Monday, September 6, 2010

Interview with Delilah Snell of Project Small on kimchi-making


Delilah Snell, a master food preserver (MFP), taught a class in kimchi-making at the Eat Real Festival in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 29. [See the Sept. 2 post "Korean cuisine rolls into Eat Real Festival 2010, San Francisco Bay area."]


At a stage in the “urban homesteading zone,” Snell spent 19 minutes going through the ingredients and steps in making the commonly recognized spicy Nappa cabbage kimchi (배추 김치 baechu kimchi). She also took questions from an audience of more than 100, several of which vied for a chance to help her with the demonstration.

Snell kindly answered a few questions via email about herself and her passion for traditional cooking methods.

What is the name of your store? What do you sell there?
My store is The Road Less Traveled, an eco-friendly store selling green, natural, organic and fair-trade products in Orange County [Santa Ana] for almost five years. We also teach a number of classes there.

What kind of culinary training led you to teaching food preservation?
I have always been into food and gardening. [I] started a non-pro several years ago, starting [at] farmers markets, food gardens, etc. in my area. I just always wanted to know how to preserve for the store, but I ended up falling in love with all sorts of preservation after becoming going through the MFP program.

How long have you been teaching classes on food preservation?
Over a year.

You noticed there were more than 100 people there at Eat Real Festival to hear your presentation on making kimchi. What did you think of that?
I loved and was so excited and happy to see people interested. It give me faith in the future of food. I was a little shocked though — didn't expect so many!

Why are Americans "scared" of traditional fermented foods?
This goes into what what you brought up during the lecture: people — here at least — are so removed [from] how to do things again — plus bombarded by marketing telling you that you don't need to so you can by their "crap." You mentioned the kimchi turning sour — and, yes, I agree [it's] totally fine and normal to eat. But from my perspective, I am teaching safety, and I just want to make sure that people don't just leave it to rot thinking, "It's OK if it is sour." This [food safety], in my mind, is the baby-step for them to start exploring.

During the questions after the demonstration, someone in the audience asked her, "If you let it go sour, is it dangerous, or is it a flavor issue."

"It went bad, so you don't want to eat it," Snell answered.

I piped in at that point that Koreans often use sour kimchi to make a common stew called 김치찌개 kimchi jjigae.

She responded, "If it's gone bad, you may have created an environment where other bacteria can come in."

The interchange came in the last couple of minutes of her allotted time, so we had to pick up the discussion privately.

Why are people more interested in these traditional foods?
[The] local/DIY [do-it-yourself]/anti-big-ag[riculture] movement is and has been growing. People are taking food and food manipulation into their own hands as a form of self-empowerment.

Do you see a difference between Northern California and Southern California in regard to the interest in traditional cooking methods?
North California was so responsive. Here in South California[, it] might be a little less. But L.A. is growing. The size of the region is a problem, though, as far as people going to a lecture in this area.

What is your favorite meal to eat with kimchi?
The Kogi Truck success has been a real motivation. They use kimchi in their tacos and burritos. Being half-Mexican, this appeals to me — the crossing of cultures!

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