It began with an idea for a restaurant focused on fermented foods, moved into developing a vegan kimchi for a friend, and resulted in the birth of a new food brand.
Chefs Pat Bingley and Glyn Gordon started Eaten Alive two years ago, inspired by the traditions of fermentation, but with a view to putting a twist on typical products like sauerkraut and kimchi.
“Like many foods that are part of a strong food culture, which fermentation is because it’s so ancient – in Korea it dates back to the first century and similarly it’s an ancient technique all over the world – people don’t like to mess around with the traditional and as a result they hang on to things, as food is very nostalgic and emotive,” Bingley tells Food Spark.
“There is less appetite for innovation when a food is ingrained in culture, but in the UK we are less married to our food traditions and that allows us the scope to visit things from a different angle.”
Take kimchi, says Bingley. “Kimchi is traditionally done with fish and chillies, but lots of cuisines use spice so there is no reason why you can’t go for a more Indian or Mediterranean-style spicing. It’s about toying with ideas but not going too far away from classic pairings,” he explains.
For Eaten Alive, their kimchi contains no fish, but is made with carrot and soy sauce, which is fermented for three weeks to create something that is complex, tangy and savoury. The chefs recommend eating it straight out of the jar, using it as a topping for rice or noodles, or putting it in burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches. It’s a surprisingly great accompaniment to blue cheese too, they say.
Forget the gut, it’s about flavour
Eaten Alive’s products, which include kimchi’s, krauts and hot sauces, scooped three wins at the recent Great Taste Awards and are sold to London restaurants like Tonkotsu, Chick 'n' Sours and Nanban.
But with the popularity of hot sauces infiltrating the UK, the chefs are looking to fire them up further with fermentation.
There are no thickeners or starches used in the process to keep things natural, and their new premises in Battersea, London, have temperature-controlled environments so they can slow down and speed up the fermentation process to develop interesting flavours.
“We are all about these foods being super delicious and exciting and complex, rather than primarily being marketed as a health choice, as what drew us into it is it tastes amazing,” explains Bingley.
“If you take some chillies and vegetables and whizz them up or cook them for a bit, you can get a great sauce, but if you ferment them for six months first, than the difference in complexity and depth of flavour you get is infinite.”
Development is heating up
The chefs also seem determined to change the perception of chilli and what hot sauces can bring to the palate – a trend Food Spark has noted as bringing culinary credibility to this category.
“For some people, chilli is viewed as something hot, rather than about their flavours, when actually there is a huge variety of powerfully different flavours that come from different types of chillies. If you can find a way to harness that and deliver that flavour without blowing people’s heads off, then there are opportunities,” he says.
This mantra seems to be driving Eaten Alive’s development, with a number of new hot sauces under way, including a smoked goji gan Sriracha, a lemon hot sauce and a smoked BBQ one. The brand is fermenting apricots, plums and garlic with miso paste as well.
There is also a new kimchi they are hoping to release in the new year, which Bingley says is “pretty out there,” but not as spicy as their classic kimchi.
“We are calling it Golden Kimchi and it’s a citrus, ginger and turmeric kimchi. It has a little bit of chilli in it, but it’s super fresh and zingy. It has got a lot of lemon freshness and the natural acidity you get when you make kimchi by fermenting it, which is then balanced with the ginger and turmeric. It’s great with chicken and fish,” he says
Wine tasting for fermented foods
While Eaten Alive’s products are available in delis, the chefs have their eyes set on the supermarkets once they have their processes fully bedded in, particularly as Bingley believes fermented food is only going to grow.
“People are excited to try new stuff. Anecdotally, when we started out on this journey, which was about two years ago, every single person that I spoke to would look at me and say our products were niche. Now when I tell people what I do, they stop me mid-sentence and go, ‘Oh my gawd, I love kimchi,’” he says laughing.
“I think the market is expanding very quickly, and I think people are more food aware than ever.”
Eventually, the chefs want to turn their office into a showroom for fermented foods – much like a wine tasting facility.