Why did I fall in love with … fermentation. By Jason Ignacio White

Growing up in a house void of inspiration, I always looked outward for my involvement, expression and stimulation through food and creativity. I grew up in the mountains of New Mexico and then in my teens moved to a larger city where I quickly embraced the best of both cultures.

One year old sun dried wild berry & cochineal bug vinegar
One year old sun dried wild berry & cochineal bug vinegar

The city was all about social interactions and indulgence, and the country was about hunting and seeking the perfect spot in the clearing to think about and understand the earth. I have always felt connected to that form of vulnerability and exploration as most of my cherished memories were related to picking wild edibles along the trails as a kid while getting lost in the forest, sometimes for hours. I found abundant joy in food and science from an early age and took any opportunity to cook, feed others and understand the nature of the simplest forms of things. I started full time in the food industry at 22 as a dishwasher, eventually moving up to a cook, then into lead positions in the best restaurants in the city. During this time I accepted a sous chef position in a tightly wound French kitchen which had everything I thought I wanted: a tight brigade, technique and passion for excellence … but something was missing. I began looking back at my earlier years and realized I was out of touch with my original organic connection to food and terrain. I started feeling like a kid in the city again, really trying once more to get lost in the wilderness.

"Soy sauce" made from egg whites & roasted white wheat Koji
“Soy sauce” made from egg whites & roasted white wheat Koji

Institutions like the Nordic Food Lab and Noma changed my perspective on foraging and fermentation and I immediately noticed the lack of progression in these areas in my environment at the time. So I decided to apply all of these refound passions into my current chef position but found others cared very little about these things or had no interest in implementing fermentation technique or innovations in the average kitchen. So I quickly decided to leave my position to pursue my love for food science, with plans to eventually give back to the industry. I took a position leading a fermentation program at a local third generation farm. This was worlds apart from the kitchen I was so familiar with, but the ethos of the farm was inherently driven to the respect of our earth and cherishing of our crops in order to provide the best product for transformation.

Nuka made from fresh milled emmer & whole kohlrabi starting its fermentation
Nuka made from fresh milled emmer & whole kohlrabi starting its fermentation

This way of thinking was a huge factor in my future developments and also helped to bring me closer to my goals. I was fermenting everything and nobody could stop me. At the beginnings it was random and fueled by recipes found online but eventually I formed intuition. This newfound intuition changed everything. I started to feel connected to my projects on the internal level and new ideas began flooding my head. With a firm grip on the chemical compositions and salt ratios for these projects, it all helped to confirm my new approach to fermentation and I felt compelled to help others who asked questions that no one answered for me. My desire is to spread knowledge while encouraging others to build relationships with their ingredients and each other in the process.

Jason Ignacio White (Austin, Texas)

Jason Ignacio White
Jason Ignacio White

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