HUNDHUND Visits: Berlin’s favourite fermentation shop, mimi ferments.
Nestled amongst oak barrels filled with exciting fermenting creations, we spoke with Markus Shimizu, founder of mimi ferments - a Moabit-based fermentation shop producing handmade products for Berlin’s culinary community.
The story of mimi ferments is as organic and wholesome as the ingredients they source, as while they may have only opened their doors three years ago, the story begins much earlier - in 2004 - when Markus was first introduced to the world of fermentation.
“I was vegan for a long time. And this brought me to health conscious eating and nutrition, which brought me to fermentation - because fermentation is really healthy. So I started fermenting soybeans to make tempeh, then natto, which then led to miso and soy sauce. Then I simply experimented for my own purposes and my own pleasure.”
But as the years went by and Markus’ skill level transcended from hobbyist towards expert, curiosity began emerging from his social circles.
“There was interest from friends, and then friends of friends, so I started giving workshops. It became very popular and it kind of snowballed so I got to meet a lot of chefs and culinary people.”
Prior to opening the shop, Markus worked as an artist, but as the popularity of his workshops grew over the years, he felt torn between the two pursuits.
“There was just so much fascination in the fermentation that I was doing privately for myself, that I first integrated it a bit into my artwork, but then I finally decided to just do fermentation because there was so much interest in it... besides, in my home, everything was now filled with ferments.”
So, in 2017, mimi ferments was born.
The core of mimi ferments’ explorations into fermentation is rooted in Markus’ Japanese heritage.
“We’re aiming to bridge the gap between traditional Japanese ferments and products that are unique in the sense that we use local ingredients creatively to expand on the principles… The idea is to have good products using good ingredients, doing it in a traditional way that doesn’t use any additives, and making them really taste and look good. Then, also being creative with it and having fun… I think industrial stuff easily loses the quality, so everything we do is handmade.”
I was interested as to whether Markus was able to continue his artistic practice alongside his fermentation work, but he explained that while the time commitments of mimi ferments may prevent him from nurturing an artistic practice on the side, there’s plenty of creative work to be done within the business… “It’s very similar. You have an idea, a concept, and you have to present it in a form and it has to make sense or have a story. So I take a lot of things that I learned from my art that I’m using here… It is very creative, like Red Beet Miso, for example. Like using ingredients that really wouldn’t be used in Japan, using something local instead or incorporating an idea of a chef. And now we’ve started making cosmetics, so we have a soap using our ferments, and a lot of other things coming up in this cosmetic area. I’m working on Indigo soap, a shaving cream, and also on some perfume.”
I wondered where they sourced the ingredients for the fermented creations.
“We try to work directly with farmers, so we buy a lot of the products directly from the producer. All except salt and rice is from Germany directly, and the rest is from Italy and Portugal - so as close as possible.”
mimi ferments supplies both private customers as well as restaurants of Berlin’s famous gastro scene. As a result, the pandemic unfortunately shook things up a little.
“It used to be maybe 50/50 private and gastro, but last year was not very good for gastro, so now it’s more private. Our new online shop helped to save the day. More and more we’re also selling through some selected retailers... I think most people [who buy] are either foodies into good taste or are interested in the health aspects.”
Since first opening their doors in 2017, Berlin’s culinary scene has taken quite the shine to mimi ferments’ unique product range (as you can see). I was interested, then, to learn of some of Markus’ favourite culinary venues incorporating their fermented creations.
“Rutz, which is a three star Michelin restaurant and one of our first customers, right from the start. Also Tim Raue was an early customer, and then Kin Dee which is a new Thai cuisine. Then we work with Nobelhart & Schmutzig, Mrs Robinsons, Frea - a vegan place. Or Prism - it’s a Levantine cuisine… So it’s quite diverse - it’s not like just Japanese or so - it’s all over the palate. I think all of our products can be used very well in any cuisine, because you use salt in almost everything and you always like to have some savoury tastes, so you can add it anywhere.”
Crisis aside, mimi ferments’ usual calendar includes an array of interesting events, as Markus explained.
“I used to do one or two workshops a month, and my wife is also doing maybe four events a year which coincide with the equinoxes, midsummer and new year, where we invite artists and have a combination of a dinner with an exhibition, performance or artist talk. They’ve been well received.”
Well, we hope to attend one soon, pandemic permitting. Thank you very much to Markus and the mimi ferments family. You can find all their links below.
Words & Photography by Ewan Waddell.