up these so called ‘wasted products’ and find a use for it. That’s one area I’m really interested in, waste minimisation.

Invasive pests is a big problem down here and future sustainability. One project I’ve been working on is with Mona, it’s called ‘Eat the Problem’.

Can you tell me a bit more about the ‘Eat the Problem’ project with Mona?

It’s all about eating invasive species. There’re obviously many invasive pests in Tasmania and anywhere you go in the world, but down here we have the Long-Spined Sea Urchin, t he Northern Pacific Seastar and other pests that came in on Japanese logging boats back in the 80s and 90s and since have become massive massive problems down here for the marine environment.

Something that I was doing was going out and diving for these different pests and making things for them like Garum (fish sauces) and dehydrating sea urchin and making seedlings out of it. Heaps of gnarly stuff that actually had some pretty amazing results.

Where would you like to spend more of your time going forward? Is it finding new work, something outside of fermenting goods or is it family and friends?

I think all of the above. I’m involved right now in quite a few really interesting projects. I want to travel more and I’ve booked a trip to Taiwan in July. So that should scratch that itch. I’ve never been there before with some really interesting food and fermenting over there.

I do want to try and dive as much as possible, take my son to go camping and do work that’s stimulating. I think that’s the key. With those combos I would be a happy man.