Fermentations about Brunch
Brunch has always seemed to be more of a cultural trend rather than the progression of a cuisine. It did not become entirely synonymous with the experience of sensational food, unlike fine dining or the ilk. Brunch has been more in the middle. Indeed there are the industry front runners and game changers that come at a higher dining price and long waits (get it, gang!) but there are many places that “just have avocado toast and that’s fine.” Many chains that spruik packages and lady-eating-salad style adverts. Brunch at best a morning you remember forever and at worst a sponge for your hangover. Rather than creating a crowd and price dynamic in the market the way exclusive or other trend dining does, there is more of a focus on: how much can I have and for how little? Brunch is on a spectrum. But, the spectrum plays to the same market.
Somewhere between the guy who owns three establishments and has done so since the 80’s and food trends, is a cuisine to be championed by the exploration of flavour. This impasse happens in all cuisine. I am based in Berlin, where the pickings for brunch are notably slim. I am aware of Melbourne, London and New York. I am just more aware of how many people don’t live there, and live in places like Berlin. This piece is broad and anecdotal though I will dive much deeper on the discourses mentioned, in future blog posts.
For now though, let’s consider Kellogg's changed breakfast as much as the hotel buffet did. We find ourselves again in changing times. Our culture is starting to ask us to care about where our food comes from. Our culture is starting to question the necessity of diets and body image standards. Our culture is dare I say, hungry, for creative and considered food. There is a distinct champion culture of chefs who are passionate about food, our culture is enamoured by it. People want to see it. People want to have conversations about food. That’s good, because there is a very long shit list of things our society needs to start talking about when it comes to food. We can learn a lot from these discussions.
In many ways, I learned and grew as a chef from brunch by asking myself the same questions over and over: yes, bacon and eggs, but what can they be apart of? How far can we take these ingredients? I don’t want to work exclusively with food cultures that are not my own, but how do I bring diverse flavours and experiences to this meal in a respectful way? What experience should people have in exchange for their money?
Then, there is the chefs truth and perhaps the ego and I’m somehow puritanical and rebellious at once. I do love the staples of Anglo-Western brunch, but would I disservice my rhetoric about not serving the same old boring things? The answer to every question I had about brunch was flavour. I turned every decision to what would enhance the flavour. There’s already enough inspiration, but how do we take what people know and turn it into a new experience for them. From butter to percentages of vinegar in poached egg water - it was creating a kitchen constantly mindful of flavour and how our process and ingredients affected it. Now, I had financial limitations and not every dish went out as it was ideally intended. That’s hospitality.
That said, I found the path of profitable plates - a secret negotiation between myself and the customer: you will pay a little more because of quality sourcing but we not push the mark-up as much as others, because everyone deserves to eat good food. Quality sourcing, or mindful sourcing, was also key. Being hyper aware of ingredients, their purpose and diversifying their use to buy more for cheaper became a weekly task and one that worked well. There were times when we were caught out, and could not use the product we wanted to be using. That’s hospitality. What I know now: there is a path to ethical, delicious and affordable brunch food. Support those in your community that are doing that, find out who is offering that, be apart of that culture because that is a big part of how we reject the giants of food culture taking our bodies and wallets for granted. I’m not saying to do it my way, but do it your way and work towards those goals or supporting those vendors that do. That changes food culture, not just brunch.
I digress to give one last note on flavour, via simile. Think about your favorite song. To hear it acapella can be a joy for a fan. To hear a full band perform abstract compositions in complete synchronicity, well, that can be life changing. Think of your food with the same fever you do a favourite song. It can change your mood, set your day on a different course and even, bring out emotions dun-dun-dun.
A plate of food can be a pile of different, albeit delicious, things. Or, it can be a composition. The art of creating flavours from flavours - why can’t that be brunch? For the punter, be open-minded and enjoy the experience. For people who work with or want to work with food, this is homework away: develop your palette, understand the palette as a concept and become a flavour-wheel nerd. Beyond anything else, to discover flavour is to awaken something new that was already within you. Why can’t that be brunch?