A Food & Travel Blog

Adam James – the Fermenting Guru at Rough Rice

27/10/2017 | By

For some, tofu can be a little disappointing. But for Adam James, the fermenting maestro at Rough Rice, a mouthful of tofu & miso was utterly life-changing.

Jeong Kwan with Adam James

Adam James with Korean nun, the ‘philosopher chef’ Jeong Kwan.

As I mentioned to you all a few weeks back, the inaugural Ferment the Festival was held this past weekend. Working on the huge success of Cheesefest, Adelaide’s Kris Lloyd has broadened the concept to take in all things fermented aiming to give the public a much better understanding of fermented foods, their variety and their importance in our diet.

Part of the program were the ‘Heroes and Stories’ sessions, some of which I had the pleasure of hosting, including one with Adam James, an Australian fermenting hero who has probably been flying under most people’s radar.

Adam James was, up until fairly recently, the owner of Hobart’s popular Tricycle Café and Bar, but he has another, much funkier (in every sense of the word) side to him.adam james - a range of fermented foods

While on a holiday in Japan about five years ago, Adam had a meal that included a dish of tofu with just a drop of a fermented dressing on top. The flavour explosion in his mouth was a complete surprise to him, ‘a total revelation that changed my whole life’, says Adam, and something that set him on an extraordinary journey.

Keen to know more about this ancient and widespread process, Adam got his hands on Sandor Katz’ fermenting bible, The Art of Fermentation and began his education process.

He started by playing with preparations like kimchi, kombucha and kefir, graduating from them to things like koji, miso and vinegars, often using seasonal, local Tasmanian produce – from then he was hooked. He went on to source some local potters and ceramicists and helped them design a range of specific fermenting crocks, a range of which now sit in his yard, quietly creating their magic.

Crocks in adam james yard

Adam’s bespoke fermenting crocks

Adam’s passion grew. He took to visiting Japan annually, getting to know some of the local fermenters and gaining more insight into their art, and started to study and research fermentation techniques and traditions in other countries. Eventually he took the brave step of successfully applying for a Churchill Fellowship, a trust which was established to provide the talented and meritorious with an opportunity to further their chosen field of study internationally.

Once his grant was confirmed the real work began. Over 12 months Adam put together an extensive travel itinerary, using his ever-growing network to establish contact and foster relationships with masters of fermentation all through Europe and Asia.

By the time he had arrived in Adelaide for Ferment the Festival he was bleary eyed with jet lag, having landed back in Australia only days before. His three month tour has taken him to Denmark, Italy, France, China, Korea, Japan and finally Georgia, in Eastern Europe.

Adam has visited with and learned from Michelin-starred Danish chefs who are fermenting egg whites and coffee grounds, Georgian wine-makers who still use ancient clay amphorae, sixth-generation Italian balsamic vinegar makers in Modena, Southern Italians who practise the ancient Roman tradition of garum-making, Sechuanese fermenters who make soy sauce and doubanjiang – a fermented salty chilli sauce, and Jeong Kwan, a Korean nun who is the star of her own episode of Chef’s Table (Netflix) and for whom food is an integral part of pursuing Buddha’s way.

adam james making doubanjiang

Making doubanjiang in Pixian, China.

In fact, I doubt there is currently another Australian who would have a broader knowledge of the various international culinary traditions of fermentation.

He’s taken over 7,000 photos during the course of his tour and, under his brand name Rough Rice, has been giving us a running commentary of his trip on Instagram. Check out his profile there – it’s full of wonderful images.

As I write this, Adam James is back home, tending to his crocks and trying to get his sleeping habits back into some kind of normal pattern, but do watch his space. I’m told we can expect to see some Rough Rice products in stores some time soon and I know he has lots more exciting projects up his sleeve.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of tofu. My loss apparently – it’s totally life-altering!

All images supplied by Adam James of Rough Rice.

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  1. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella

    What an interesting man! And I somewhat agree with you on tofu although tofu in Japan and Asia has so much more flavour than it does here. It’s positively delicious when you eat it in Asia.

  2. Liz (Good Things)

    A fascinating tale, Amanda, and an interesting man and topic. I quite love tofu… a good one can be most delicious!