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The pioneer: Freddie Janssen

From experimenting with Asian flavours to writing a book, London-based Dutch pickle-maker Freddie Janssen is helping to demystify the art of preserving and pickling

The pioneer: Freddie Janssen

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What fuelled your interest in pickling?
Korean pickles and Indonesian food were a big part of my upbringing in Holland so I felt like I understood the flavours. I love pickles and kimchi and so I began experimenting at home with my own. I have no background in food; in fact I’m a pretty bad cook, but I thought pickling was something I could handle. I knew a few people who owned delis and restaurants and they said that I should start supplying them. It meant that I could experiment with more things. They were a good sounding board for me.

What most appeals to you about pickling and fermenting foods?
I love the idea that you can start with a really simple ingredient and over a couple of days it turns into something completely different. Sauerkraut is made by just adding salt to white cabbage but it becomes something new and zingy. Seeing it transform is magical. It’s just about adding the right ingredients in the right amounts to each other. The first time I tried a pickling recipe it said to use specific cucumbers and vinegar, and I didn’t. I used average cucumbers and they came out terribly, so you need to use good produce.

And what about the health benefits?
My interest is very much flavour-led. I’m not super-fussed about the health benefits of pickling ingredients — for me it’s all about flavours and how you can alter something in such a simple way, just by adding salt and pickling it. There are the health benefits in eating pickles and fermented foods that people keep banging on about, but the amount that people tend to eat isn’t going to dramatically change their gut. But to be able to preserve ingredients so that you can eat them all year round is amazing.

Tell us about your book, Pickled
It’s a pickling book for dummies. Lots of my friends have picked it up as most of the recipes are really accessible. You hardly need anything in order to make most of the recipes — it’s really simple and fun. About 60% of the recipes are vinegar-based pickles rather than ferments. I’ve only just touched the surface of it in the book. I’d love to learn more about koji [a Japanese fungus used in fermentation] and miso.

Are people intimidated by fermented foods?
People are often worried about fermenting because they think their jars will explode — and sometimes they do, but more often than not it’s fine. Like pickling, fermenting is a very basic practice but you need to have patience and be constantly checking up on things. Sometimes you get a mould on top but you just need to scoop it off; it won’t do you any harm. Things like that do make it quite intimidating.

Are we seeing more of these foods on menus in London?
I feel like pickles have always been on the menus at the places I go, like Raw Duck and Little Duck – The Picklery. Lyle’s has a big larder of preserves, and places like Koya have always had them. I go to a lot of Asian restaurants, where pickled and fermented foods play a big part in the cooking. People are embracing more traditional cooking techniques; we’re more interested in making our own bread and cheese, and pickling our own vegetables falls into that category.

Do consumers understand the products?
When I first started selling kimchi people didn’t know what it was: I had to explain that it’s like a salty and sweet Korean sauerkraut. But now many more people understand what it is and are willing to try it. Sriracha [a hot sauce made from fermented chillies, garlic, salt and vinegar] is now everywhere.

What’s next for you?
My business partner, Sebastian Myers, and I are in the process of opening a cafe in east London. It will be called Snackbar and we’ll be serving a menu of global-inspired breakfasts and lunch dishes that’ll change weekly. We’ll be doing lots of fermenting and pickling on site and our products will be sold in the cafe.

You can find Freddie’s recipe for giardiniera pickles here.