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Modern Day Pickling

By Alexander Gagnon

From Restaurant INFORMER, Vol. 4, Issue 7

Terry Koval - Wrecking Bar The Atlanta culinary scene is constantly evolving, with the hard work from local chefs working tirelessly to create something new and innovative in a flourishing market. But what if that something new was something from the past?

When you hear the word pickling, it might conjure up images of your grandmother slaving away over a hot stove, creating brines, sanitizing jars and letting them cool in various places around the house. But this isn’t your grandmother’s pickling. Today’s pickling ups the ante in quantity and the types of foods being preserved.

I had the pleasure to sit down with two of Atlanta’s local chefs who are revolutionizing pickling and preserving in the creative culinary scene of Atlanta, making pickling cool again.

Terry Koval is the Executive Chef of Wrecking Bar Brewpub in Atlanta’s Little 5 Points, and he is personally leading the pickling program to preserve local fruits and vegetables for use all year round. Koval’s passion for preserving food began as a child watching his mother pickle hundreds of jars of vegetables from their family garden. He would watch the time-consuming process as his mother pickled homegrown tomatoes, okra and swiss chard only to be able to enjoy them months later. Koval was always intrigued by this process, but it wasn’t until he helped open Farm Burger Decatur as Executive Chef back in 2010 that he was able to begin pickling for the masses.

Last year the Wrecking Bar preserved more than 350 jars of fresh local produce that have since been used to create unique dishes that highlight out-of-season fruits and vegetables in very nontraditional ways. For example, Wrecking Bar’s Beef Heart Tartare appetizer combines freshly ground beef heart with preserved Woodland Garden’s strawberries, which provides a welcome sweetness to the well-seasoned beef heart.

Pickling on the menu was not always as well received as it is now. Upon Koval’s arrival at the Wrecking Bar in 2012, he offered a Homemade Pimento and Local Pickle appetizer. “Guests would eat the Pimento cheese but leave the pickled vegetables behind,” he says. But to get people on board, he found it’s all about informing the guest about where their food comes from and getting them excited about the culture behind it.

Koval believes that with a strong pickling program and a bit of passion, a restaurant can eliminate food waste as well as help the community by being able to display local farmers’ hard work all year round.

“If a farmer walks into the Wrecking Bar with 50 pounds of okra toward the end of the season that he needs to sell, I will buy all of it and pickle at least half to use months later, which helps support local farmers and expand our menu,”Koval says. With plans to pickle even more produce this season, the Wrecking Bar recently purchased 15 acres of farmland in Snellville only 30 minutes from the restaurant. The team will build an offsite brewery and industrial kitchen on the land to be one step closer to becoming a self-sustaining restaurant.

Nick MelvinTerry Koval is not the only chef in Atlanta who is choosing to embrace a past family tradition. Nick Melvin is Executive Chef of Venkmans (opening soon in Old Fourth Ward neighborhood) and owner of Doux South Pickling Company in Decatur. I was fortunate enough to speak with Melvin at Doux South on a day that they had just finished pickling 900lbs of their famous Mean Green Tomatoes.

Melvin founded Doux South two and a half years ago with a dream of providing deliciously pickled vegetables to the local community. “I had a picture in my head of kids walking around snacking on a jar of Honey Kissed Harukei Turnips and just went with it,”he says.

Melvin grew up in New Orleans watching his mother pickle vegetables from their family garden and remembers helping her in the kitchen at a young age. He later went on to work at one of New Orleans’ best restaurants, Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, which expanded his pickling knowledge.

“We did a lot of pickling at Brennan’s, from pickled pigs feet to pickled fish,” he says.”It was really exciting to combine fatty meats with an acid to create an entirely new flavor.”

Melvin is always seeking to capture new flavors in his pickling recipes and is hoping to use his upcoming restaurant, Venkman’s, as a test kitchen for new pickling ideas. “It’s easier to tell how a product is received in a restaurant rather than distributing and waiting to see how a product sells,” he says.Pickling Ingredients

Melvin contributes much of his success to the current culinary scene in Atlanta, which he describes as a culinary movement filled with a younger, more creative generation of chefs. He believes that Atlanta provided him with the proper clientele and local produce to be able to make his dream of owning his own pickling company a reality.

Doux South has grown substantially since it first opened its doors. The company now distributes its organic pickled vegetables to more than 40 states and use more than 800 gallons of vinegar a month. With the use of local produce, Melvin is able to support local farms and spread Atlanta’s culinary movement around the country.

One thing that I thought was interesting about my conversation with Melvin was his encouragement to use the entire jar of pickles, brine and all.

“Our brines are strong enough to pickle at least two or three more times after purchasing,” he says. “After you finish a jar of Drunken Tomatoes, slice up some kohlrabi and put it in the jar to create an entirely new pickle.”

Melvin has created his pickled vegetables to provide a zero-waste product that expands the boundaries of traditional pickling. Doux South is at the vanguard of the pickling scene in Atlanta, and he hopes to continue to educate people about the once-dying art of pickling.

These two chefs are just a few in Atlanta’s culinary scene to preserve fruits and vegetables in an effort to be more economical, minimize waste and support local farms.

“You have to give back to the community, and the best way to do that is through your food,” Koval says.

With so many exciting things happening in Atlanta’s culinary movement, sometimes taking a step back to visit old traditions is the best way to create something new.

10 Easy Steps to Pickling

The process of pickling can seem daunting if you’ve never done it before, but it’s really pretty simple. Use these 10 steps from Doux South’s Nick Melvin, and you’ll be preserving your local bounty in no time.

Step 1: Clean and wash the vegetables or item being pickled.

Step 2: Cut the vegetables to desired shape.

Step 3: Clean and sanitize jars by fully emerging them in boiling water for 15 minutes.

Step 4: Fill jars with aromatics.

Step 5: Place vegetables in jars.

Step 6: Heat brine to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 7: Pour brine over vegetables.

Step 8: Place lids on jars.

Step 9: Place in 200 degree Fahrenheit water bath until the internal temperature of the jar is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 10: Carefully pull jars out of water bath and place the jars upside down to allow the jar to properly seal.

Alexander Gagnons restaurant experience includes both time working the front of the house and in the kitchen. He currently works as the Garde Manger at the Wrecking Bar Brewpub in Atlanta. Alexander graduated from Georgia Sate University with a degree in english and creative writing. As a contributor to Restaurant INFORMER, he is excited to be combining two of his passions, food and writing.

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